The crossover between poker and chess is important for many reasons, not the least of which is a new well of players that could bolster poker tournament and cash game numbers. An influx of players from the chess world may bring tough opponents into poker, but that comes with the territory.
When chess players talk about poker or garner media attention by playing poker, it benefits the game. Most people regard chess as a skill game, one of analysis, strategy, and theory. When chess players, especially those with large followings and regarded as top players, express an interest in poker, it speaks volumes.
Shahade Started It
Jennifer Shahade was not the first chess player to ever play poker. However, she was the first one to sign on as a major online poker site ambassador. She became a Mind Sports Ambassador for PokerStars in early 2014.
Her credentials in the chess world were significant. She was a two-time US Women’s Champion and held the title of FIDE Woman Grandmaster. Her participation as a board member of the World Chess Hall of Fame overlapped with her commentating on numerous chess tournaments for global audiences. Since then, she has become the Women’s Program Director at US Chess, written another best-selling chess book, and donated copious amounts of time to teaching chess to children, most often girls, in underserved communities.
When Shahade first signed with PokerStars, she said that her mission would be to discuss “poker/chess synergies, strategies, and skills” through appearances, blog posts, and media interviews. She has done this.
When PokerStars launched in Shahade’s home state of Pennsylvania, she became an ambassador on a more local level.
She has spoken numerous times about the connections between chess and poker. She hails from a family of competitive chess and card players, and it is natural for her to gravitate to games in which she can develop strategies and leverage her strengths for better results.
Nemo Keeps Swimming
Qiyu Zhou is best known as Nemo Zhou, a chess player born in China but calling Canada home. She started playing at a very young age, earning the title of World Youth Champion before she turned 14 and winning national championships in Canada and Finland. She is also now a FIDE Master and Woman Grandmaster. And she is quite well-known in the streaming community.
Only last year did Nemo turn 21, old enough to play live poker in most areas of North America. She played in a WPT-filmed poker game with a group of female poker pros. While she hadn’t yet learned the poker lingo, she knew the basics and did well.
This year, Nemo traveled to Las Vegas for much of the World Series of Poker. She played the Millionaire Maker, in which she cashed. She has documented some of her journey on YouTube, and her new eyes on the game show what it’s like for a first-timer at the WSOP.
Nemo shared marked improvement in her comfort at the table and with the game itself, cashing in two of the events she played. And when PokerGO decided to livestream the final table of that Ladies Championship, she and Shahade were two of the women asked to provide commentary.
Magnus Plays More
Few people are unfamiliar with the name Magnus Carlsen. He is a five-time World Chess Champion – and currently holds that title – as well as a three-time World Rapid Chess Champion and five-time World Blitz Chess Champion. And he is only in his early thirties.
Carlsen has flirted with poker in the past, but this year, he captured his first cash. He played in the Norwegian Championships in Dublin in April, specifically the €880 Main Event, and finished in 25th place for more than €5K.
With Unibet as his sponsor, Carlsen headed to Las Vegas to play in the WSOP Main Event. He didn’t make it through Day 1, but he got the experience of playing in poker’s biggest event.
— Alec Rome (@RomeForReal) July 5, 2022
If Carlsen is as competitive as he seems and up for the challenge, his elimination from the Main Event will only inspire him to study and play more poker.
Poker will only benefit if people like Nemo and Carlsen play more poker.
Drew Drawn to Chess
Americas Cardroom poker pros have been staying at a house in Las Vegas for the duration of the World Series and other summer tournaments. They have also been filming episodes of the Punter’s Pad. The latest one featured Drew “BetOnDrew” Gonzalez, ACR pro, taking an interest in the National Chess Open.
Gonzalez decided to take a crash course in chess and play in the tournament. He did win one out of the six matches, but he said that he was interested in studying and playing more chess.
The attraction is mutual, as some poker players have been learning more about chess due to the influence of the crossover chess players in poker.