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ChessOK.com » Are Chess Skills Compatible with Being Adept at Poker?
Are Chess Skills Compatible with Being Adept at Poker? 14 January 2021

If you perform a Google search on the requisite skills needed for being proficient at playing chess, you will see that several common traits pop up again and again – patience, abstract thinking, pattern recognition, calmness under pressure, strategic thinking. Fascinatingly, if you do the same for being adept at poker, very similar characteristics are said to be needed. It begs the question, then, would good chess players be natural poker players?
This is a difficult question to answer fully, and it is one that inevitably requires us to make some generalisations about players of both games. But the bottom line is that, yes, due to those shared characteristics mentioned above, we can say that it is likely that chess players would succeed in poker tournaments. But some of the elements of the question are worth exploring further.
The first is the concept of luck. No matter what you do in poker, there is nothing that you can do to manipulate the drawing of the cards. That rule stays the same whether you are playing Texas Hold’em in a swanky Las Vegas casino or playing Deuces Wild video poker featuring classic casino game characteristics in an online casino. You cannot control the cards. This is well known, of course, but the skill element in poker relies on two main areas: Anticipating the probability of the hand and predicting what your opponent might do. It’s not a stretch to compare that with chess skills. 

The sacrifice play can be beneficial in both games

The concept of patience is important for players of both games. That might seem like a throwaway term, but the parallels are easy to see. In poker, you might need to patiently lose a few hands in succession, with the idea of lulling your opponent into a false sense of security as to how you will act next. When the right hand comes along, then it is time to make your move. The same applies in chess with, for example, sacrificing your queen.

We have seen many famous games where a player will sacrifice a queen to execute a winning strategy. You need patience to do so, but also a good sense of risk awareness. Poker players will rarely sacrifice a good hand, so to speak, but they will take losses when the average observer would suggest they shouldn’t. Like sacrificing a queen, it is meant to give the opponent a false impression of security. Like chess, it also allows the poker player to quickly change from apparent defence into attack.

Opponent anticipation is key

Of course, the greatest poker player and chess players will all have an innate ability to anticipate what their opponents will do, and what they might be thinking. This, to be frank, is where the real skill element of poker comes into it. It does not matter if the player has a poor hand or a great one; if they know what their opponent is thinking, they can dictate the game and shape it to their liking.
All of this makes a good argument for chess players being skilled at poker, but do we have any real- world examples? Sure. Ylon Schwartz is a chess master who has had also had success on the professional poker circuit, winning $10,000 at the 2008 World Series of Poker, for example. Schwartz has been vocal about the overlap of skills needed for both games, suggesting that memory skills and pattern recognition were the two characteristics that helped him conquer both games. In online poker, Schwartz played online under the name “TenthPlanet”, so if you see that moniker – best to avoid that table if you want to keep your wallet intact.

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