WSOP 2016: Shahade proving there is more than one Mind Sport

July 15, 2016

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Jennifer Shahade, PokerStars Mind Sports Ambassador

Jennifer Shahade has just achieved her personal best in the World Series of Poker Main Event, and she isn’t finished yet. Before today, Shahade had never made it past the bubble. With one hour to go before the dinner break, 432 players of the 6,737 remain. Shahade isn’t just one of them. She is very close to the top ten percent of the field.

To understand this accomplishment, you have to consider a couple of things. First, Shahade has made her living with her mind. She’s a chess champion, one who has worked as both an author, instructor, and–when competing against many people at the very same time–a sort of chess performance artist.

Second, and maybe more important, poker is not chess, and when Shahade left here after Day 1, she was less than pleased.

“During the first day, I had a really bad day. Even though I got 63,000, I thought I played really badly. Like, my C-game,” she said.

That’s the big difference. On any normal chess day, she looks at the board, and her brain knows what to do. Even when she is playing a ton of people at once, she only has one opponent per game. Poker isn’t chess. In a lot of ways, it can be harder.

“It’s more psychological here. In chess, you’re really just looking at the board. The only way the opponent comes into play is pre-game preparation where you pick your openings,” she said. “Here it is all about trying to figure out whether people are more likely to bluff or not based on previous actions. You really have to be paying attention to people.”

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Once she made it to Day 2, she found her footing and has ended each day with more chips than she unbagged in the morning. Now, barring some weird calamity, she looks solid to make it to Day 5 where the money starts getting very serious.

A decent question is: how has she done it?

It’s a matter of twisting her brain around the many angles that come with a poker tournament like this. She is playing a one-of-a-kind event where variance still comes into play. At the same time, it’s just poker.

“Treating it as any other tournament is really important,” she said.

But that is not what a lot of people do. She’s made her own mistakes, and she has seen others make them too. Even this deep in this big of a tournament, there are people just trying to ladder up. There are others freaking out and losing their minds.

“Some people start over-bluffing like crazy. And some people are so afraid to get it in, because it is such a special tournament and it only happens once a year, and you only get chips in it once in a while, even if you play it perfectly,” she said.

Shahade knows she is no more special than anyone else here and variance won’t treat her any differently. The only thing she can control is her mind, something she has been working on for her entire life.

“My main goal was to do a lot better the rest of the days and come in with the attitude that, with such a grueling schedule, everybody in the tournament is making mistakes,” she said of her improvement over the past three days. “It’s important to have a balance. Even though you don’t want to bust, you always want to make the most profitable play. I think that’s the hardest thing in the Main Event.”

So, here she sits, grinding away with Todd Brunson on her left and Day 5 in her sights. She may have achieved her personal best, but she knows she can do a lot better. That’s why this is more than just a Mind Sport this time. It’s the Main Event.

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is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by


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