It’s fair to say that the link between footballers and poker has been spoken of before, and the temptation is to mention how a great striker has the type of agile mind and intelligent nature that easily translates to poker. While there may be a valid point there, the truth is that you could take any sport or athlete and talk of a quality they have that might help them as a poker player.
If Torvill and Dean decided to enter a poker tournament next week we could all surmise that the nerves of steel they showed under pressure to win Olympic gold will serve them well at the poker table, but it’s unlikely to be a significant factor. That’s not to say we should be completely dismissive of sports stars playing poker though, as some of them can play very well, whether they are a striker, goalkeeper, or midfielder.
One such hand that illustrates this took place in a poker tournament: former Manchester United legend Norman Whiteside played a hand against former Juventus goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi. When playing AK, and facing a reraise from Tacconi, Whiteside sensibly decided to just call and see how the situation developed, before hitting a near unbeatable straight when 10, J, Q hit the board. Tacconi went on to make an excellent fold in this hand with AA, proving that goalkeepers play poker just as well as strikers and midfielders.
The most obvious Manchester United player to take up poker after their football career is Teddy Sheringham. His accomplishments on the football field for England and United are well known, and the goal he scored to level against Bayern Munich in the European cup final of 1999 (before Solskjaer’s last gasp winner) will be remembered by United fans for the rest of their lives.
His exploits in the poker world haven’t been quite as glorious yet, but making a few final tables is a respectable start, especially when one of them is a 5th place at an EPT Vilamoura event filled with professional poker players.
For most footballers, their poker education will begin on the team buses and planes where they’re taught the basics by their teammates rather than having to look up the rules online. Spending hours travelling between matches while enjoying the competitive spirit of their careers, poker is an obvious hobby that can grow to become another competitive outlet for a player later in life.
It’s unclear whether Norman Whiteside or Teddy Sheringham have played a lot of online poker before entering live tournaments, but as the online world is a perfect poker training ground, it seems highly likely that professional footballers have online screen names that they play under.
When he wasn’t mesmerising defences, United great George Best could often be found playing casino games. It was one such casino session that led to the famous tale of a waiter delivering champagne to George’s hotel room, only to find ‘Miss World’ and him on the bed surrounded by piles of cash, to which the waiter asked, “Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?”
So it is fair to say that both casino games and card games are not new in the footballing world.
As for the reasons why footballers seem drawn to them, it is probably a combination of enjoying competition and being young men with money, wanting to unwind away from matches and long training sessions.
Whilst there remains little evidence that footballing skill creates good poker players, if you do happen to have ‘Miss World’ on your arm like George Best, you can at least settle for ensuring that all waiters – and poker opponents at the table – are thoroughly distracted.