Why Are Chess Players Winning at the WSOP?

Ylon Schwartz
2008 November Niner Ylon Schwartz has an easy answer for why chess players win at poker.

Competitive chess player Arkadiy Tsinis’s victory at the WSOP today only reiterated a trend we’ve seen develop over the last few years: Chess players make good poker players.

With the list of successful chess-to-poker transitions growing so is our understanding of not only why chess players have a leg up at the poker table, but why more and more of them are making the switch.

Ylon Schwartz spent thousands of hours studying chess long before he took poker seriously, but it was poker that awarded him $3.89 million at the 2008 WSOP Main Event.

Best friends with Arkady Tsinis, who won his first bracelet this afternoon, Schwartz proved the perfect person to shed light on the kind of opportunity poker presents to the skilled chess player.

Not a Great Living in Chess Compared to Poker

A few main differences are key, the biggest of which being the amount of money up for grabs.

“There’s not a great living in chess unless you’re in like the top 20 in the world,” Schwartz told PokerListings.com beside the final table as his friend Tsinis conducted his winner interview with ESPN.

Ylon Schwartz

“In poker you can get lucky in one tournament and you’re a millionaire,” he added.

With online poker still available to most of the world, and live tournaments of all stakes becoming increasingly accessible, poker absolutely dwarfs chess in terms of the money changing hands on a daily basis.

The second and perhaps equally important factor is the head-start that a background in chess affords players at the poker table.

“The transition from chess to poker is pretty simple since chess is infinitely more difficult,” Schwartz said.

“You’re trained to sit and you’re trained to study and you’re trained to memorize things which are all applicable to poker,” he said.

While chess is certainly a noble pursuit, for many it simply doesn’t put food on the table.

“It’s cute to be a chess player and be broke when you’re in your 20s but when you hit 30 you’ve got to switch,” said Schwartz.

“As more chess players get sad and depressed they’ll have no choice but to switch over to poker like me.”

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Ruben Palacio 2012-07-01 07:13:20

Chess players have analytical skill needed at poker and that's why the succeed. It is not because chess is more difficult. In fact, poker is a lot more complex because it involves randomness (essentially incomplete information).

Also it's true schwartz comment that "In poker you can get lucky in one tournament and you’re a millionaire". So i see poker also as positive black swan driven, highly convex where you can set a limit to your losses, and win big, very big, in your lucky day.

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