Can anyone smell that? Smells kind of... musky, like Su-Bo, just discovered Bikram yoga. It's not, though (thankfully), not by a long shot. No, no, no, that, my friends, is the unmistakable aroma of mince pie fuelled optimism and swag, aged with subtle twists of hooligan body odour and downright denial. 

It's the scent of ambition, hope and excitement, and it means only one thing: Football! So, with this in mind, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at what poker has in common with football, and see if we can draw any intriguing conclusions.


One of the more interesting similarities between the two sports is that each of them is played both recreationally and professionally. 1c/2c cash games are the equivalent of playing school-yard football with a pocket full of Pokemon cards and a refresher chew-bar in each hand, whereas a televised 100/200 invitational game is way more like a Champions League or World Cup final. There are different levels of pros in each game too, which means the categorisation isn't always clear cut. Someone like me, for example, may be amongst the top pros in a lot of low-stakes games, but would become an amateur in something like a 10 or 25k High Roller.

Interestingly, though, this pro/amateur divide is the source of one of the biggest differences between poker and football: Accessibility. One of poker's biggest allures lies in the fact that there's absolutely no discrimination between pros and amateurs; so long as you can afford the buy-in, a seat is yours. This scenario, of course, isn't the case in football, where the closest you can get to playing with your favourite player usually involves a PlayStation or a pitch invasion (unless you're one of Ryan Giggs' mistresses, of course). In fact, because the money in poker comes directly from the players, poker professionals depend on this equality. Without amateurs, there could be no professionals because for poker pros exist, somebody has to lose.

Not only is this kind of equality unnecessary in football (with healthy financial injections from avenues such as sponsorships, ticket sales and league prizes, paying the wages), it just couldn't exist in football. Professional footballers are simply too 'valuable' to let a clumsy amateur loose with his steel toe caps and career-ending slide tackles. Just look at Boris Johnson's A-grade rugby tackle when he was let loose with an expensive German national team in 2006. Dangerous? Yes. Funny? Well... yes, but that's besides the point. 

For professional football players, playing with amateurs is just not worth the risk. Poker pros don't have to worry about this kind of a risk though because, aside from a bruised ego or the RSD that comes from shuffling chips too often, it's near impossible for anyone to be injured at the tables. In poker, clumsy amateurs lead to Louis Vuitton shoes, in football, clumsy amateurs lead to Louis Vuitton-ze-floor, rolling around in agony. 


Both football and poker are enriched by being phenomenally popular across the globe, as well as other casino games. Every country has its own unique culture, and this leads to an abundance of different styles and approaches to the game. Just as the Germans traditionally bring their own 'I want to organise your cutlery draw' type of order and composure to the table, the Brazilians and French typically ooze a passion and flair that graces both the Premier League and poker tables alike. 

In the same way, every instrument strengthens an orchestra or each Crow, The Night's Watch, every culture brings its own unique qualities to the forefront, and both football and poker benefit as a consequence.

Poker cards, casino chips and a football

The English Premier League, as one of the most multicultural` leagues in the world, is an excellent example of how this kind of globalisation can enrich a sport. Don't be fooled by the misplaced optimism and reputation; England suck. Every two years overweight Englishmen paint their “moobs” red and white and congregate in the local pubs, kidding themselves into thinking they have a shot at whatever tournament is about to kick off. They never do of course. 

England, despite having a highly respected and competitive Premier League, has a shortage of top home-grown talent. Instead, the quality of the Premier League comes from an array of foreign imports – Without them, it just wouldn't be the same. 

This multiculturalism might not be the most vital part of either poker or football, but it definitely adds levels of beauty like nothing else could. The WSOP follows suit: It would work without it, but the buzz of internationality is what makes it so unique. 


One step beyond cultural tendencies is individual style. If you stood a room full of people in a line and then proceeded to poke each one in the eye, you'd probably get a mixture of responses. Some would cry, others would swear or glare at you, but most would probably react with a shocked “why the **** did you do that?” Or just go right ahead and throw a hay-maker in your direction. We're all unique. We all act, think and react differently. Just look at art, one man's masterpiece is another's paint-puke on a canvas. It's human nature, and this individuality is not only vital to both poker and football's existence as a sport, but also as a source of entertainment. 

Look at it this way: if you had two computer programs playing heads up tic-tac-toe, it would be pretty dull to watch. They'd both play perfectly, and draw every game. There could be no pros, and there certainly would be no fans. Fortunately, though,  neither poker nor football work like this (mainly because decision making isn't as rigid as in a game like tic-tac-toe). 

The choice inherent in both football and poker allows for more creative self-expression than a budgetless, gay-pride parade float. Each player can bring a sense of style to the game, and this individuality is way more intricate than any of the cultural stereotypes we mentioned earlier.

Ronaldo and Messi are great examples. Arguably the two best footballers in the world and both from two different continents, they both play with a blend of trickery and power, tearing teams to pieces, and leaving fans drooling in the process. English players such as Rooney and Sterling are another two good examples, with the former mirroring a direct powerhouse, and the latter more of a slippery tomcat. Both are successful, both Englishmen, and both have completely different styles. 

We see the same in poker too. Hyper-aggressive pros such as Holz and Geshkenbein are renowned for their relentless fearlessness, whereas someone like Negreanu favours a more solid, small-ball approach to the game. They're different, but all of them crush the game. 

This creative licence is also what makes these sports so thrilling. Just as fans love to watch Ronaldo and Messi river-dance through defences, they marvel as Holz and Geshkenbein crush souls with huge bluffs, and as Negreanu's speech play wraps his opponents around his little finger. Negreanu used confusion. It's super effective! Style breeds creativity, and creativity evolves sport. 


Structurally, poker and football share a few similarities too. Tournaments consist of a collection of football matches and poker hands. A single match or hand can be anyone's, but the structure minimises luck, ensuring that best team wins the tournament (or league) more often - as it should in any competitive sport. 

Of course, we do see that odd Jamie Gold or Leicester City type anomaly every once in a while, but this is precisely what makes any sports so exciting.


So, as you can see, poker and sport have a lot in common: Not only are they both played at recreational and professional level, they are both sources of entertainment, fun and competition. They merge borders and cultures, bringing a healthy and friendly competitiveness to the table. 

One of the biggest differences lies in the accessibility of the games. I can't think of any other sport in which rank amateurs are able to battle the elite as often as they can in poker, and if I had to chose a winner, I'd argue that this gives any poker game the edge over football.