PokerStars ambassador Jennifer Shahade has a hand in both games. She has $348,282 in live tournament winnings and is a regular online poker player in Pennsylvania, where she represents Stars in the US market.
An Olympic chess champion and a Woman Grandmaster, Shahade is also a two-time US women’s chess champion. She was also the first female to win the US Junior Open.
When not at the poker table or chess board, the Philadelphia native has also been busy at the keyboard, Shahade recently released a new book, Chess Queens: The True Story of a Chess Champion and the Greatest Female Players of All Time. While the book focuses on chess, the author promises some poker thrown in as well for fans of both these mental games.
“I talk about poker in many places in the book, especially the last chapter, which explains why I ultimately ended up devoting myself to that game too,” she tells PokerScout. “I also talk about how chess was a conduit to poker for American champion Diana Lanni, and the rare moments in chess when it’s important to keep a ‘poker face.’”
A life of gaming – from rooks and pawns to bets, bluffs, & PokerStars
Games have played a crucial part in Shahade’s life. She began playing at age 5 and fell in love with the game by 13. Ironically, that’s the same age many girls drop out of the game, she says.
“Because my family plays chess, my brother and dad are both chess masters and champions, it was easy to hop in and out of the game,” she says. “Not all girls are so lucky. They often leave chess before they’re able to gain so many of its benefits.
“That’s why it’s so important for me to inspire young girls about chess and its benefits, work that I’ve been doing for over a decade, and most recently via my non-profit program US Chess Women.”
After graduating from New York University, the poker table joined the chess board in her gaming repertoire. Her brother, Greg Shahade, was a professional player and one of PokerStars first players. He founded a chess school and league that was sponsored by Stars for several years.
Greg also began teaching his sister how to play poker and she became fascinated with that game as well.
In the years to come, Shahade even became a writer for the “PokerStars Women” initiative. She began playing chess and poker all around the world, from Monaco to Madrid and everywhere in between.
“I started to become immersed in poker culture,” she says, “which deepened my passion for the game, as well as the community around it.”
Happy Birthday to #Chess Queens 🎂
— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) March 3, 2022
Poker rounders becoming chess players
Since the Netflix series, poker players have jumped into chess including players like Daniel Negreanu. That interest may have ebbed a bit, but Shahade believes the games definitely have some overlap.
“The interest from poker players in chess peaked during the Queen’s Gambit boom, but I think it predates that,” she says. “I noticed a huge uptick in chess interest around the same time as solvers took over most poker training programs.”
Shahade believes some players realized their game was becoming more like chess, in practice and study. For many, learning chess simply made sense.
“I created my podcast, The GRID, to showcase the ways the games were merging: chess is becoming more glamorous and story-oriented, while poker is becoming more scientific,” she says.
“But what I love about both games is the combination: the story and community with the pursuit of truth and beauty.”
A return to the chess board
Chess Queens has allowed Shahade to get back to her roots in the game. The author says this is the type of book she’d have wanted to read when she was younger and learning the game.
The hope is that young and older players alike can be inspired by some of the players’ stories included in the book.
“The world fell in love with the fictional Beth Harmon and the Queen’s Gambit,” she says. “We have so many new chess devotees as a consequence, of all genders and ages. They’re hungry to learn more about the real women of chess, who broke down barriers to become grandmasters against the odds.”
Beyond telling stories of some chess’s great players, the new book also allows Shahade to motivate others with her own story.
“Chess Queens tells those stories and intertwines it with my own coming of age story with chess,” she says, “which changed the course of my whole life, ultimately leading to poker too.”
Bringing more women into both games
With more women getting into the game, there is hope among many in the industry that more women are also attracted to poker. Many tour operators and online poker companies have initiatives in place to encourage more female players.
Shahde is doing her part in those efforts. She’s also hoping to see even more expansion of online poker in the next five years.
“I’m lucky to be able to play PokerStars Pennsylvania and look forward to more states joining the fun,” she says. “I think there is a craving right now for classic games like chess and poker, that provide a strong community and history, while giving us a precious opportunity to escape our worries and lose ourselves in a game.”
She remains a firm believer that making poker more inclusive will lead to greater growth.
“That’s why I’m excited about PokerStars continual interest in women’s initiatives,” she says. “I also am proud to be part of the Poker Power movement, an organization that aims to teach poker to one million women, unlocking our potential in other fields we are underrepresented in, from politics to the business world.
“I’m grateful that more and more people now see that gender diversity makes poker and chess more fun for everyone.”