Monday, February 21, 2011

Hey, Tom!!! I'd LOVE to poker!!!!

Almira Skripchenko

Here's a little concern I have with chess. The so-called Game of Kings has been around for hundreds of years, yet it really has much to learn about connecting with the masses.

Now, don't get me wrong. On my best day, I'm a mediocre beginning chess player. And I haven't played poker since college. But take poker, for example. In a relatively short time, poker has become INSANELY trendy and popular, not to mention profitable. It's chic, it's sexy. It's supported by celebrity patrons. It's something lots of regular people seem to be talking about--and doing.

Which is exactly what you CAN'T really say about chess, for the most part.

Tell people you play chess and they look at you funny or mistakenly assume you're a penciled-neck geek. I don't get the same reaction when I say I enjoy Scrabble or Checkers or making homemade hooch. With these, the response is something like, "Oh how fun! I used to do that when I was a kid." With chess, it's something like, "Oh, I could NEVER play that. It takes too much brains. You must be smart or something!" I actually fall into the "something" category, but maintain my silence so as to appear "smart."

What gives?

Online poker, alone, is a $2.4 billion industry and growing (click here for mind-numbing numbers). How do I know this? I googled "poker industry stats."

How's that for a worldwide receding economy?

When I googled "chess industry stats," on the other hand, the results were not so neat and clean: I found a fascinating LinkedIn profile on a company named Chess, as well as a bunch of predictable sites on chess openings and game statistics. When I tried to see what "professional chess players" earn...well, the results were equally uninspiring. Click here and here for examples.)

Poker, as a card game, evolved in the early to mid-1800s in the American South near the Mississippi River region. This is the same geographic area that brings us The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn. It's also the same U.S. state that brings us an incredibly stupid law that says a man may not seduce a woman by falsely promising to marry her. In comparison, Chess has been around for about 1,000 years! That makes it only slightly older than Lindsay Lohan looks in this picture.

Most top-shelf chess players, it seems, really make most of their money through related spin-off ventures, chief among them being endorsements (Magnus Carlsen's G-star Raw), writing and publishing, and higher-tech training aids, like videos, blogs, websites, and affiliate marketing collaborations.

Even chess-queen-of-self-promotion Alexandra Kosteniuk and Carmen Kass, along with pouty-pretty-boy Magnus, make some side dough modeling. These are hugely skillful leading players. In Kass's case, modeling is her primary career and a few assignments for Victoria's Secret probably pays far more of her bills than chess ever has or will. She was even the elected president of the Estonian National Chess League!

It's kinda sad.

But when it comes right down to it, for me, I guess it's really NOT just about the money. It's about the social capital...the relationship (or, rather, lack thereof) between brainy games, like chess, and the mainstream. Money only indicates where people's interests are. I think the bigger issue is the general lack of connection chess has to the mainstream.

Less forgivable is the general lack of ability chess seems to have in remedying this. In fact, it often seems to me that too many chessplayers take a sort of intellectually snobbish pride in distancing themselves from the masses and do little to nothing to debunk the game's own restricting stereotypes. I know I'm not the only one who's talked about this before., a popular commercial chess site, has an interesting message thread on this very same idea. Click here to read it.

Meanwhile, back to the adventures of Tom and Huck on the Mississippi. That is to say, back to poker.

A number of accomplished chess players are finding warm (and probably more profitable) welcomes in the poker world. Almira Skripchenko and Dinara Khaziyeva, two chess mistresses I'd like to mate, have just become finalists in the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational in Los Angeles, California, USA, as of today. They are among the last six players heading into the grande finale, having beaten out a 482-player field for a shot at a $100,000 grand prize, three-quarters of it in cash.

Good luck, ladies. I'd love to mate you both. But please don't call my bluff. At least I promise not to make you any false proposals of marriage--certainly not in Mississippi.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Point of View

Some days, it's pretty easy to think kids today have lost all perspective.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Dear Diary,

You won't BELIEVE what happened today at work....  
Whoops! Wrong diary.  Grin 

Like a lot of us, I have VERY limited time to devote to hobbies. In fact, I spend more of my rare free time on chess than I should. Instead of chess, I should be doing really important things, like flossing. I've known how to play chess since I was young, but never had much natural skill and never devoted any time to self-improvement. But I wanted to, for some masochistic reason, so I started dabbling off and on, and a year ago or so, I began to play regularly and read about chess.  Most of this was in abject frustration, because I lacked a plan. I found a lot of materials online and elsewhere, but they were either too basic ("this is a pawn") or too advanced ("bla bla bla...mate!")  A few months ago, I created a plan for myself after realizing my willy-nilly pedagogical ways were equivalent to trying to walk before I had learned to crawl. 

The BIG Plan
My big plan is purely hobby-oriented. My hope would be to gain enough chess skill to keep me out of the pubs and bars in my retirement. Maybe enough skill to volunteer my time and (meager, hard-earned) skill teaching kids or coaching at a local school or club. In my wildest dreams, such an undertaking would stave off dementia and keep me from becoming an amusing conversation-piece for my kith and kin:  ("Gee, he used to be educated and accomplished. Now look at him, he wanders around in unchanged nappies mumbling 'en passant' in a really bad French accent.")

The NOT-so-big Plan
I'd like to get at or around ELO 2000 by retirement (15-20 years from now--although for many, these days, retirement seems to be an elusive luxury.)  I'd like to be competing in some recreational tournaments, maybe even winning some, and feeling like my Board Vision no longer puts me in the "legally blind" category. If a retired life of luxury is unattainable, I'd like to be good enough to street-busk and snooker the over-payed upper-class in blitz games. Ala Geri's Game, but with more dinero than dentures:

The End

Finally, I'm pretty forgiving with myself. Although I try to keep this routine, if I mess up or life becomes busy, I just try again the next day. Total training time per week comes to maybe 3 hours, give or take an hour, and 90% of it comes from "stolen moments" during the day. Thank goodness for PDAs and smartphones. Whoops, speaking of time, I'm out of time. I've already spent FAR too much time writing this.

I could have been flossing!  Grin

Originally posted on "Study Buddies" Forum of
For the nitty, gritty details of my Training Plan and others', visit the ChessTempo Forum.