Talking Chess and PokerStars with Greg Shahade

International Chess Master Greg Shahade joined PokerStars the day it launched. We catch up with him to talk chess and poker.

Greg Shahade poker
Greg Shahade

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Greg Shahade: I’m 37 years old and from Philadelphia. I have actually never had a ‘real’ job, thanks in large part to PokerStars. However, when I wasn’t a professional poker player, I have been a professional chess player and organizer.

I’m an International Master of Chess, and founder of the United States Chess School and the United States Chess League. I was fortunate that PokerStars was the sponsor of the United States Chess League for eight years. 

Why did you sign up for PokerStars on the very first day that real money games were launched?

Greg Shahade: I had a fascination with poker tournaments, and Pokerstars seemed like it was going to be the first site that really put a focus on the tournament side of play. I was literally counting the days until it opened so I could play some no-limit tournaments.

You’re a well-known chess player, but had you played much poker back when you joined PokerStars?

Greg Shahade: I played some poker recreationally and was decent, but nowhere near professional level. My time playing on PokerStars gave me the experience I needed to make poker my primary source of income.

"Chess takes longer to master"

Greg Shahade chess
"Poker has made me a smarter person"

Can you describe the excitement you felt when online poker became available in the early 2000s?

Greg Shahade: Honestly I was just starting to play poker at that time, so it felt kind of normal to me. The first super exciting moment I had on PokerStars was in a $100 No-Limit Hold’em tournament very early in my poker career. It was a lot of money for me at the time but I had built my bankroll up through Sit & Go’s to about $10,000 (I felt like the richest person in the world at the time).

I kept playing the nightly $100 tournaments but whiffed about ten of them in a row. However, that night I got to the final table, eventually got heads-up, and won about $4,000 after finishing second. It’s a big deal to increase your bankroll from $10,000 to $14,000, so I was super-pumped.

What kind of games, stakes and success have you had playing online and live poker over the past decade or so?

Greg Shahade: I’ve played mostly online and jumped around from being a professional Sit & Go player to MTT tournament player to cash game player. It usually changed every two years or so.

Why did you choose to play at PokerStars?

Greg Shahade: The tournament offerings were definitely the best in the business. Another key factor was the level of integrity that PokerStars showed when I was playing. They always seemed to put a premium on doing the right thing and treating their players well. I actually felt proud to be associated with such a business and the very existence of PokerStars changed my life in so many ways.

I have lived such a free and interesting life. I have never had to work a nine-to-five job, and I’ve been able to pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want, for the last 15 years. This freedom has allowed me to pursue many independent projects that those who have ‘normal’ jobs, don't have to time to pursue. So while I could have never guessed it at the time, signing up on day one of PokerStars, was the first step to making my life as fulfilling as it is today.

How does poker compare to chess in terms of skill, strategy, luck, longevity of interest?

Greg Shahade: There is more skill in chess and it takes much longer to master. Personally I find chess somewhat more interesting, but still find poker fascinating as well. One thing that I probably shouldn’t be saying is that deep inside I feel that poker may be a more beneficial game to teach children than chess (although chess is still very beneficial!).

The number of important life skills you get from a game like poker are immeasurable. The problem is society has an irrational fear of ‘gambling’ that makes it impossible for poker to be taught to children on the type of level necessary. I feel like my experience with poker has definitely made me a much smarter person in almost every aspect of life.

"We should teach children poker"

Jennifer Shahade
Greg's sister Jennifer Shahade

You live in the US so you can’t play real money poker on PokerStars at present – what have you done instead?

Greg Shahade: I’ve been playing some chess and teaching some. I also spend a lot of time working with the United States Chess School, which is now a recognized non-profit organization. Also, I did well enough on Pokerstars where I don’t have to work too hard right now, so thanks for that!

When PokerStars returns to the US, would you move to a State where it’s available to play again?

Greg Shahade: I’m not a believer in altering my life or schedule to play poker. Part of the beauty of poker is that it allows you to have such a flexible life. I’m doing well enough where I wouldn’t feel a strong urge to move, although ten years ago my answer would probably be different. The good news is that I live in Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania is one of the States most rumoured to have regulated online poker in the future. 

Your sister Jennifer is a mind sports ambassador for PokerStars, and she combines her love of chess with travelling the world to play poker too. Is that something you could see yourself doing?

Greg Shahade: Of course! I accept your offer – just let me know when to start and which is my first tournament.

You’ve done some streaming on Twitch – is that a big part of your future as it seems to be a brave new world for online poker there? Can you tell us a little bit about what your future plans are for that platform?

Greg Shahade: I enjoy streaming on Twitch but in order to get a major following I think you need to spend a few more hours per day than I’m willing to spend. Realistically I think I’d need to stream 3-6 hours per day to become super-popular, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that.

This interview was kindly provided to us by our friends at PokerStars as part of their 100 million customer celebrations.

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Comments (2)

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  • RedHeater

    #1

    I watched this guy's chess videos some years ago, they were very good.
  • PokarFace

    #2

    I've also thought of teaching my children poker (note, I play chess at competitive level as well). The part where he mentions we should teach poker to children made me smile =-)
    I even want to share hi quote on Facebook, yet the rest of the people will swear I'm a degen if they see my post. It's a poker thing, they wouldn't understand =-(