Taking a Break From Poker to Win a Championship

The French championship was notable for the outcome on the women’s side and for a stirring display of sportsmanship among the men in the face of tragedy.

 Almira Skripchenko won the women’s title for the fifth time. Skripchenko, who was born in Moldova, was the top seed, but she no longer competes regularly in chess: she is a professional poker player.

 Skripchenko has said she switched to make more money. She has won about $250,000 since she started playing poker in 2003.

 Other accomplished chess players who have switched to cards include Dan Harrington, who is now one of poker’s top stars and was the Massachusetts chess champion in 1971; Josef Klinger, an Austrian grandmaster; and Ylon Schwartz, a master who was born in Brooklyn and who won almost $3.8 million in 2008 at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event.

 Skripchenko said poker was easier than chess, which she said she once studied for six to eight hours a day. But, she added, “I think chess is one of the last games where everything is based on creativity.”

 Poker, she said, has helped her become a better chess player. “Poker in a way helped me to find joy in simple things, to be happy, to accept defeat,” Skripchenko said.

 Among the French men, the competition was cutthroat. With just one round to go, Christian Bauer, Etienne Bacrot, Romain Edouard and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were tied for first. But before the round began, Bauer’s 4-month-old son died — the cause of death has not been announced — and Bauer immediately withdrew.

 The other competitors unanimously decided to cancel the last round. Bacrot, Edouard and Vachier-Lagrave refused to participate in a playoff to determine a champion, so the French Chess Federation declared the three men and Bauer co-champions.

 One of Bauer’s best games was his victory in Round 7 over Maxime Lagarde.

 Bauer played 3 Bb5 (the Rossolimo Variation), perhaps to avoid the Sveshnikov Variation, which is difficult for White to crack.

 Bauer took a calculated risk by playing 18 Rg7. It allowed Lagarde to trap his rook, but Lagarde had to expose his king and give up his dark-squared bishop, leaving him with holes in his position.

 Lagarde’s 24 ... Qg5 was an error: it put his queen on the same file as his king. It would have been better to play 24 ... Qh4. He made the situation worse with 25 ... a5, when he should have played 25 ... Rhg8. Bauer pounced with 26 Qe1, which won material.

 After that, there was nothing Lagarde could do. He resigned after 33 Nf3 because there was no good way to defend himself against the combined power of Bauer’s queen and knight. 

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