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Some Thoughts in Regards to Comparing Chess with the Game of Poker

By: Staff

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Recently I have been studying chess for the first time in years. I was a very keen chess player back in my youth but then stopped playing the game totally when blackjack and then poker became my focal points.

However as a game theorist then I am interested in many different things that are either directly or indirectly connected with poker. Recently I have sent for half a dozen chess books from Amazon and have really got back into the hot seat again as it were. In fact I even purchased the famous ChessMaster program and its 9000 version.

Its highest level is easily Grandmaster level and I dare say that it would beat all grandmasters at rapid chess and blitz. I have yet to beat it but that is only to be expected. However I have learned a lot of lessons and seen many analogies with poker within a very short space of time.

For example it is obvious to me now just how far my chess game has slipped from what it used to be. Also my opening strategy is weak when put up against a top class opponent.

The need for aggressive expansive play is evident in both games. I started out playing the first few games against the computer in a style that was far too defensive. There is no such thing as a “safe” opening or a “safe” pawn structure. If you don’t get activated in chess then you become passive and cramped and as Napoleon once said…… “Passivity plants the seeds of defeat”.

So Napoleon realised two hundred years ago how important it was to be active and mobile on the battlefield.

When you are active in chess then your pieces dominate the board more than your opponents. This allows the superior pieces to register more threats than the defending pieces. This forces the player with the lesser mobility and the cramped style to defend and when you have to defend then you cannot attack at that moment in time.

You can get away with one or two passive moves but against a top class opponent then half a dozen within a very short space of time will get ruthlessly exposed.

The fact of the matter is that against good players then passivity will get attacked. Caution will be hit squarely in the face and risk aversion will be punished. Poker is also a game where these traits will be punished and this is where the overlap with poker and chess is striking.

In poker you should be looking to be as active as possible as soon as possible and in a way that does not make it obvious.

You should also try if you can help it to go contrary to conventional theory. This happens in chess and in other areas as well. Many players have reached the very top in chess by going contrary to conventional theory. Some of the most original chess thinkers were contrarian in their views. Sometimes a certain strategy can be very effective simply because it has not been used for a while and not because it is inherently weak.

Another important aspect of chess that we can utilise in a poker sense is in the use of chess engines or chess computer programs. I have been researching this lately and the fact is that the way that the best chess computer programs analyse and operate is actually very instructive from a poker point of view.

Chess grandmasters are taught and trained to analyse candidate moves and this is something that we need to do as poker players. I think that too many players err on the side of caution in poker and see “Indians behind every bush”.

I think lessons need to be taken here from Doyle Brunson’s great book “SuperSystem” where he said that when it came to problems at the table that he would “cross that bridge when he came to it”. Some people may say that this is cavalier and careless play. I used to think this once upon a time but now I think differently.

I do not see the point or the long term advantage in starting out tight and staying tight. This may get you a profit but a better style would be to start out aggressive and then adjust to a tight style later on in the session. At least this style allows you to dominate a table if that opportunity arises.

I have been on far too many poker tables and missed out on the bonanza by playing and sticking to my usual tight style. Against weak opponents then tight play works but just like in chess, against better opponents then you at least have to give yourself a fighting chance.

A really tight style against a tough set of opponents can turn into “death by a thousand cuts” if you are not careful. Aggression and expansion is king in chess and poker as well for that matter.

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player who plays online at 888poker.

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