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Can poker help you improve at sport?

Steve Shoup

Poker is well known as a sport for good reason. If the best athletes tell us that physical sports are actually 90% mental, then we definitely all benefit from a sport that exercises our mental and psychological capacity. Poker is the game for this.


So just how does poker help you improve that sport? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons.


Helping with Focus

The secret to all sports is focus. The mind controls the body, and without focus, the body does not know what to do in physical competition. Taking the time to learn how to play poker will certainly focus the mind, because the second you take your mind off of the poker table, you lose the game. The huge disincentive of losing money puts added fuel on the fire to focus as well. Consider your losses a payment to the School of Mental Toughness.


Sport is war. Before you match yourself physically against your opponent, there is always a psychological battle. The winner of this psychological battle usually wins the physical battle as well. Take a look at some of the best boxers – Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson both psyched out their opponents days and weeks before they ever entered the ring. When they finally got in the ring, many of those battles were over before they began. The same is true of poker. There are ways that you can psych your opponent out before the cards are ever dealt.

Real Time Tactics

Just because you are mentally and psychologically prepared does not mean that you will automatically take the victory. The fun of sports is that you have an opponent who prepares just as much as you. You are matching yourself against someone who is looking to improve his skill through victory. This is the only way to get better. When you have two sides who have both prepared for each other, victory often comes down to the tactics that are employed in real time. The way that the cards are dealt in poker – completely random – represent the uncertainty of the playing field and of the world in general. Playing poker teaches sportsmen how to deal with bad situations, how to take advantage of good situations and how to manage a tactical plan when the cards are evenly matched for both sides.


The best poker players can tell you that they have taken victory from the jaws of defeat many times. A situation that looks bad in the beginning can turn itself in your favor if you simply wait out the deck for better cards. Players who come into the match with a ball of flame often burnout because they are not prepared for the long haul. An opponent who does not go down after the first psych out or punch can often weaken his opponent by simply holding steady for a longer period of time. This is what poker teaches – it is a marathon, not a sprint. The winter at the end of the match is often not the person who takes the first pot.

Many businessmen will play poker in their off hours. Why? There are many reasons listed above. The link between poker and sport is absolutely unassailable, and the smartest people in the world know this. If you want to get good at one, it is often a great practice to get good at the other. Poker expands and strengthens your mental and psychological capacities, both of which are incredibly important if you are going up against someone in a match of physical skill. The physical is the last thing that you match with your opponent. Before you ever touch gloves, bump chests or clash shins, you are already engaged in the mental battle that will probably decide the outcome of the physical war.



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