Top poker award for chess player

by ChessBase
4/14/2010 – Many strong players are branching into poker. This is especially true of women, since their chess tournament prizes often hardly cover travel expenses and incidentals. And when in addition players discover they have a natural talent for poker they take to it as a lucrative alternative source of much-needed income. One player such, IM Almira Skripchenko, has done this with great success.

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Top poker award for Almira Skripchenko

The 2010 France Poker Awards designed to reward the best players of the year 2009. The awards ceremony was held during the European Poker Tour in the Casino Barriere de Deauville. The trophys were awarded by a jury and Internet votes. In the end chess player Almira Skripchenko won the prize as "best lady".

The "best lady" prize was won by a chess IM, Almira Skripchenko

Right after winning the award Almira finished third at the France Poker Tour, which can be considered the French Championship of Poker. Players took part in qualifications all around France and on the Internet (more than 50,000 people tried to qualify). The final was organised in Paris in January.

The players before the final round of the France Poker Tour

The main sponsor of the event was Winamax, and all of the members of their professional team participated. There were 634 players in the final at the Aviation Club de France, one of the most prestigious poker room's in the world situated at Champs Elysées. The best French poker players, professionals and amateurs, battled for the title of French Poker Champion.

Almira made it to the through to the final table (nine players) and finished third. The prize pool for the event was more then 600,000 Euros, with 152,580€ going to the winner, 93,200€ to the runner up and 59,100€ to her – slightly more than female players win at chess events.

Interview (in French) with Almira by Michel Abécassis, a journalist and former European Bridge
Champion who is now a professions poker player

And for those of you who might be curious about how Almira came to poker and to find out more about the similarities between chess and poker here is an interesting interview in one of the most respected card players' magazine.

Generation Next – Chessboards or Green Felt

Rebecca McAdam talks with IM Almira Skripchenko

Almira “Chessbaby” Skripchenko is a woman of many talents. She appears to do well with anything she sets her mind to, and, in recent times, has increasingly become a great threat at the poker table. She did not progress from her previous profession into poker, but instead juggles both, allowing them to complement and aid each other. Originally born in Moldova (at the time, the Soviet Union) she has lived in Paris for the past 13 years. She came to the game as a professional chess player and from the beginning has a strong presence at the felt [poker table]. She holds all the factors of a tough opponent – intelligence, determination, ambition, and capability, not to mention beauty, so Card Player just had to find out more.

Rebecca McAdam: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Almira Skripchenko: I’m 33 and I am a professional chess player, holding the title of Woman Grandmaster. My parents were both chess teachers, so I started at the age of six, and at the age of 14 I was the champion of the Soviet Union in my age group. I then won the World Championship in my category when I was 16. I became the European Champion in 2001, and my best world ranking was number 3 in 2003. I won several major womens’ tournaments, and I was the French Champion three times — in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Almira at thirteen, 1989 in Moldova

RM: How did you become interested in poker?

AS: I discovered poker in 2003 thanks to my friends, chess grandmasters. They played very often at the Aviation Club in France, and one evening I asked them if I could take part in a poker tournament in which they were playing. It was still a romantic period in France for poker, tournaments were organized with small buy-ins which wooed many new players. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to play hold’em!

I said to myself that it can’t be more difficult than chess and my friends explained to me the rules and elementary strategy in a ten minute taxi ride. The same evening I made it to the final table of this €50 rebuy tournament and finished fifth eliminating both of my professors on the way to the final table.

I have been absolutely bewitched by the game ever since. I didn’t have much time to practice it since I continued my chess career, but I played at the Aviation Club every time I could, and I had some good results. I also played on the Internet, mostly concentrating on tournaments, with a very classic educational process starting with sit ‘n’ go and then multitable tournaments.

RM: Was there a moment when you realized you could really get somewhere by playing poker?

AS: Well actually I do not look at poker as a validation of my abilities. I don’t think that a good result at a tournament helps you to get somewhere. For me it is a personal challenge to understand, to try to get better and master a game. Everything I do, I try to do professionally. I think that chess players are already formed to be good poker players, they possess fundamental qualities to perform, especially in tournaments – capacity to concentrate for a long time, analytical skills, calculating variations or probabilities, and patience.

Of course there are many adjustments to make — as chess players we are used to having to find the best move in the position, the “absolute truth” supported by the calculations, and in poker you can never be sure about the exactitude of your calculations. It is a game of incomplete information and you should integrate many other factors in your decision making.

The only satisfaction I can get after a good result is that after a post-mortem analysis I would notice that my understanding of the game has improved. So basically I am always disappointed since I am learning and discovering new things all the time.

"Play from your house, and enter the court of the royals", reads the Winamax advertisement that can be found in every poker Magazine [click to enlarge]. That is Almira, looking a bit taken aback, at the man in boxer shorts.

Poker requires a lot of discipline, and I think that it is not ideal for the concentration to play on the Internet, since the conditions very often are not optimal to focus completely on your game – unless you have an office where you go to play poker every day and where you could isolate yourself from all other problems.

RM: Do you think you will stay long in poker then?

AS: As long as I can still learn something, and that means long enough. Next year I have to concentrate more on my chess, since I will play the Womens’ World Championship. I am torn between these two fields, and after this event I think that I will finally be able to devote myself to poker completely.

Pictures courtesy of France Poker Awards and Winamax

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