Chess Player Wins Big At Poker

This comes as no surprise these days, but it does give an indication of the mental discipline that chess instils in its practitioners. After a big win in the 2012 World Series of Poker, Ylon Schwartz was quoted as saying: “A lot of people are broke playing chess. And they all have a strong background in analysis and studying so it makes a lot of sense to make the move to poker to actually make some money.”

I’ve written about chess and poker before and maintain my position that extensive training in the art of lying is not particularly good for someone’s character. I think most parents and teachers would agree with this, at least I’ve yet to see poker suggested as part of a school’s curriculum! Chess has deception too, and in many different forms. But it’s kept at a relatively low incidental level as the cards are always on the table.

Of course for a skilled chess player the temptation to switch is very understandable, and many people have assured me that poker represents easy pickings because of the low skill level of most of the participants. I did at one time get a couple of books on poker, some software and a couple of DVDs on poker tournaments. Unfortunately it didn’t capture my interest at all, in fact I found it very boring.

Can someone combine both interests, playing poker for money and chess for ‘love of the game’? Well maybe, as Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura are serious poker players and members of the World’s chess elite. Yet I doubt anyone’s ability to serve two such demanding masters, indeed Garry Kasparov publicly grumbled about Nakamura’s poker interest at the time they were working together.

Is it the chess that helps people become strong poker players or are the analytical skills developed by poker equally useful at the chess board? Well I have no data on this but it does look like a one way street. I know of no serious poker player who has successfully switched to chess despite the latter’s amazing depth and massive strength of opposition.