Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poker or Chess?

Unexpectedly, a friend of mine emailed me today to ask this one-liner: which do you prefer, poker or chess?

My own answer, quickly written while having my curry chicken for lunch and seated at my desk in the office (yeah, how sad), was surprising even to myself. I said something along the lines of chess having some concrete artifacts of knowledge, while the card game doesn't. And that poker is essentially guesswork. So, I prefer chess.

To which my friend said something about how much harder chess actually is. And also that poker is more social, while the rewards are even larger. Undoubtedly! He added that in chess, a 1200-rated player could never dream of beating a 2400-rated one, but in poker it can happen in a short space of time.

I know a lot of readers play both games. What say you about this?


Anonymous said...

GM Roland Schmaltz has been quoted as stating in his finger notes on ICC that he has retired from chess in favour of poker. IIRC, he says something along the lines of "Poker is not as fair as chess and there is more luck, but generally you make more money from poker than from chess".

As for me, I'm definitely sticking with chess. I am not really into the card games craze.

Chaos said...

Poker is an easy man's game. I can think of no other game, sport, career or otherwise where the difference between a 'long standing professional of much experience' and a 'complete amateur who doesn't know the rules' is so small an edge. In part this is due to luck, you can never call the river and you can never be certain (no matter how much you think you are) what your opponent holds. Luck makes poker far less forgiving but also equally profitable - which is why so many chess players have left their 'poor' (monetararily speaking only) sport of chess.

I can speak from the experience of both as I have strived from being one of those 1200 players who might beat a 2400 (I have a rated match with an IM coming up in 3 weeks!). But I have also succeeded in becoming a professional (if this is a word that should be applied to poker!) player - self annointed - by winning thousands of small time tournaments. Prizes amounted to roughly $30,000.

In fact, one of my biggest poker losses was to someone who had NEVER played poker before in his life before that day. The pot was $1000 winner takes all. I had AK suited (spades) to my opponents 72 offsuit. I more than tripled the blind and he called without hesitation (which usually indicates a strong hand). The flop is AK2 (the 2 is of spades). I make another strong bet, he calls again instantly - next card is 7 of spades. I go all in (assuming that if he has AA I still have a spade draw). He calls without hesitation. The final card 2... he has a fullhouse. I flip, he LEAVES the table conceding he has lost. Someone flipped over his cards and called him back to note he had a fullhouse. They actually paid him (which is illegal since he left the table conceding defeat). So yea, stories like this are extremely common. I have spokened to many other professionals who have simply been bested by luck!

Poker has little skill as much as his 'greatest talents' and addicts would like to protest. However, on a sidenote, a reason I personally think chess players flock to poker is because it mostly requires the same type of calculation they are so good at a chessboard. While computers are able to learn the mathematical odds, they cannot calculate the chance of a bluff or best hand scenario against your odds (such in the case above where he could have had AA or been betting stupidly with the worst odd hand 72offsuit and hit the nuts with a fullhouse). In this regard, chess players have a distinct advantage over most poker players. In the same respect, I find most skilled poker players I come across are either bridge or chess players (both seeking greener pastures since their previous hobby didn't pay) or they are a poker player who has played for decades before tv popularized the sport.

Anonymous said...

A bright adult can become a moderately successful poker player with only a little practice or instruction. The same cannot be said of chess - the few people I have known to learn chess successfully as an adult have put enormous effort into the process and had only very modest results to show for that effort.

Chess skills are probably transferrable to poker, but I do not think poker skills are necessarily transferrable to chess.

The financial side of poker is a definite attraction. I must admit that online poker has replaced online bullet chess as my vice of preference at present.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic. I really enjoyed the story about the "unexpected" full house. It goes far to illustrate a point made by a book on poker that I read a while back: "Always turn over your cards and let the dealer decide the winner".

I've only played social poker, but here is my take wrt poker vs. chess for what it's worth.

First, I guess the fairest comparison would be lightening chess vs a game of poker or standard chess vs a night of poker. Basically, I personally derive more pleasure from Chess. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of well played game of chess (even if I lose or draw). I get only small satisfaction out of a game of poker.