When it comes to poker and football, two of the most popular games on the planet, there is a world of intersecting skill that might not immediately come to mind. For one, most people think of physicality - having to be athletically fit, fast and tough with a high level of coordination and balance - especially when it comes to the lower half of the body. For another, aspects like mind games along with a healthy understanding of statistics are most commonly associated with the sport.
Yet, when one digs beneath the superficial comparisons, one finds an overlapping skillset and other similarities between the two games, including knowing when to retreat, knowing how to use mental jukes and fakes to deceive your opponent, maintaining good discipline, and having an overall understanding of the game – of what tends to work well and what does not.
In this way, let us take a look at the profile of a self-professed prolific poker player who also happens to be a mega star on the world stage of football. (Here above, he is pictured playing poker with a massive stack of chips after the disappointment of a World Cup injury.) Yes, Neymar is just one who represents the marriage of the aspects of these two massively popular sports, and one who can offer the following tips to the rest of us.
Live Up to Your Potential
It does not matter how good you claim to be at either sport; in order to succeed at the highest levels of either (or indeed in life in general), you need to have the determination and resilience to stay at the top, even when the chips are down if you’ll pardon the pun. At the level of professional sports, you can be the potential best player in the world, but one injury can leave all that talent at just that - potential.
Getting your talent discovered is also no small feat, as there is a world of potential athletes that could become pros and are just waiting for a scout with some influence with a major club to invite them to a training to showcase their skills. Knowing how to increase the chances for improving your luck is, counterintuitively, a skill. Receiving proper training to reduce the risk of injury, or working social channels to increase your chance of chance of getting discovered can be career-making or breaking. Neymar knows this, which is why he practices humility on and off the pitch with his unselfish play and generosity of spirit.
In poker as well, it is necessary to do your homework to be best prepared when hitting the tables. An understanding of statistics of which cards on the table give you and your hand a leg up over the competition is downright critical to besting your opponents. At times, it is simply best to swallow your pride, clinch your wallet, and know when to fold ‘em.
If you go out making huge bids on massive risks in the game of poker, just like the game of life, you are likely to forfeit most if not all of what you have very quickly. Be prepared to buy in, over and over again. This ties in with the previous point about playing the field and knowing your mathematical likelihood of winning: know when to go big, know when to bluff, and know when to put the cards down. It may seem bolder and more like a statement to your fellow gamblers to go big all the time, but ask any semi-professional or actual full-time poker player; that is simply not a sustainable winning strategy.
As a professional athlete, Neymar knows that discipline is the highest order of the day, necessary for training and practicing the skills (individually and as a team) that one needs to win. It’s why Neymar has the price value that he has. Football is a sport that requires both individual and team cohesion and discipline. Knowing when to patiently hold on to possession of the ball versus sensing a faulty link in the backline chain to attack with a run-through is the kind of smart risk-taking and self-restraint that poker entails.
One need not necessarily go out to the nearest lens store and get the darkest shade of sunglasses for sale, but the principle of mystery and unpredictability still stand as an element that is necessary to succeed in both the beautiful game and the crafty game. In televised world poker championships, it is not uncommon to see multiple contestants vying for an advantage with the simple tactic of maintaining an air of mystery with the shades that block their eyes. No doubt, as a footballer, Neymar understands the importance of not showing his tell in order to keep other poker players guessing.
Similarly, great football attackers need to keep their opponents off-guard with a variety of dekes and jukes so as to eventually get off a beautiful pass or run by their defender. Neymar’s footwork is nearly unparalleled in the modern game in this regard, as his lightning-quick speed allows him to show his defender a variety of moves and fake-outs before flying by his man before they even know what hit them.
Become a Student of the Game
It might sound obvious, but it has to be said: one cannot succeed in any field without knowing the rules of engagement, without being intimate with the statistical data that is out there (see above). In poker, Neymar no doubt understands common bluffs, knows his tight circle of friends he plays poker with and their common tendencies, knows that it usually is not a good idea to go for the inside straight, etc. He knows the game.
So much so that the young Brazilian is developing his game even more, teaming up with Poker Stars recently to spread his enthusiasm, develop his strategies, and tie closer together two of his main loves, football and poker.
Likewise, with football and 22 players on the field, there is an endless amount of strategizing that can happen, and it is why the Xs and Os are so important. Pay attention during team scouting sessions and stay awake during past match film sessions – these are tantamount to succeeding at an elite level as a football player, which obviously Neymar has accomplished.
There’s no doubt about it: the mental aspect of discipline and preparedness and the knowledge of playing one’s chances are the perfect poker characteristics that Neymar keeps in mind as he navigates the football field and the poker landscape.