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Do Chess Players Make the Best Poker Players?

Home » Do Chess Players Make the Best Poker Players?

Do Chess Players Make the Best Poker Players?

Online poker and chess have a great deal in common in terms of strategy and skill. That may explain why you often hear people say that talented chess players make excellent poker players. Is this just a rumor describing two analytical games that are worlds apart, or is there truth to it? Take a look at the similarities between the two games and some players who have successfully transferred their skills and succeeded in both worlds. 

What Are the Similarities Between Chess and Poker?

Kings, queens and an often-tense playing environment might spring to mind. But chess is more like poker than a lot of people think.

Analyzing Your Opponent and Planning Ahead

Winning poker is much more than drawing a winning hand. The game requires thinking ahead. You always have to remember that your opponents might have a strategy that’s equal or superior to yours. And that might even be paired with a better hand. Great poker players can analyze what type of players their opponents are. This is essentially what chess players do when they study their opponents’ moves and previous games. Although chess doesn’t necessarily require bluffing, you do need to plan ahead and work out your opponent’s strategy to be in the best position to counter it successfully.

Players Have To Be Willing To Become Students

You might have heard it said that “poker takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.” This is equally true for chess. Online poker in the U.S. is a booming industry with countless books, websites and other resources to help players become masters. True success in chess and poker requires extensive study. The most competitive players have to take in a lot of information to help them reach a level where they’re prepared for chess and online poker tournaments.

What Makes Chess Players Good at Poker?

While playing poker requires a balance of strategy, skill, bluffing, and luck, chess is seen as a game of pure strategy. This is often what gives chess players the upper hand, especially in comparison to beginner poker players. 

When you think of what makes a good chess player, analytical thinking and foresight are the two main skills that usually come to mind. Chess players rely on probability and statistics to pinpoint what their opponents are going to do next and target their weaknesses. They need to carefully analyze every move and how it affects the rest of the board and then think on their feet to ensure they’re making decisions that can help them win. So, chess players are often better at thinking ahead, predicting what their opponents are going to do, and making calculated decisions to shift the odds in their favor.

Poker players, on the other hand, value adaptability and confidence because a big part of what makes a good poker player is how well they bluff and adapt to the game’s numerous possibilities. While you can think ahead to a certain extent in poker, the game has too many variables to plan out your strategy as concisely as chess players do. You just never know what cards you or your opponents will be dealt. Poker players need the patience to think logically in difficult situations and the confidence to make their opponents feel like they always have the upper hand.

What Makes Poker Attractive to Chess Players?

Before looking at poker champions who were previously chess masters, here are some reasons chess players find poker appealing.


Although it might seem like a simple answer, money is one of the main reasons chess players find poker enticing. Since chess tournaments don’t attract the same attention from sponsors as poker tournaments do, the expected winnings are much smaller. Poker tournament winners can take millions of dollars home. Professional poker player Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari won the largest prize in sports history in a 2012 WSOP poker tournament when he took home $18 million. 

What’s more, the financial benefits of poker go beyond championships. In chess, players who rank below 2,550 and who put a lot of effort and dedication into the craft might not place in a championship or make a profit from the game. The benefit of playing poker is that even if you aren’t tournament-ready, you could profit from daily cash games or playing poker online. 

Poker is also less elitist than chess — anyone can play. Even a player without an advanced strategy can be occasionally encouraged by a surprise win.

Luck Combined With Skill

The element of luck is another attractive factor for chess players. A single hand of poker is based mostly on luck and very little on skill. The ratio between luck and skill changes the more hands you play. So, chess players have an advantage during poker’s learning curve. They might benefit from luck at the beginning of their career, but their analytical skills mean they develop a sophisticated strategy the more they play. In contrast, an amateur player without a chess background could run out of luck if they have limited strategic skills. 

Anyone Can Play and Win

The world of poker is welcoming. Newcomers who dedicate themselves to learning and studying the game can overtake weathered poker veterans. Mastering online poker games and a poker tournament strategy can put you at a level that, in other sports, would take you decades to reach. It’s believed that to be truly proficient at poker, you would have to dedicate two years to theoretical study and practical application. Of course, if you’re a master chess player, you’re already accustomed to thinking analytically.

Which Chess Players Have Become Poker Champions?

A poker player reveals his winning pair of aces.

If only a few chess players had successfully adopted poker, it could be chalked up to chance and coincidence. However, many chess players over the years have migrated to poker and achieved massive success.

1. Dan Harrington

Action Dan’s migration to poker preceded the poker boom of 2003. Harrington is famous for his game-changing series of books on Texas Hold’em and as the winner of two WSOP titles. What some of his fans might not know is that Harrington was also a chess champion. He was a US National Master and a winner of the Massachusetts Chess State Championship in 1971. Since then, the Poker Hall of Famer’s winnings have exceeded $6.6 million. 

2. James Obst

This 32-year-old reached a 2,100 chess rating at the age of 15. Obst started playing poker at the age of 14 and was known as the teen who won $1.5 million in online poker by the time he was 19. Obst won his first WSOP in 2017; his live earnings have surpassed $3 million. 

3. Ylon Schwartz

Ylon Schwartz has always had a love for wagers. Though he started playing chess in New York parks, he also enjoyed gambling in games like backgammon and darts. He started playing poker in 2000, and his natural instinct for the game won him his first two tournaments. In 2009, he finished fourth in the WSOP Main Event for $3.8 million. He achieved his WSOP bracelet in 2012. The 2,258-rated chess player has won $5.1 million in live poker tournaments.

4. Dan Smith

When Dan Smith reached a 2,100 chess rating at the age of 16, he was already captivated by poker. His incredible full-time poker career began when he turned 18. Today, he’s considered one of the finest players of all time. Some of his noteworthy achievements include entering two $100,000 buy-in tournaments and finishing first for up to $2 million. He also played a $1 million buy-in tournament and finished third for $4 million. In 2014, he ranked first in the world by the Global Poker Index, and he’s won more than $36 million in live earnings.

The Verdict

Despite the similar skill-sets needed to play chess vs. poker, that is not to say that they are similar games — they aren’t. A good chess player isn’t automatically a good poker player; it’s the shared strategy and mindset that make the two games pair so well. With that said, there’s something to be said for the fact that so many players have made the switch. The edge you get from your chess expertise might be exactly what you need to succeed at poker. Plus, from the psychological benefits of online casino games to how poker can help you in business, the skills you can learn from playing poker can be very beneficial in your everyday life.

So then, why not use the analytical thinking and strategic skills you’ve honed in chess to play poker online?

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Is it true that chess players make great poker players? Take a look at what the games have in common and which chess champions have made the switch.