A Million and Two Reasons

by admin on July 7, 2018

For poker players, this is one of the biggest weeks of the year — the week of the “Main Event” at the World Series of Poker. And even though there are a million reasons why I don’t play poker, I thought it would be fun to catch up on some former (and current) chess players who are competing in the WSOP.

One of my former chess opponents, Evan Meyer Sandberg, has been posting regular updates on Facebook about his progress in the Main Event. They’re on day three now, and according to the latest update I saw on the WSOP website, Evan is currently in 640th place with 205,200 chips. That’s pretty good, considering there were 7,874 entrants and there are 2,288 players remaining.

Although I don’t know how cash prizes are determined at the main event, this seems like an important day because historically (i.e., looking up last year’s tournament online) I see that people who survived day three were guaranteed to win money, and that meant roughly the top 1000 players. (Last year, 1084 players were in the money, to be precise.) So Evan has a pretty good shot at prize money — but a lot of things can happen. That’s reason number one million and one why I don’t play poker: there’s no continuity from one hand to the next. In chess, every move leads naturally to the next. In poker, you can have a great hand and then nothing for the next hand (or twenty hands).

I also noticed a couple other chess names slightly to the north of Evan in the standings. I’m sure that Jennifer Shahade, prolific chess commentator and chess author, needs no introduction. She currently stands at #558 with 217,000 chips. And just two places above her is Michael Pearson, #556 with 217,500. Michael was a strong junior player and National Master in the San Francisco area a decade ago. The thing I remember him for the most clearly is that in 2006, we captained the two teams that met in the finals of the East Bay Chess League. And not to rub salt into any old wounds, my team, called “Eight is Enough,” defeated “Mike’s Maters” by the slimmest of margins,  2½-1½.

Michael dropped out of tournament chess a few years after that, and I never knew what happened to him. But apparently he’s been doing okay at his new poker gig. He even won first place in an event a couple years ago, earning $150,000. That’s the good news. The bad news is, according to WSOP.com his lifetime earnings in all events other than that one amount to $25,000. That’s poker for you: feast or famine, and famine a whole lot more often than feast. That’s reason number one million and two why I don’t play poker. I much prefer chess, which is famine all the time.

Anyway, to Evan, Jennifer and Michael, good luck at the cards! Does anyone know any other chess players who are currently playing in the WSOP?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Schmidt July 7, 2018 at 6:05 pm

It looks like he busted out of this year’s event, but Dan Harrington, who has a very old USCF rating of 2355, is a top-tier poker player (he won the 1995 WSOP main event) who has written some of the most highly-regarded books on the subject.

There is actually a fair amount of continuity from one hand to the next in tournament poker, but it has to do only with the number of chips everyone has, not the cards. However, with expert players, the number of chips people have is just as important as the cards, if not more so (many many hands are folded before a showdown), so this is more effective continuity than you might think.


admin July 8, 2018 at 8:27 am

For anyone who is curious, Evan Sandberg improved his position significantly in day three and is now in 318th place, with 437,000 chips. He is now in the money for the second straight year, but says that he is in a much stronger position than last year. There are 1182 players still in contention.

It appears that the other two players I mentioned have been eliminated. Michael Pearson finished at #1282 — so near and yet so far. Don’t forget that it costs $10,000 just to enter, so when I wrote about feast or famine, I meant it. Jennifer Shahade must have been eliminated earlier in the day.

Michael Aigner asked me why I mentioned that Pearson is a National Master at chess but didn’t mention that Sandberg is too. Sorry, I should have said that. The reason is that Pearson was already a National Master in the mid-00’s when I was playing him. Sandberg was not an NM yet when I played him (in the 2008 Labor Day Championship and the 2010 Peoples Tournament). I didn’t think of checking to see if he had achieved the title since then.

Still curious whether anyone knows if any other chess masters are still alive in this year’s WSOP. Anyway, I’ll be rooting for Evan to get on TV!


Gabriel July 8, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Maxx Coleman is a master. He’s currently 474th.


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