The $50,000 Game

U.S. Chess Life online ran a story about IM Greg Shahade who was in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. His sister WGM Jennifer Shahade had won $8,000 and both Greg and father FM Michael Shahade were on the tables. After the WSOP, Greg was contacted by “Danny” who set up a chess match with a friend for high stakes. After long negotiation and some reservations, Greg changed his flight plans and entered an match arrangement for $50,000 (not including side bets). His opponent? A self-described player who was 21 years old with money to burn… but the there was a catch. They would play three games and Greg would give rook odds!

I personally do not gamble nor do I endorse it, but I have been witness to many sessions where amateur hustlers make bets of anywhere from $5-$100 a game. It is a fascinating spectacle, but involves lots of tension and ill-spirit. These hustlers are mostly between 1900-2200 strength and would beat most unassumingly players off the street… except for that roaming IM from out of town. However, if the stranger is too strong for the hustler (or the games are too competitive), they’ll quit. It’s called “opportunity cost.” They’re trying to make money, not improve their chess.

Despite the Asa Hoffmans and Walter Brownes of the world, hustling chess is not exactly a lucrative lifestyle… but playing a few games for $50,000 may appeal to those who are tired of playing $400 entry fees for a infinitesimal chance to win $15,000.

Read Greg’s fascinating story!

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

One Comment

  1. Greg’s story just confirms my conclusion that the reason professional poker has become so lucrative (for good players) is the influx of “sucker money”. As the old saying goes, if you sit down with a group of strangers to play poker, and you don’t know who the sucker is — then its you! Greg’s opponent, Tony, had no concept of his chess strength, relative to an IM like Greg.

    A little research would have shown him that Greg’s ELO was 2440, and his own was probably between 900 – 1100, at best a 1300+ point difference. At a 677 point difference, the rating system predicts that the stronger player will win 99% of the time!! Greg’s advantage was nearly twice that. (At a 200 point difference, the stronger side is predicted to win 75% of the time)

    Against such a skill difference, and with such weak positional & tactical skills, the extra rook would not make any difference, since he would have no concept of how to coordinate all of his pieces. Tony is probably accustomed to feeding off of weak poker players who just believe that they need the cards to “fall right” to win. In his chess match, however, he never had a chance. My bet is that Danny (his roommate who he made the bet against) had done his homework. 😉

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