Top 3 Non-Poker Games that Poker Players Love to Play

Poker is a great game full of excitement, big pots, and bold bluffs. However, poker players don’t spend all of their time on the felt. Like everyone else, they enjoy taking some time off and getting busy with other activities.

Of course, some of these activities are similar in nature to poker. When not duking it out on the felt, many players spend their time playing other games that involve elements of luck, strategy, or both.

Chess, backgammon, and baccarat seem to be top three picks in this category, as there are quite a few well-known players in the poker world who enjoy taking their mind off of all the bad beats playing one of these games.

Chess – no luck here

Of the three games mentioned, chess is the most skill-oriented one, and it is much different than opening a random game at a site like and trying your luck. The only way to really have a chance of beating a better player at chess is by getting better yourself.

While it may seem that chess and poker don’t have much in common, those who know both games intimately will tell you differently. There may be a higher luck factor involved in poker, but both games require the ability to plan ahead and understanding fundamental strategic principles.

One common trait that all good chess players have in common is that they’re able to think several moves ahead for different scenarios. Thanks to this, they’re able to properly respond to any attack their opponent tries to launch against their king and properly assess the real threat.

Poker may not be as exact as chess in this regard, but planning ahead is something all good players do. The moment you get involved in a hand, you should have solutions for different board runouts in your head. This is where math, strategy, and your reading abilities come together.

Thus, it is no surprise that many successful chess players have found their way into the poker world. One of the best-known chess players to also fall in love with poker is Jennifer Shahade, a FIDE grandmaster and two-time winner of the US Women’s Championship. Although she’s become quite active in the poker world, Shahade still remains loyal to chess.

Ylon Schwartz is another famous name in this group. Schwartz, too, has the FIDE master title to his name, but his decision to turn a professional poker player has worked out pretty well for him. To date, he’s earned more than $5.1 million playing poker tournaments.

Backgammon – quite like poker

When talking about the skill vs. luck element, backgammon is the game most similar to poker. Just like in poker, anyone can win in any given game of backgammon. In the long run, however, most skillful players always come out on top.

For poker players, this game represents a great way to relax doing something different, but many of them also make money playing against less experienced opponents. The unpredictability of backgammon creates an illusion that it’s all about lucky dice rolls, just like playing online casino slots once you’ve learned the basic rules, so recreational players keep coming back to it, always remembering those good runs they had.

The rules of backgammon aren’t too hard to learn, but the strategy behind the game is quite complex. If you want to play a good game, you’ll need to put your mind to it. While it’s not as demanding as chess, it’s not as carefree as you might think at first glance.

The best-known player in the poker world to also compete in a high-stakes backgammon match is Gus Hansen. The Great Dane has been playing backgammon for years, and he seems to be a very good player according to many accounts. Hansen himself has often talked about some crazy backgammon matches he got to play against players with fat bankrolls but not much skill.

Baccarat – pure gambling

The only real connection between baccarat and poker is that both games are played with cards. There is no effective baccarat strategy (unless you can bring your own deck, of course), and there is no way to “out-think” the casino. Like all table games played against the house, the casino always wins in the long run.

Even so, many poker players enjoy baccarat in their downtime. Sometimes, you just want to unwind and test your luck without having to think about anything. You place your bets, get your cards, and whatever happens – happens. Like with all gambling, you win some, you lose some, but as long as you know your limits, the house edge in baccarat isn’t too bad.

The most famous poker player who enjoys baccarat is none other than Phil Ivey. In well-documented cases Ivey managed to beat the house using a questionable (but NOT illegal) technique known as edge sorting. The casinos, displeased at losing, took the cases to court. Of course, Ivey isn’t the only one to occasionally try his hand at baccarat, but thanks to his edge-sorting controversies, the game has gained in popularity among poker players.



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Tadas Peckaitis poker author
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Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author of the free poker book “Play ‘A’ game and be the boss at your poker table”, and poker coach at He is also a big fan of personal effectiveness and always trying to do more. Tadas shares his knowledge about both of these topics with his […]

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