Chess tips for poker players

Next year's Isle of Man UKIPT stop from October 1-4 will again overlap with the PokerStars Chess International from October 2-12. I can't wait to return to the PokerStars headquarters for a week of chess, poker and getting to know staffers over beers, turbos and dramatic walks.


The overlap of chess and poker makes a lot of sense to chess prodigy turned poker pro Jeff Sarwer, who said in a recent interview, "I don't like to call them sports or games, I think of them as exactly mindsports. A lot of things crossover, like patience and rhythm and discipline."

For poker players considering getting in on the action in the Isle of Man, I have some tips.

1. Center Pawns first

Bobby Fischer famously said that moving your king pawn forward on the first move, 1.e4 is "best by test."


Learning the first few moves of every opening is similar to having default preflop ranges in NLHE. When a certain move will surely arise at some point in your session, you have fewer excuses not to be prepared. There are plenty of apps where you can play casual games, from Chess With Friends to Use an online opening book to see what the top players did in the first few moves.

My favorite opening is the "Sicilian Dragon", named for the shape of the pawn structure. It's characterized by the strong dark bishop square, the "dragon bishop."


2. Avoiding Tilt

In one of my favorite episodes of the Shark Cage, Slovakian women's chess champion Zuzana Borosova gets Heads-up with eventual champion Griffin Benger. I've never met Zuzana in person, but we have a lot of mutual friends in the chess world, and I thought she played great under the pressure. She even maintained her composure after losing a 65/35, which would have knocked out Benger and secured a spot in the final worth over $100,000 in equity.


In chess, you can't lose flips, but you can tilt after dropping a pawn or missing a key response. Rather than get angry at yourself and throw away the game, you should look for chances back into the game. Most amateur players will give you a chance or two. Even top players sometimes make outrageous errors. Take this example from former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, who was playing Black and missed a mate in one move here (the white queen can simply move to the highlighted square.)


3. The Practice to Study Ratio

You must practice AND study to improve in chess. Studying the game from a theoretical point of view doesn't help if you aren't testing out those theories. Playing a variety of opponents, followed by a critical look at the games is a great way to improve.

4. Building Castles

In chess, just like in poker, you can often tell how strong someone is by how reluctant they are to make pointless generalizations. When I teach poker to a chess player, if they ask me questions like "How should I play ace-king from middle position," I explain to them that question sounds exactly like, "Is it good to get my queen on the e4 square?" The harsh reality is that every chess position is different and general rules won't get you far enough beat an average nine-year-old in a Scholastic competition.

There is one rule that you can adopt though. Castle!


That's the move in chess where your rook hops over your king, the only time you can move two pieces at once (the diagram on the left is before castling, the diagram on the right is after).

If aces is your favorite hand, castling should be your favorite move.

Well at least 85% of the time.


Jennifer Shahade is the MindSports Ambassador for PokerStars. Look for more information on the PokerStars International on the PokerStars Blog and find more information on therecently announced UKIPT at

Jennifer Shahade
@PokerStars in PokerStars news