FUTURE BRIGHT FOR CHESS. BUT POKER?

Chess 29may12The United States hailed its young chess prodigies this week, notably International Master Marc Arnold, who claimed the US Junior title in Rockville.

As a column in the Washington Times reported, the achievement of its top rated young chess players is great for the American game, with Arnold, 19, preceding his victory with a stellar performance at the World Open in Philadelphia. It’s good for an automatic place at the US Championship next year.

Not only that, Arnold can aspire to even greater things. Historically the title has proven a vital stepping stone, with previous winners including Bobby Fischer, Joel Benjamin and the current US number one Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura.

It’s in stark contrast to the world of poker which, when compared to chess, is played behind closed doors. Occasionally it receives a visit from the outside world; an agent reporting back with photographs showing players grinning from behind big piles of money. It simply adds more weight to the outdated notions that still hold poker back from being considered anything more than a curiosity.

But poker has its share of young challengers, equally adept at making the generations before them scratch their heads in wonder.

Jeff Williams won the EPT Grand Final in 2006 the same age as Arnold. Mike McDonald, currently ranked 11th in the world on the Global Poker Index, won EPT Dortmund aged just 18. Harrison Gimbel won the PCA Main Event in 2010, also aged 19. All three were too young to play poker legally in the United States.

To watch someone like McDonald in action is as awe inspiring as watching a grand master tie an opponent in knots. Few demonstrate what it takes succeed as well as he, and few speak with such authority or thoughtfulness about a game.

Just as chess followers salute their rising stars, the poker community celebrates the achievement of its finest. But that’s where the story ends. Poker is more than a big block of bank notes and a once a year photograph in the entertainment page. Yet it is often viewed as such.
When that changes perhaps the popular opinion will change too and the mainstream press will report on the success of players like Williams, McDonald and Gimbel as they rightfully celebrate the future of Marc Arnold.