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Poker vs. Chess: Which game is more complex?

Written by Jason Frakk. Last updated on

Chess and poker are two games which include a lot of calculations by the players in a game.

There is some degree of similarity between the styles and complexity in the games which have seen a lot of players switch between games, especially chess players who have switched over to play poker to earn a few bucks.

There has been a raging debate for quite some time regarding which game is more difficult or complex.

Poker players would side with their game and chess players would side with theirs but to answer this debate we would have to look at both sides of the equation.

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One on one and one on many


A complex equation.

The first point of difference which brings in the complexity equation is the number of players you play with on a regular basis.

Chess is mostly played as a one on one game while poker can start with multiple players playing against you on a table.

This creates a certain level of complexity for the poker player since he would have to keep a watch on 4-5 other players rather than just the one who would have played against him in chess.

As we all know, every poker player is different and keeping a track of the styles throughout the game would not be easy for a poker player. With practice this can change, chess players though have to worry about just their one opponent and no one else, so poker wins this round in the sense of complexity.

The analytical aspect of the game

poker vs chess 2

Analytical play by Putin.

Chess and poker players both need to be analytical while playing their games; chess players spend hours training and learn about a multitude of defenses and strategies to counter those by the opponent.

Chess players have an added advantage of playing against just one opponent and can learn about each move of the opponent in detail, while poker players dealing with so many opponents can feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to that.

Of course, the analysis done in real time about just what each player can do is much greater in the poker game as there are so many factors (players) to look out for, the same might not apply to chess but the sheer number of strategies running around in the head to counter one move should not be taken lightly.

Humans play a big role as well

cool poker chess figures

Some similarity to poker cards.

This is where certain things play out in poker, every poker player knows about the ‘tells’ each player has and the fact that a lot of poker players bluff while playing the game.

This aspect makes poker a little difficult and complex to deal with.

You might say one thing but do something else at the table in a poker game. There is also the fact that players spend hours learning how they can use the ‘tells’ of their opponents to their advantage, there are many books which deal with just the ‘tells’ and how to deal with them.

Chess does have an element of the human opponent having a tell but the bluffing does not apply because the only moves you can pull off is what you actually do on the chess board.

The bluff is something which can turn a game around and has to be kept in mind while playing poker, not true when playing a game of chess though.

Luck or skill?

luck or skill

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This is one factor which has been debated for a long time regarding poker.

The game does have an element of luck; you do need some luck to win a lot of poker games.

Skill is something that is required to do well in almost every game but luck is a huge element while playing poker. Chess players have a lot of skill to deal with the plethora of strategies going on around in their head and on the board.

This is not to say that poker players are not skillful or don’t require skill to win games but the luck factor does make poker a game which can throw a few surprises and can do make a little bit more complex compared to chess.

Man and machine

man machine chess

Machines are taking over.

Everyone knows about the computer that actually defeated Gary Kasparov, the chess world champion. In 1997 Deep Blue defeated Kasparov and the whole gaming community went crazy as to how a computer was able to take down a world champion (something that had never happened before).

This loss has provided fuel to the fire for this question and analysts have said that poker players cannot be defeated by computers because of the telling factor and also the fact that luck is involved hugely in poker games.

What many would not know is that a new computer program has been made which claims that it will not lose to any poker player.

Cepheus, developed by a Finnish software company has cracked the code to play Texas hold’em poker, although this is only for the two player game, this is a huge step in ensuring that the ‘machine’ factor is not brought into the complexity debate.

Two great games but no real winner

even if you win

Classic internet meme.

To be honest both games are complex and tough to master in their own respective ways.

While you do not play with many opponents in chess, you know almost every defense and strategy that your opponent can use and vice versa. Knowing what someone else might do and then recalculate to counter that move is tough in itself.

Poker has the element of bluffs, tells and lucks, which can be a fickle mistress. Sure you can be on a crazy winning run and see it come to a halt all of a sudden and the opposite can happen in the game of poker as well.

The one thing which makes this game complex is the players you play against and of course, that is also one of the most appealing facets of the game of poker.

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