Friday, April 22, 2016

Poker vs. Chess in Russia

Interesting item from yesterday’s Chicago Tribune regarding the rise of online poker in Russia over recent years, one point of which is to suggest how poker has now more or less overtaken chess as the national game, at least in the view of certain observers.

The article’s title, “Online poker’s killing the Russian chess star,” kind of awkwardly reprises that of the Buggles’ prescient 1980 pop hit “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the effort to do so probably misplacing the article’s emphasis somewhat.

The article does include some generalized nostalgia about the Soviet era’s chess “celebrities” -- people like Mikhail Botvinnik, Garry Kasparov, and Anatoly Karpov (none of whom is actually named in the article). And it does remark on the growth of online poker in Russia, citing figures such as the fact that 16% of Russians in 2013 played poker (up from 11% two years before) and that Russians account for 8.4% of all players on online sites.

But it doesn’t really provide a convincing causal link between the fall of chess and rise of poker. That’s not to say there isn’t a link, but the article doesn’t dig too deeply and thus doesn’t really show how poker “killed” (or is “killing”) chess.

In fact, interestingly, the real emphasis of the article has to do with current legislative efforts in Russia to legalize online poker, which as happened many times over here in the U.S. has led to studies about potential revenue and debates about whether the game’s skill component sufficiently distinguishes it from other forms of gambling.

I say the link between the decline of chess and the ascent of poker isn’t so obviously established in the article, but there is one interesting connection described. Speaking of possible federal regulation of online poker, it sounds like some of the potential revenue would be earmarked to help reinvigorate chess among the country’s population.

“In a nod to sensitivities about the decline of chess,” writes the author, “the government plans to use the tax proceeds that result to fund the National Chess Federation, so that it can foster passion for the game once more.”

In any event, it sounds like the status quo isn’t going to hold much longer in Russia as far as online poker is concerned. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. And whether or not the government’s next move helps online poker continue to grow in popularity (and chess, too, I suppose). Or, as happened in the U.S., it has the effect of checkmating it away.

Photos: “Chess,” Tame M. CC BY 2.0; “Poker XII,” Bastian Greshake. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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