The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor is a well-known individual in the correspondence chess community. He became a USA CC Champion by winning the final of the 7th USCCC (1987-1990) by 2½ points. Unfortunately, health issues forced him to retire from competitive play, but he has played some on-line "live" exhibition matches against TCCMB teams (see games at TCCMB and a Game vs. TCCMB with amusing quotes) and he has shown that he hasn't lost his touch. A recognized expert in the Ponziani Opening, he wrote a book on this opening (see review of Ponziani Power by Stephen Ham). He also frequently expresses his opinions on The Correspondence Chess Message Board forum (TCCMB), where he expresses his views with enthusiasm and humor. When Dave mentioned writing an article on chess, poker, bridge and backgammon I jumped at the chance to publish it.
--- J. Franklin Campbell

Chess, Poker, Duplicate Bridge and Backgammon
by Dave Taylor
(posted 17 June 2004)

These games are related in that they are games of skill and somewhat math oriented. Many players who are good at one of these games also are quite good at one or more of the other games. Another similarity to all 4 games is the very best players win by trying to make as few mistakes as possible.

There is a similarity between 5 minute [speed] chess and internet poker and internet bridge. In all three games many decisions have to be made very quickly. [I am not sure of time limits in backgammon] For example in OKBRIDGE Tournaments you are penalized and may be eliminated for standings for "slow play". I would estimate the average OKBRIDGE Tournament player must make an average of 15 major decisions every two minutes. Internet poker [played for money at low or high stakes] is even more strict on time limits. If you hesitate to make a decision on betting--first you get a warning after about 6 seconds [ponzponz hurry up!] If you take too long--and that is only about 7 more seconds--you are automatically "folded" from the hand even if you have the "nuts" [this means the best hand possible at the table ] This has never happened to me but I will never forget one recent hand where I had a lot of money in the pot and was going "all in" [which means betting ALL the rest of my chips/money] and was disconnected :( :(. So I was automatically "folded" and out of the hand.

When I play bridge on OKBRIDGE via the internet there is a diagram of a position of one of my chess games and many other players remark they play chess and many are masters are better. Also, Chris Sergel, SIM, and I play as partners for an occasional "fun" game on OKBRIDGE. Many also mention they play poker or backgammon or both.

One example for backgammon would be current Correspondence Chess World Champion, Tunc Hamarat, who is probably a semi-pro backgammon player. But I know many chess and bridge players who are also quite good at backgammon.. Some even give up chess to take up backgammon as a "pro" as they just cannot make the money in chess Greg Defotis, who was a great player from the Chicago area some years back, has just about given up chess for duplicate bridge and backgammon. Incidently, one chess opening I have seen him play as Black was 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng1!??!. Of course, he would win!

Ken Smith [now deceased] of Smith Morra Gambit fame and also of Chess Digest loved to play rather high stakes poker. Probably his best poker achievement was winning over $100,000 in the WSOP [World Series of Poker]. In the poker world he was known as Kenny "Whatta Player" Smith. He played poker in Texas for years. He often wore a silk top hat that was supposed to have been from the theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He even had a certificate on it. Kenny would wear that hat in all the big tournaments, and every time he won a pot he would stand up from the table and yell, "What a player!" That is how he got his nickname.

Mike McClain was on the same high school chess team as my son. They came in second in the State of Illinois [on tiebreak] in his Senior year when they were seniors. This was Bradley-Bourbonannis High School [I have taught chess there]. By the way, Mike played the Goring Gambit and Smith Morra Gambit [influenced by my son and I :)] .

Now Mike lives in California and gave up his regular fairly high playing job to be a poker pro. He earns his living mostly playing poker on the internet. Some will say this is "gambling" but it is really not. "Gambling" is when you play a game for money and the results are based on luck. So when a pro plays and wins enough to earn a living he is not "gambling" :)

Mike played in the most recent WSOP [World Series of Poker]. The attendance set a new record with approximately 2600 players each paying $10,000 to enter the tournament. So the total prize fund was $26, 000, 000. However the prize money does not all go to the first place winner. I think the prize money went down for about 100 places. First place was $5,000,000, however. Mike played very well and progressed through the tournament until there were only 9 players left. In other words, Mike was at the "final table" of this Texas Holdem Championship. The largest poker tournament in history. For those interested in poker this will be on television nationally and will be televised for several days. Mike at one time had $1,600,000 in chips but then had "pocket rockets" as his first 2 hole cards. [This means AA (two Aces), the best possible starting hand]. He played the hand out but, unfortunately, lost the hand and then later lost a little more and his chips were down to a little more than $800,000. Because of the size of the tournament he had the lowest number of chips at that final table! [26 million dollars in chips at the table]. For those who are interested, here was his final hand: Again Mike had AA [ two Aces] as his starting cards--the very best--starting hand in Texas No Limit poker. His opponent [who eventually won the tournament] started with TT [two ten's]. Mike started the betting with $150,000 and his opponent [quite correctly] raised another $500,000 and Mike [quite correctly] bet all the rest of his chips. Unfortunately, and against the odds, his opponent "caught" another T and won the hand and Mike lost all his chips and was out of the tournament. He still received $450,000 for 9th place --but oh if he had won that hand--he might have placed higher and maybe won a million!? :)

Daniel Harrington was also at the final table. He was a chess player and then became a backgammon pro and used to earn his money at backgammon. Then he switched to poker which [apparently] is even more lucrative. :) Dan was the 1995 WSOP Champion. [Are you reading this Tunc?]

So, apparently, unless you are a super grand master--chess is for fun and intellectual stimulation. Also, duplicate bridge is mostly "for fun". Backgammon is a game where you can be a pro and earn a living. Poker is a game where you can be a pro and usually earn even a better living than you usually can at Backgammon. :)

For those interested in internet poker you may wish to go to the web site for PokerRoom.com and then look at the tables playing and go to the highest limit tables of Texas Holdem and you may see the name "ponzponz" playing :) [My nickname is ponz or ponzponz, as I wrote a couple of books on the Ponziani Opening in chess.]


© 2004 Dave Taylor. All rights reserved.

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