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Chess versus Poker – Mind Games

March 24 Sandra Wong
poker chess mind games strategy
Chess vs Poker, the parallels and pros of these 2 great strategy games. 
Recently I’ve finally hit over 2000 rating (unofficial) on, but dropped to 1950 and have fluctuated around the mid 1800’s due to my *cough* slow computer. =/  Chess has always been a life long hobby even before poker.  Although I’m equally competitive it’s helluve a lot easier to play without having money on the line.  Moves one has to make are usually done under time pressure (think time clock on every hand) or when one is being attacked and forced to make a blunder much like c-betting or check raising getting opponents to fold stronger hands.  There are endless number of tactics, combinations, and strategies involved that parallel poker to a degree.
My passion has always been playing games, any games especially ones that involve strategy.  I wanted to dedicate an entire summer on chess to see how fast I could improve.  Spent countless hours on tactics training, watching Youtube tutorials, studying GM (grandmaster) games, and reading books.  Reading chess books is not like reading your average poker book.  The chess notations is extremely time consuming and mentally draining.  Took me two weeks to finish 50 end game puzzles from Kasparov’s book. For those who aren’t familiar with chess notations it would look something like this.  1 d4 f5 2 e4 fxe4 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5  In fact this is a new opening I’ve just learned which is the Queen pawn opening for white vs the black Dutch defense system which transposes into the Staunton Gambit.  Makes for an extremely dynamic open game.  Just imagine two ultra lag poker players locked in a heads up battle and that’s the type of ensuing battle you would witness in that chess opening variation.
Taking a year long hiatus and focusing on my chess game has actually tightened up my poker game.  I drew parallels on the tactics and strategies involved in both games that can really be applicable even to life lessons.  For starters don’t blaze or drink shots before a game.  The former makes me over analyze situations that normally would take me seconds to calculate.  The latter makes me ultra aggressive in every way possible.  In fact I become a madman usually to my detriment although I can say that there are some instances where it can be advantageous. For example I’ve become unbluffable when I have liquor in me.  ‘Is normal.’  Chess games and poker especially in tournaments involve stages.  On a macro level does one play aggressive, passive, or a strong positional game gearing for the late stages.  On a micro level, a chess opening dictates how the game plays out much like a lead bet.  Then the middle game involves endless amounts of tactics much like c-betting, check raising, overbetting, or trapping.  This culminates in the envitable showdown.  Every play one makes weaves a distinctive story which ultimately leads to the end game.
Here’s a list of former chess pros who’ve traded in the chess pieces for chips.  
Poker Stars pro George Danzer was a 10 and under chess champion with an ELO rating of 2300.  That’s a CM level (Candidate’s Master – 2200 – 2300.)  If you’re on Poker Stars you’ve probably seen him multi-tabeling.
Australian James Obst had a chess rating of 2283 and was considered a very promising junior player, but made the switch to poker and has since become one of the most dominant online tournament players in the game.
Next on the list is Jennifer Shahade.  In 1998, she became the first (and so far only) woman to win the U.S. Junior Open. In 2002, she won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in Seattle, Washington. As a woman and a chess grandmaster (2322), Jennifer Shahade says that more women and chess players should try their hand at poker since it offers a unique financial and competitive opportunity.  She mentions that everyone has role models and for her it was Judit Polgar the highest rated woman chess grandmaster ever in the history.  She feels that there can be more female role models’ in poker.  Nowadays she spends most of her time on the poker felt.
WGM (woman’s grand master) and IM (international master) Almira Skripchenko made a successful transit from chess to poker.  Her current rating is 2461 as of January 2016.  She’s probably the strongest rated chess player in the list.  Her approach to the poker game is measured and calculated very much like her mastery in chess.
Expect her to make waves in the poker world in the future.
Probably the more famous of the chess bunch is Brooklyn native Ylon Schwartz who is also a chess master and poker pro.  Schwartz reached a peak rating of 2408 United States Chess Federation, and as of 2008 his ratings stood at 2304 from the USCF and 2259 from FIDE.  That makes him a certified FIDE master.  In fact he was recently a spectactor at the 2015 Millionaire chess tournament where GM Hikaru Nakamura took down the $100k 1st place prize.  That’s essentially one of the largest prizes in chess!  Let’s put it into perspective.  One can spend a lifetime studying chess and would still never place top 1000 in the world.  Only .000000001% of the population have the ability to become a top 10 chess player in the world.  It’s obvious he switched focus to a game that actually paid the bills and was significantly more tenable.
[Schwartz has drawn comparisons between his tournament experience as a ranked chess master, noting that many of the skills he needed to succeed in chess are useful in poker and that the memory skills needed in chess transfer to retaining details on betting patterns of opponents needed to win in poker. He also pointed out that chess strategy provides excellent preparation for knowing when to time bets to prevent other players from folding when he has a good hand. Schwartz observed that the two games share the geometric relationships between the pieces on the chessboard and those connecting the cards and chip stacks of fellow poker players, while recognizing that chess is a game of complete information, in contrast to poker.’]
For those of you who play chess at least at a club level or have some knowledge of theory I’d say his insight is spot on!
Then we have Full Tilt founder, Howard Lederer who is also supposedly an expert level chess player.  But if he played chess the way he plays poker, it’s gonna be snoozer.  Yes, there are ‘nitty’ players in chess too.  The ones who play safe or defensively without creating any initiatives or making any complicated sacrifices.
These are the type of players who kill the game.  But I suppose everyone has their own styles.
Also worth noting is US #1 ranked GM Hikaru Nakamura played in the WSOP in 2011, but got knocked out in day 2.  I really wish he continued with his poker adventures.  He has one of the most dynamic and creative chess games in modern history.  He would be the equivalent of Phil Ivey, Viktor Blom and Tom Dwan combined.  His current peak rating is FIDE 2816 which puts him at the super GM status; rating above 2700+.  Yes there’s actually a category for that. To put things into perspective he could probably play Ylon, George, Howard, myself, and probably other FIDE masters blindfolded simultaneously while playing poker online and still win or at least draw with them.  Nakamura would run circles and some while eating a donut.  That’s how elite his chess game is or any top 10 super gms in the world are in comparison to others.
He IS phenemonal when it comes to blitz chess. Unbelievably creative.     
If you’d like to read more about Hikaru check em out on the AMA session on Reddit.
The underlining message is there are some resounding parallels to the ancient game of chess vs the relatively new poker variant in Texas Hold Em.  I believe anybody who’s played games or sports their entire lives competitively will have an edge once they hit the felts.  While there is an element of luck in poker, skills will always outshine lady luck in the long run.
Chess vs Poker, which do you prefer?
~ JJJ ~

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