Jennifer Shahade on Hula Chess, Poker Chess and Poker Cliques

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Jennifer Shahade

A side of chess can go with anything, even hula hooping.

“I did an art installation called hula chess which was a combination of hula hooping and chess,” said PokerStars Mind Sports Ambassador Jennifer Shahade.

“My brother and I also did this CrossFit chess workout a few months ago and that was really fun.

“[In CrossFit chess] you play this really rapid chess game and every time you do a capture you have to do like a bunch of burpees, which is the worst.

“My brother’s in really good shape and he does crossfit every day. So it was like really brutal because I had a good position in the chess but I couldn’t get the burpees in fast enough.”

Hula Chess

Hula chess excerpt from DIM mak films on Vimeo.

While Shahade couldn’t get the upper hand in CrossFit chess, there’s one chess hybrid that combines her two best games.

Chess Poker 

“There’s this event in Isle of Man, this UKIPT where there are these combined chess poker tournaments,” Shahade said. “Basically you play a chess tournament to determine how many chips you start with.

“It’s really fun, so I’m into that.”

While poker and chess exist as one in this event, the two mind sports have their differences.

“There are lots of kids in chess tournaments,” Shahade said. “That’s really like the most noticeable difference.

"Scholastic chess in America is totally booming, so even if you go to a tournament that’s open for all ages, you’re going to see more kids and teenagers than, sometimes, anybody else.”

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No kids at the poker table.

Chess might always have this advantage since a WSOP kids event doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

Shahade also noted that the younger crowds tend to have more girls.

The Female Dropoff

“When you start out, girls are almost as interested in chess as boys are,” Shahade said.

“But then it drops off as they get older.”

Shahade said most of her friends dropped out of chess in middle school.

Shahade --who learned the game when she was 5-- took a few years off during that time also but then got serious in high school.

“I came back [to chess] because I had a really supportive family and then I started to really like the game itself.

“By studying, I was able to improve really quickly and that’s just very rewarding in itself.

“You can really tune out a lot of the distractions that come from negativity because you’re having so much fun getting better.”

Shahade went on to become the only woman to win the U.S. Junior Open and then won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship twice.

Like poker, chess is a predominantly-male sport, but Shahade says there are a few groups of talented, similarly-aged women.

“What you’ll often see in chess are girls who are all around the same age who are really good,” Shahade said. “Then, maybe like a year or two years younger, there’s none.

Chess Cliques and Poker Cliques

“I think the explanation is that when you have that kind of competition from a young age, the girls travel together, they room together and yeah, learn together.”

Shahade said it’s similar to poker, where successful cliques --like the University of Waterloo gang-- form.

“I don’t think there’s like an only-women clique so much,” Shahade said. “But poker is very cliquey.

“In a way, I think that’s kind of a negative because it can feel antisocial to people who aren’t a part of it.”

While this has been a popular topic of discussion for the past few years, Shahade says she feels that things are getting better. 

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A chess clique.

“Today, at my table, I found that most of the younger men are much, much better at talking to recreational players than I’ve ever really seen,” Shahade said.

“I guess it’s because that whole generation has been getting a little older and they’ve probably been playing a bit more live since Black Friday.”

Opening Up the Game

Shahade is an advocate of being friendly and welcoming to new players. New players means new female players, which attract even more women.

“I think it’s one of those things where if there aren’t a lot of women, they don’t have any women to talk to or to travel with,” Shahade said. “So there’s less women and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“That’s why we’re seeing more benefits of women in the game now. They tell their friends about the game and they help each other, it’s great.”

While Shahade is friendly and inviting, she never sticks to one group.

“I think of myself as kind of a free agent,” Shahade said. “That’s why I’m just kind of like friends with a lot of people in different cliques but I’m not really part of one.

“I’ve always been like that though. I think it’s because I’m a writer and an artist so I just, I guess I’m a bit introverted.

“I tend to meet a lot of people but I’m not friends with a lot of people.

“But I like it that way. It’s great because you meet so many great people, even if it’s just on the surface level. It’s really fun.

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