Poker and Football

…two of my favourite things. Watching England’s supplicant display against Italy in last week’s European Championship fixture reminded me of Chelsea versus Bayern Munich in the recent Champions League Final. In both encounters, the seemingly weaker side elected to sit back and defend for virtually the entire match with the intention of booking a penalty shoot-out or binking an improbable goal on the break.

As with poker, the margins for success in football are extremely thin. Chelsea managed to hang tight against Bayern, take the game to penalties as befits their pre-match gameplan, and win the battle of nerves against the German megastars. Their manager Roberto di Matteo might not have selected an entertaining route to victory, but by God it was successful. With the trophy in his back pocket, di Matteo’s negative selection policy was vindicated.

Contrast this with the England performance against Italy last week. Similarly spirited displays that offered plenty in guts but little in imagination. With a defensive line that held steadfast even in the face of near-constant Italian domination, England mimicked Chelsea’s doggedness and they too secured the target of a penalty shootout. Had England triumphed (as looked likely before two late misses from Young and Cole in a swongy shootout), then their affable manager Roy Hodgson would have been vindicated a la di Matteo.

So how does this relate to poker? Well it’s pretty simple. In poker, results don’t matter. Decisions and performance are all that a serious poker player will focus their energy on. I have lost count of the times that I have explained to a student why their decision was not a correct one, only for them to shoot back with ‘ah but he folded so it worked’. This type of thinking may be relevant in footballing terms (ie. ‘Chelsea’s defensiveness won them the trophy so it was a good tactical decision’, or ‘England’s gamble to play for penalties didn’t work because they lost’) but it has no place in poker. In football, results are everything. The fact that they played like a fish will be instantly forgotten if they take the trophy home; vindication is in the winning.

When it comes to poker, the result is an often-inconvenient footnote to the decision-making process.


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