The poker community on social media has been resoundingly supportive of me in the past year
During the highly anticipated return of the North American Poker Tour (NAPT) Las Vegas stop, we caught up with PokerStars ambassador and Chess Grandmaster Jen Shahade.
We dig into how the chess and poker communities compare, her latest advocacy projects, and how AI could help prevent cheating in both poker and chess. Shahade gives us a glimpse at her upcoming projects, which include a book focusing on the recent cheating and abuse scandals that rocked the chess world.
It can be said that the poker community can be toxic at times, especially on social media. How would you say it compares to your latest experiences in the chess community?
On the contrary, social media’s chess and poker community has resoundingly supported me in the past year. For all the flaws of social media (and there are many!), Without it, it would be harder for my story to be told and to speak truth to power successfully. Like chess in poker, there are often toxic elements on social media, but also often positive elements.
Another example of positivity in poker socials would be Nadya Magnus’s frequent giveaways to female players on social (including three NAPT seats) and the way it enables awesome promos like the Platinum Pass contests for the Poker Stars Players Championship we had earlier this year. I did two really fun Platinum Pass Promos in 2019 and 2023- the 2019 one was a challenge to create a game that combined elements of chance and chess- Warren Sheaves won, and none other than Alex Botez was one of the finalists.
In 2023, Matt Glassman, a brilliant writer & political analyst, won my poker GRID Platinum Pass competition by reminding so many of the beauty of Home Games. Social media certainly helped make these competitions a success.
You are passionate about encouraging and empowering young girls and women to play skilled-based mind-game sports. Please tell us what you are currently working on in poker and chess to get more minority players into the game.
I just finished a new book called 'Play Like A Champion.’ This book combines my love for chess puzzles with my passion for stories and inclusion. All the puzzles in the book are by female champions, but the book is not geared to women specifically. It’s for everyone! Similarly, I believe that in poker, male allies are crucial to helping us address the gender balance. And I’m happy to report that in recent years, I’ve never seen so many men ask me what they can do to help make the world more welcoming to women.
I’m also working with a lot of exciting partners like Chess-in-the-Schools, ASAP Philly, and ChessKid to mentor girls. I just spoke to the Harvard Chess Club, where at least half the audience was female!
Coming up, I have chess appearances planned in New York, my own Philadelphia, and Charlotte. This is always a highlight for me. I love working with kids and encouraging their passion for chess and how it gives them access to the flow experience and networking opportunities.
I’ve just co-authored a study on gender bias and chess with professors from NYU- this study showed that mentors + coaches under-rate their female students’ chances of success. The effect is exacerbated when mentors and coaches believe you must be inherently “brilliant” to be good at chess. I think this shows the importance of patience with students and new devotees. Every learning curve is different!
I’m grateful that we have so many like-minded people who see the value of bringing poker to more women
As for poker, two years ago, I introduced the President of Poker Power, Erin Lydon, to Rebecca McAdam and Moya Wilson at Poker Stars, both of whom, along with their teams, have always been devoted to inclusion. To see how much has been accomplished since then by PokerStars and Poker Power is breathtaking. The cohort of women who attended the EPT Cyprus Bootcamp Showdown was a particularly brilliant, diverse, and inspiring group. I’m grateful that we have so many like-minded people who see the value of bringing poker to more women. As Poker Power says, let’s flip the table and teach one million women to play.
Cheating scandals in recent years have rocked both the chess and poker worlds. We are seeing increased live and online reinforcement on limiting tools that can be used during a skill game. How do you see operators of both chess and poker developing protocols over the next 5 years to combat this?
I’m proud to represent PokerStars, which has a very dedicated Game Integrity Department. What we see in BOTH chess and poker is that AI may seemingly help cheaters, but AI also helps cheat detection. I believe in the longevity of chess and poker and that operators will successfully adapt to make players feel safe.
How did you find the transition from chess to poker? How much of your experience with studying chess has helped develop your poker skills?
The main way that chess helped me in poker is how to approach a game and how to structure the study of a game. Chess also helps people cope with disappointment. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on.
It’s never easy — I can still remember how I felt when I got second place in the US Championship, missing the title by half a point or bubbling my first World Series of Poker Main Event, but it’s part of the game. And sure enough, I stuck with it and ended up winning two US Championship titles and cashing in two subsequent WSOP Mains.
Can you tell us what your future plans look like? Will you be playing poker in PA online or live? Do you have any plans to come back to competitive chess?
'Thinking Sideways’ will dive into the recent cheating and abuse scandals in chess while reframing some key life lessons from chess and poker
When in PA, I love to play online and am super excited about the 2024 NAPT. And I’m relaunching the poker GRID, my award-winning, chess-inspired poker podcast. I am also on deadline for my next book, Thinking Sideways, which will dive into the recent cheating and abuse scandals in chess while reframing some key life lessons from chess and poker.
The book’s title refers to the fact that we “think sideways” in chess just as much as we think ahead. Great chess players are adept at looking from side to side: is there an option I didn’t consider that I need to take into account? By contrast, thinking ahead is often important, but sometimes it’s a waste of time because the future is different than expected. In today’s chaotic world, this idea of flexibility is so relevant, not just to chess and poker but also to life.