Stories of chess and poker


For hundreds of years two remarkably similar and yet different games, have existed. The suits and designs of cards within a deck have changed a lot in that time, as have the different possible game variants This is one instance in which chess is very different. For centuries, it has not changed at all. The only difference is that players now sometimes compete under very tight time controls in something called blitz matches. But by far the most popular game, and the only game that decides a world champion, is classical chess with regular time controls. It could be said that one key difference between chess and poker is that at the highest level, mistakes always get punished in chess, but a mistake can lead to a double up in poker.

Mistakes and body tells at chess

This seems logical, but isn't entirely true. You could move a knight which was serving a defensive purpose, onto a square where it can play a crucial role in an attack on your opponents king. Perhaps removing the knight from it's defensive position opens you up to a combination of moves that end in you being checkmated, but if your opponent misses it, you can end up winning the game with the help of that knight, even though you made a mistake in moving it to a more advanced position. As was demonstrated in the 2014 chess world championship between Viswanathan Anand and reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, mistakes can be made by grandmasters. In game 6 Carlsen made a serious error, only for Anand to completely overlook it and fail to capitalise, which is almost unheard of at that level.

This brings us neatly to an interesting similarity which arose in that moment, between chess and poker. Carlsen later confirmed that he knew he had made the mistake immediately, but had to sit there holding his breath and acting calm while Anand thought about his move. Only after Anand had missed the golden opportunity did Carlsen's body language give the mistake away, as he quickly moved his piece back to where it was needed. He even expressed his relief openly, and intentionally, to make sure Anand realised the chance he had missed.

Carlsen VS Anand

Anand Vs Carlsen

Chess players vs poker players

Other similarities are seen more often, such as the devotion of top players to finding every tiny improvement possible in their own game, intense concentration for long hours, and the need to constantly have a strategic plan in place. There are a few poker players out there who have a history rich in chess, with the name Shahade standing out the most. Greg Shahade has an International Master title at chess and played two chess games against Tom Dwan for $60,000 four years ago, with Shahade starting off down by a Rook. He did of course beat Dwan in both games. He also enjoys playing poker semi professionally, and his sister, Jennifer Shahade won a 100,000 Euro Open Face Chinese tournament last year and has had two top 40 finishes in the WSOP ladies event. Though there are subtile similarities and differences between the two games, they are very clearly both games which challenge the mind, with one involving a lot of variance and the other none at all. Despite the frustrating nature of variance at times, it should be pointed out that there isn't much money to be made in chess because the best players always win. Variance is at the very soul of what makes poker profitable for players.


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Louis Hartwell

Graduated in Media Communication at the University of Lausanne, Louis Hartman is a co-founder of He began his career in Cambodia as freelance journalist. In same time he was making his living by playing poker every night at that time. Intense learner, he read dozens of poker strategy books to improve his skills during many years. With a strong interest about poker "behind the scene" in Asia and his communication skills, Louis launched Somuchpoker in 2014.

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