Why Do Footballers Love Poker?


There’s a list of things one tends to associate with the modern-day footballer. A luxury lifestyle, model wives, charity work and the odd scandal to excite tabloid writers. If you’ve been following the latest trend amongst football stars, you’ll have noticed yet another propensity in their personal lives, – a love for poker. Bizarrely, this sedentary card game is attracting players from one of the most physically demanding of sports.

Neymar Jr recently joined Cristiano Ronaldo as PokerStars brand ambassador whilst Luiz Suarez was sponsored by 888Poker before the World Cup biting incident made him a less desirable partner. England’s Teddy Sheringham has in the past gone full-time professional, whilst Gerard Pique has been a long-time high-stake player in the poker circuit. How did this trend come about, and what does it mean for the poker industry?

One could argue that the nature of poker, with psychology and strategy that differs wildly from an on-field team sport, is attractive to footballers exactly because of its different nature. In poker, players are dependent upon no one but themselves. On the same note, only they have to carry the weight of their mistakes. This could provide a refreshing break from the otherwise strenuous team dependency footballers endure.

Poker players also have time to make calculated decisions, to really examine their opponent close-up, and to play without the pressure and distraction of a rambunctious crowd watching their every move. On the pitch, decisions must be made at lightning speed – the atmosphere is not suited for concentrated thinking. Famous for their ‘high achiever’ persona, it’s not surprising that footballers want to exercise their mental strength as well as their physical. Poker provides them this opportunity.

Perhaps some footballers even find that their physical strength gives them an advantage in poker, and play because the skills required in the card game comes naturally to them. Afterall, there is a strong correlation between physical and mental performance. Those poker players with excellent health stay alert for longer periods of time. They’re also more likely to maintain a good blood flow whilst being seated for hours on end. In other words, fitness comes in handy at the card table – as does a tolerance for high levels of stress. But then again, if you’re earning a professional footballer’s wage, the stress of high-stake poker might not be as high as for the rest of us.

Then there could of course be a more straight-forward explanation. Poker has for centuries been a game with connotations of masculinity, sophistication and wealth. Just like staying at a luxury hotel, sporting an extravagant watch or drinking extortionately priced champagne – perhaps footballers play poker to show off their wealth; to establish dominance and status.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the poker world’s recent influx of footballers is doing a world of good to its reputation. William Hill have long been associated with football, whilst brands like PokerStars and 888Poker host and stream online poker tournaments which offer regular players the chance to play against Ronaldo and other stars. The more poker becomes recognised as the footballer’s hobby of choice, the more appealing it becomes to football fans across the world.

What the future holds for this unusual pairing remains to be seen. Charity-based collaborations between football clubs and poker brands? The marketing of football-themed poker equipment? A ‘sportification’ of poker? The questions of whether poker is a game of chance or skill still has people divided – perhaps the pro-poker promotion of high profile footballers will help settle the argument in favour or ‘skill’. At least, that’s probably what the big poker brands are hoping.

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