Expert Gambler

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Author: Tracy Morton
Blog Editor
Tracy Morton

Poker Practice - The Other Games That Poker People Play

Poker is a game requiring skill, strategy and a smidgeon of luck. It is also highly competitive, with thousands of people entering tournaments every year, not least because of the huge prizes on offer.

So what do some of our top poker players do to keep themselves and their game sharp? Word has it that some of them are heavily into some other strategy games and even compete in tournaments.

Whether you are intrigued or are looking for a little diversity yourself, here are some of the most popular alternatives to poker.

Backgammon

What are the benefits? Mathematical and tactical skills, making fast decisions.

Backgammon shares a long history with some other board games (that we will come to shortly) but the rise in its popularity coincided with the introduction of the ‘doubling cube’. The effect of this cube, featuring the numbers 2, 4, 8,16, 32 and 64, ups the stakes accordingly, thus speeding up the game and adding excitement.

Interestingly, the first World Series of Backgammon tournament was held in Las Vegas, several years before the first WSOP was hosted. Still, it has never held the same allure for players or enjoyed the same high prize money. Backgammon’s top tournament, held annually in Monte Carlo, has a champion’s pot of only $30,000, although it is possible to win far more playing in ‘side’ or private games.

The most noted professional player is Danish-born Gus Hansen, four times winner of the World Poker Tour. Hansen made a living from playing in high-stakes backgammon games and tournaments before turning his hand to poker. Those in the know have said that Hansen plays poker with a similar strategy to that used in backgammon, aggressive and rarely folding.

Magic: The Gathering

What are the benefits? Learning to learn, reacting calmly to new situations and bluffing skills.

You might recall ‘Magic: The Gathering’ as sets of fancy trading cards your kids were mad about in the 90s. Every week there seemed to be a new release and they were not exactly cheap either. Moving on to the 2020s Magic is still around, still producing new sets of cards every 2-3 months and it is now more popular with adults than it is with their children.

The Magic pro circuit features tournaments all over the world, with top prizes up to $250,000 so it is no wonder that adults see the attraction. Each player ‘builds’ two 60 card decks to outwit his opponent through skill and points. There is little luck to this game; it is all about having a strategy and knowing which are the best cards to see it through, regardless of what your opponent may pull out of the bag.

Our hero poker professional for Magic is no less than Eric Froehlich, colloquially known as ‘The Great Dane’ on the poker circuit. Not only is he a top player in poker’s highest echelons, but he is also a Magic Champion, winning many coveted awards over the last twenty years and becoming a part of the ‘M:TG Hall Of Fame’.

Chess

What are the benefits? Skill and strategy, no luck involved.

We have left chess until last as it is something of an anomaly because more chess professionals play poker than the reverse. Primarily, this is because poker players are particularly good at reading people, which is not a skill required for a chess player. The same applies to another famous Chinese war-strategy board game called Go.

What chess players are exceptionally good at is seeing the layout of their pieces on the board and cleverly working out what their next move needs to be. This skill only comes with years of study and practice. There is big money in chess too, with the biggest, The Vegas Chess Tournament boasting a prize of $1million for the winner.

One chess professional who also competes at high-level poker tournaments is German chess grandmaster Matthias Wahls. He claims that playing poker not only provides him with much-needed relaxation and interaction; it also hones his strategic skills. We are sure that the extra money he picks up along the way does him no harm either.

A Bit of Fun

Just a quick aside for all of you who like chess and poker, but only want to have a bit of fun, rather than getting too serious about either. Try out the new online game of Choker.

Yes, you guessed it, this game is a hybrid of the two which was developed with the help of chess grandmaster Hikaru Nikamura, who has always harboured a secret passion for poker, but does not play on the circuit.

There are 44 cards in a pack, each depicting a chess piece and a lot of rounds where you can bet, fold, call or raise in a similar way to poker; then comes the part where you need your chess skills. In either event, it isn’t straightforward and you are best reading the tutorial first (which also earns you $20k of virtual currency) if you fancy giving it a quick go.

Meet The Author
Tracy Morton
Tracy Morton
Blog Editor

Tracy started writing for us in early 2017 and is a crucial player within our team. She’s the editor of our Blog and regularly writes other articles. Tracy’s online gambling insights are born out of years of real-world experience as a Croupier overseeing table games.

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