Football and poker might seem like two very distant games with nothing in common, but after some research it seems they share more than you might think. While football is more physical, both are intense mental challenges that require much strategy and competitive skills.
So it is not strange that many footballers are actually active online poker players in the likes of Ronaldo, Neymar and Michael Owen. Most of which have scored massive sponsorship deals with big poker websites and play regularly with some success. Let’s take a deeper look at similarities between them.
Football TV Viewers & Playing Poker
This is one of the most interesting correlations. Online poker players drop by around 10 – 15% when there is a big football game going in. Even more interesting is how the number of players increases once more only during the halftime break. More players will remain during the second half of a game if their team is losing or the game is not that exciting.
Poker sites chat boxes are usually filled with football player names and live scores as the poker players wait for their hand to happen. It is very common in the UK for poker fans to fill-in their dead time at the tables by watching football games.
This is one of the main reasons poker sites tend to ally with famous soccer players, as it is well identified poker players are die-hard football fans as well. The closer both games are the better.
Major football matches include national, regional and worldwide events like the Premier League, Champions League and the World Cup. Poker players around the world also engage in a similar system. For example, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is somewhat like FIFA hosting international tournaments around the world, and the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) can be compared to the World Cup.
Favorites & Underdogs
As in football, the biggest names in poker tend to win more often. In this case it is harder for a player to maintain their reign when in football big bucks help maintain the best squad possible.
Underdogs do sometimes end up making it to the final table and defeating big poker players, just as Leicester City won the Premier League in the 2015-16 season or the expectations during the Europa League of 2019.
One of the most renowned underdogs of poker was Scott Blumstein, a 25 year-old from New Jersey who won the 2015 WSOP with $8.1 million in cash. Underdogs usually make their win thanks to capitalizing from cooler hands. When the professional has all the statistical advantage to his side and makes a big bet, but is called and once the flop is drawn the impossible happens and the underdog gets precisely the cards he needed.
In fact, one UK football player won one such poker tournament. Anthony Gardener, former player for Port Vale, Tottenham, Hull City, Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday won the Dusk Till Dawn tournament walking away with £20,550.
Football has been the most popular sport around the globe for decades. Poker achieved its highest popularity in the 2000’s with the birth of online poker and TV tournament broadcasting. It became a common hobby to play football outdoors with your friends but also win some bucks at penny poker cash tables online. The popularity of poker faced a downward trend with the aggressive ban of poker online sites, known in the US as Black Friday, but in the UK sites like 888poker are legal and very popular with the football fans.
Personal Styles & Drama
What would football be without the incessant referee mistakes, fouls, over-dramatized injury falls and player macho displays? It adds some emotion to the game. Same happens with poker, where players bring their own weird personalities to the table and dig in the nerves of the rivals to deduct their hands or fool them into making bad calls. Just as fans delight in watching Messi dribble the ball with superb skill and perfection, so is watching Vladimir Geshkenbein with a deck a of cards and his domination over other players.
This scope is where both games might be the most similar. A successful manager must always be ahead of his rival to secure a positive outcome. As in poker, it is important to identify the weak spots to create a stronger defense and effective attack. Poker players learn to identify bluffs and the basic strategy of the other.
Football teams will sometimes pull back and park themselves in their own goal when they identify the opposing side just has much better control of the game. In this scenario a draw is a positive outcome for the underdog. In poker underdogs apply game theory optimal; a defensive strategy that secures both players will not gain an advantage over the other. You block yourself of winning but also block your opponent, who in this case is stronger than you (usually has more chips or better skills). Poker players do this expecting a rival mistake they can profit from or just burning time in a tournament to secure a better spot as other players get eliminated.
As you can see both games have many commonalities and the mental skills required in one sport are similar to the other. If you either wish to become better at football or poker, learn from the other game as well.