Checkmate: Chess Master Skripchenko Moves to Poker Felt

On the surface, it appears there are very few similarities between chess and poker.

However, international chess champion turned poker pro Almira Skripchenko says appearances can be deceiving.

And after she made a final table appearance in the 2009 World Series of Poker's $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em event this past summer, it's hard to disagree with her.

"I just think that chess players are naturally skilled to become poker players because chess involves a lot of strategic thinking," she said.

"Yes, of course, there is a lot of math in poker, but this is more important than math. Math can be mastered by everyone and all the strategic and analytical skills, you have to develop."

Skripchenko Bitten By Poker Bug

Born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union, Skripchenko began playing chess at just six years old.

Almira Skripchenko

'Chess players are naturally skilled to become poker players.'

By 15 she had won the Under-16 World Youth Chess Championships, at 21 she became the European Ladies Champion and she has achieved both the International Master and Woman Grand Master titles from the FIDE World Chess Federation.

After a chess tournament in 2003, she was convinced by some friends to try her hand in a poker tournament in Paris.

"When you are talking about poker you have this epic vision from literature and movies, but this was a tournament, like a sport, so I wanted to take part," she said. "In the ten-minute taxi ride over they taught me the game and I was in the final that same night."

Bitten by the poker bug, she began playing sparingly in small tournaments in the famed Aviation Club in Paris, where she now lives. 

Skripchenko went on to finish second on a made-for-TV tournament featuring a group of poker players and sports stars and in 2008, Winamax offered her a sponsorship contract.

While she still plays chess at the highest levels, she's now travelling the PokerStars European Poker Tour circuit and playing in some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world.

"It's a different sort of challenge," she said. "In chess I've already accomplished almost everything. I'm just missing the world title and I will still try for it, I will be playing the World Championships next year."

Chess is Silent, Poker is Risky 

While she sees some unique similarities between the games, Skripchenko says there are also marked differences.

"Poker it's a game where you should absolutely drop everything you know about chess or what formed you to be a very good chess player," she said. "OK, you still have to keep certain skills, but you also have to acquire some new ones and to include some factors in your decision making that you would never think of.

Almira Skripchenko

'I'm not a magician, I'm still learning.'

"I had to learn how to bluff and how to act, which is completely contrary to my nature. I have to integrate so many elements and it has also allowed me to know better who I am somehow. It's like psychoanalysis, because I discovered that I like it a lot - I can bluff and I can act."

The biggest difference in the two games, according to Skripchenko, is the risk factor.

"Chess is a silent game and also very rational," she said. "Of course, poker is also rational, but the risk factor in poker is almost never involved in chess. In poker, you have to be willing to take risks."

Those risks paid off with Skripchenko's seventh place at the WSOP this summer and while she obviously would rather have won, she said the experience taught her a valuable poker lesson.

"In some way it proved to me that I had developed a thick skin," she said. "As a chess player, it's almost a philosophical question, because defeat becomes very seldom. Poker teaches you philosophically how to accept it and how to go on.

"I was proud of myself, just because I think I became tougher as a person. I think that's exactly what it showed. I played three days with great players. At one point I was almost the chip leader. But I'm not a magician, I'm still learning.

"In one year, my friend [Manuel Bevand] tells me that he will make me a machine. I'm not sure that it suits me so well, but OK, I'm trying to become a machine, that's my goal."

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