Ice hockey and poker: two seemingly contrasting activities at opposite ends of the sporting spectrum. On one side you’ve got a game that involves steel blades, flaring tempers and some high octane action. At the other, you’ve got a group of people trying to stay as still as possible while praying that their opponents fold.
On the surface, the crossover between ice hockey and poker seems non-existent. However, when you take the time to peel back some layers, you start to notice that there are actually a lot of similarities between the two games. In fact, the connection between hockey and poker is such that a slew of NHL greats are now taking to the felt in search of a new challenge (and some extra cash).
A Tradition of Migration
Following in the footsteps of other sporting greats such as Rafa Nadal and Ronaldo, as well as Boris Becker, some of hockey’s finest icemen have decided to try their hand at poker in recent years. Greg Mueller was one of the first players to swap his skates for a deck of cards. However, in the last 12 months, Mueller has been joined by a host of stars from hockey’s past and present, including Ken Danyeko, Roberto Luongo and Phil Kessel.
Although mere novices in comparison to the likes of poker legends Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu, hockey’s greats certainly haven’t disgraced themselves when it comes to competing with poker’s finest. In fact, one of the longest serving hockey-to-poker converts, Mueller, has managed to earn almost $2.7 million playing poker tournaments across the world.
So why this sudden fascination in poker? As we mentioned earlier, there are actually a lot of similarities between the two games once you get past the fact that one is about as physical as a sport can get and the other is relatively tame.
Still not convinced? Here are a few reasons why hockey players make great poker players:
No-Lose Attitude: Hockey players are famed for their drive and determination and these are qualities professional poker players also harbour. Because poker can be unpredictable, it can sometimes be the case that all the right moves result in all the wrong outcomes. Remaining positive during these downswings is something poker players are fantastic at and something hockey players could easily emulate thanks to their time spent battling on the ice.
The Ability to Tough it Out: Although they may be different types of endurance, the ability to endure tough streaks for a long period of time is something hockey players and poker players hold in equal measure. To be physically fit and tough on the ice, you have to be mentally strong. In fact, to train and compete at the level of an NHL superstar you need to have a certain mindset that most people just don’t have.
This trait is something that will serve players such as Luongo and Kessel extremely well at the poker table. Earlier this year, Martin Jacobson won $10 million at the World Series of Poker after playing poker for more than five days. To push through this sort of competition takes a certain amount of mental and physical strength; which is yet another crossover between hockey and poker.
Aggression is Good: One of the most entertaining aspects of professional hockey is the aggression top players display. Cutting across the ice and checking opponents like a charging bull takes a certain amount of mental fortitude and this is something that will serve hockey players well at the poker table.
There’s a saying in poker that it’s “better to be a bettor” and that basically means you should take an aggressive stance whenever possible. For example, once you’ve looked at your starting hand and decided it’s strong enough to play, your next move should often be to raise. Just as on the ice, aggression is often the way to win at the poker table; something which is perfect for those that want to switch from hockey to poker.
Will a Maple Leaf star such as Phil Kessel ever win poker’s world championship? Probably not. However, thanks to their background in hockey, it’s certainly possible they could become just as tough at the felt as they are on the ice.