There is a long-recognized connection between the world of poker and that of mainstream sports. To an extent, this comes from the fact that in the prime days of televised poker tournaments, there was debate over whether it was a sport. Bleacher Report once lumped the game in with golf, chess, and competitive eating in this respect, ultimately framing them as games rather than sports — but the conversation was common nonetheless.

The link between poker and sport also comes down to the fact that a ton of prominent athletes over the years have been known to enjoy the game. Among the headliners in this respect, NFL standout Richard Seymour, Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce, and all-time greats in their sports like Michael Jordan and Alex Rodriguez are also known to frequent the tables. Per a 2019 article on Golf Digest, Tiger Woods even takes so much interest in poker he runs an annual celebrity “Poker Night” in Las Vegas (where he lost big the NBA’s Russell Westbrook a few years ago).

The constant flow of prominent athletes to poker tables helps to maintain the notion that poker and sport are connected. What may be most interesting for Masters Athletes to consider, however, is that athlete involvement isn’t necessarily a coincidence. In fact there are clear benefits athletes enjoy from playing poker:

Competitive Itch

The simplest perk of poker for athletes is that it offers a simple, casual way to scratch that ever-present competitive itch. From NBA stars in their primes to Masters Athletes training for races, athletes of all kinds tend to feel happiest and most fulfilled when they’re able to compete. Poker can serve as an accessible hobby that brings a bit of competition into everyday life even aside from sport and training.

Mental Focus

We’ve discussed the importance of mental focus before in a piece on ‘5 Common But Essential Traits of a Masters Athlete’. In that piece it was conveyed that athletes at all levels develop the ability to focus firmly on a given goal or idea — be it improving fitness, making it through a race, winning a competition, etc. That focus itself is essentially a way of life for a lot of athletes though, and it’s something that’s part of the game of poker as well. Athletes like the opportunity to hone in on tasks and pursue accomplishments, and once again poker provides a way to do this in everyday life.

Patience & Perseverance

There are also arguments to be made that poker can benefit athletes, primarily by teaching them the importance of patience and perseverance. Poker players need to be able to move on from one hand and game to the next regardless of results or frustrations. There is no sense in getting too excited about a win or too upset after a loss when there’s more poker to be played. As a result, good players end up developing patience and perseverance in competition. Some athletes will say that these skills translate to sport.

So if all of this appeals to you as an everyday athlete, how exactly are you supposed to explore a poker habit?

First, of course, you have to learn the game — ideally in a few different styles or varieties. Five-card draw is arguably the most basic form of poker, whereas Texas Hold’Em is likely the most common and most widely played today. However, you can expand your options in the poker world by learning a few alternatives as well.

Some find Omaha poker to be a little bit more engaging even than Texas Hold’Em, because it involves a little bit more intricacy in decision-making. Poker.org characterizes it as a very similar game, but one in which players are dealt four cards (as opposed to two in Texas Hold’Em) and must choose which two of them to play with. Meanwhile if you’re looking for another similar or casual option, it’s also worthwhile to learn stud poker — described in a piece at Considerable.com as being more about bets and bluffs, with players raising the stakes until they either win hands or have to show their cards.

There are more varieties still to learn, but getting a firm grasp on a few popular and interesting styles of the game will set you up to play in all sorts of fun games. From there, the only step that’s really left is to find a place to play!

Here we won’t get into too much detail because there are actually a lot of options, and your best bet is to choose one that works for you personally. But suffice it to say poker gaming is not the expensive, competitive environment it’s often made out to be. While there are certainly sites with real stakes, there are also plenty of sites and apps that support poker gaming for free. Through any number of these you can compete with other live players, improve your game, and enjoy all of the perks and benefits discussed above.

And that’s about all there is to it! The connection between poker and sport is one that makes more sense the more you think about it, from a number of different angles. Those athletes who wish to explore the connection and see what they might get out of the popular game need only learn basic rules and a few varieties, find games they can access easily, and start playing.

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