Football and poker are two ruthless sports from different fields, with equally ruthless consequences.
On 3 August, Stevenage FC nearly fought all the way back from the grave after trailing 1-3 in the final 20 minutes of action against Oldham Athletic; only to lose 4-3 after the final whistle if not for the heroics of Latics’ Jose Baxter in the 87th minute. Mental lapses are harsh realities in any sport. A split second of cockiness can ultimately lead to a devastating knockouts like what happened to long time UFC middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva. A reckless call on the river can change the course of a poker tournament and can turn anyone from being a chip leader to virtually a cellar dweller. And a simple mistake in tactics can be costly especially when a team is behind and raring to score an equalising goal.
Just like poker, football is a sport that involves a ton of strategy and adjustment. It’s the coaches job to formulate sound game plans night in and night out; and carefully scout the opposing club’s players and their tendencies on the pitch. A football manager like Stevenage’s Graham Westley is like a crafty poker player on the bench. They’re the brains that run a well-oiled machine and the type that utilises each player’s potential in creating game-changing plays, and scoring decisive goals for their clubs. They meticulously analyse every move and every substitution their opponents make, while fine-tuning their own strategies on-the-fly. A highly-regarded football manager is someone who doesn’t wilt under pressure and is a pillar of strength and hope for his players. And in a game where one costly error in the final minutes can lead to a lifetime of regrets and agony, it is equally important for its brains and its brawns to have a strong connection both on and off the pitch.
In sports, committing errors is inevitable. No matter how solid the team or a player’s strategy is, the human nature aspect of the sport comes out and bites hard. Unlike in football where simple mental lapses during the end game proves more costly than a bunch of errant passes in the early minutes, poker players have to be on their toes every time they lay their chip stack on the table. Whether it is playing in a basic partypoker.com sit-and-go table, or a World Poker Tour World Championship; card sharks are always cautious with every move they make. They thoroughly analyse every bet, call and expression their opponents make, and – like their football counterparts – anticipate a possible trap. Though majority of successful poker players are aggressive, there’s no denying that the likes of two-time WSOP bracelet winner Dan Harrington and other “tight” players have captured a number of major titles by playing it solidly and sticking to the safer and error-free approach to the game.
In essence, the key to winning isn’t all about who scored the most goals or won the most hands; sometimes it’s about who committed the fewest mistakes.