There are still a lot of people that will argue that poker is not a sport. The fact that this discussion even happens is an insult to the people that play the game and is obviously perpetuated by people whose poker experience is limited to kitchen table games where wild cards abound and the rules are best described as “creative.” The unique combination of skills and strategies to be a good poker player are just part of the reason that the game draws so many players from other sporting disciplines as competitors.
MMA fighters can frequently be found at the poker table; some have found the move from the octagon to the oval table to be fairly profitable, with one fighter, Martin Kampmann, now considering himself a professional poker player as well. The two sports have a great deal in common.
Practice – Tito Ortiz can be frequently seen competing in some of the world’s most prestigious poker tournaments. He is a firm believer in training for both. During the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the second largest poker festival in the world, he pointed out the need to practice for both events.
“I play a lot of poker and it’s just repetition. You see the hands coming, you see the percentages of hands you can win and hands you can lose, and it’s the same thing in fighting. It’s repetition. When I play it’s automatic. I’m not thinking twice. I’m not thinking about it, because when you think about it it’s already too late, people are going to know what you’ve got. In fighting it’s the same thing. If you think about it, it’s already too late. That little window has already passed you. That’s the huge correlation: repetition. Over and over and over again.”
He says that the time spent “sharpening the tools” makes the moment of actual competition “super easy.”
Be Ruthless – The term a “friendly game of poker” is often misunderstood. The term means that everyone at the table is treated with respect, not that the play is soft. A poker player’s goal is simple; get the other players’ chips. If you can’t go for the knockout or submission in the octagon, you have no chance of being a MMA champion. If you are not willing to bust your grandmother at the poker table, you will never be a poker champion.
Be Able to Take a Punch – In both sports, you are going to take a lot of punches; some of them will come out of nowhere and be absolutely devastating. Canadian occupational therapist, PokerStars Pro and MMA fan Adrienne Rowsome recently summed it up well when she wrote:
“When MMA fighters get punched in the face they usually react one of two ways. They fill up with rage and charge back in swinging wildly, seeking retribution. This sometimes leads to a spectacular knockout, but more often than not, this type of fighter wakes up staring at the referee wondering where they are and what happened.”
When poker players get punched in the face and start playing badly, it’s called “going on tilt.” The most frequent result is the player makes emotional rather than logical decisions and ends up giving away all of his chips. Bad beats will happen, but skilled players realize that they are part of the game and don’t let them effect their play.
MMA fighter Martin Kampmann summed it up well: “I don’t have to worry about getting punched in the face in poker, though…But staying cool under pressure is a big similarity. One mistake in fighting, if you leave your chin up or your arm out, the fight is going to be over quickly and you’ll wind up being knocked out or submitted. In poker, if you lose your focus, before you know it, you’re out of the tournament.”
Take Advantage of Weakness – You hear a lot about bullying. On the playground, in the classroom, or on social media – taking advantage of someone’s weakness is definitely wrong. But in the octagon or at the poker table, capitalizing on your opponent’s weakness is essential. Bruce Buffer, MMA announcer and poker player notes, “If a guy has a cut over his eye, your [sic]going to attack it, in poker if a guy has a low stack of chips your [sic] going to attack him.”
When you have the big stack at the table or a killer submission move in the cage, you don’t hesitate to use them. While having your opponents respect you is good, having them fear you is better.
Learn to Read your Opponent – One of the key traits of a winner is the ability to read an opponent. Knowing which move your opponent is likely to make allows you to plan the right defense. MMA fighters and poker players try to use deception in order to force their opponent to make a mistake. The only way to learn to read opponents, in both sports, is to study them and make the correct read.
Be Patient – Few MMA battles are won in the first few seconds. Poker tournaments can never be won in the first couple of levels, but they can be lost. Competitors in both sports know the importance of waiting for the right opportunity to make a move. Trying to force a victory is the easiest way to achieve defeat.
Be a Good Sport – You watch as two competitors spend fifteen to twenty-five minutes pummeling each other and when the final bell sounds they shake hands. A MMA fight is not personal (well not usually); neither is a poker game. Everyone’s goal is to win, which means that someone will lose. A lack of sportsmanship diminishes a victory and makes a loss seem like a case of one getting exactly what they deserve. Lose with grace; win with more grace.
Very few of us have the ability to set inside the octagon. However, almost all of us have the ability to take a seat at the poker table and play like a MMA champion.