Poker stars share their impressions
During the tournament many famous chess players came to visit the playing venue of the FIDE Candidates tournament. Almira Skripchenko, Women’s champion of France and successful poker player, visited the tournament as well and brought two famous poker players Fabrice Soulier and Manuel Bevand, who kindly shared their impressions with us.
Fabrice Soulier, 2011 World Series of Poker Bracelet holder in $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship. Player with more than 4 million winnings in his professional career. He is ambassador of Everest poker.
“It’s fascinating for me to see the whole area here: playing hall, press-room, commentators are at the same place and very close to each other. I was impressed how deep the chess players are thinking compare to poker players. In poker so much luck is involved. I like the dress code also – all the players are very classy they wear suits or jackets. I appreciate this and I think we have to introduce it in poker. People don’t talk loud, everybody is very quiet. One can see that the brains are boiling here! “
Manuel Bevand, a professional French poker player, member of the most famous French poker team “Winamax”. World series of poker and European poker tour finalist. Author of the popular book “How to become a poker pro”.
“The atmosphere inside the playing hall is fascinating! It’s possible to feel high tension. What I like the most is watching the player’s body language as it’s my kind of specialty in poker game. Poker players are like the stones, they try to hide emotions. There is nothing to hide in chess because the position is open. Chess players can react the way they feel and they really don’t need to hide anything. I have no clue when I look at the position but I don’t need to look at the position to know what’s going on. Just looking at the players I can pretty much tell (with like 80% accuracy) who is winning, who is better. It’s clear when one player has to make really tough decisions and his opponent is very relaxed, for example. I can say that because Carlsen belongs to Scandinavian culture he is not very expressive. But he does have some “tells” as we say in poker. When his concentration is high he puts his head in his hands and comes close to the board, almost leaning over the chessboard. And there is another position when he sits relaxed on his chair, crosses his legs and it’s clear he is just relaxing and waiting. Another thing I noticed is when he is in trouble his body position suddenly becomes asymmetrical. Ivanchuk was much more animated and at one point he went passionate and was moving all the time like he saw something. I felt it immediately and I asked Almira (Skripchenko): “Do you think Carlsen is going to lose?” and she said it’s possible. I’m a big fan of Carlsen I was hoping he will not lose but unfortunately it happened on the 12th round. It was the first time when I came to see him and I felt horrible that he lost, I hope it’s not my fault! You know poker players are superstitious (smiling).
There are things that go between people like relationships that are impossible to explain, that are not obvious. At the poker table when someone dominates the game it’s unsaid, I mean no one is saying that this person dominates the table but you feel that someone is just too dangerous today, too precise and takes too many good decisions. I think this aspect of mental domination like “I’m going to crush you no matter what you do” is pretty key in chess. Carlsen looks like a machine without emotions, playing best moves all the time. Normally in Poker when you feel someone is dominating today and he will put you to make all the time the toughest decisions every time, you try to step back, to play your cards a little more, try to put the mathematics of the game on your favor because you cannot compensate the mental domination at this point and maybe you will catch him with a good hand in hope that the process will reverse and you’ll dominate. Last year at the World Series of Poker, I had the opportunity to play against Phil Ivey, the best poker player in the world at the separate times. And it was just unbelievable, he didn’t even need to play, everyone was watching him all the time. He was just moving his finger and everyone was thinking “please don’t crush me”. It’s hard to beat someone who dominates. Even he doesn’t play you are afraid of him, people cannot imagine that this person can make a mistake. So when I played against the best poker player I had exactly that feeling “he is doing something weird but how can I not believe him? How can I even think of outplaying this guy”. At this level mental stability and stamina make the difference between players even more than talent and preparation sometimes. We can see in poker that technical level is pretty even, there are hundreds players who are very well prepared technically but not all of them are strong in their heads. A lot of extremely talented players have weak mind and concentration and specially emotion control. I don’t have much experience in playing chess tournaments but I’m pretty sure chess players also go through really horrible emotions inside and they try to hide it. I see it there and it’s fascinating to me.
I’m very impressed by the preparation of the chess players. Poker players study also but it’s very far away compare to what chess players are doing as they are working all the time with their computers, analyzing positions constantly, working on their openings. Poker players are very lazy as we can make money without working too much! But as the game progresses and gets tougher I think it will be more important to work and I’m trying to make other poker player aware that this is going to happen as it happened in chess at some point. After 1920-30 talent stopped being enough. Alekhine was the first one, who dedicated his whole life to the game and changed the way of the chess player’s preparation.”