29
Jan
10

Up top Down Under

This weekend will see the Australian Open, tennis’ first grand slam of 2010, come to a close in the sweltering heat of Melbourne Park.

However, on the other side of the city, an equally important tournament is taking place at the famous Crown Casino: The Aussie Millions.

The links between poker and tennis are quite close, and go much further than Caroline Wozniacki’s friendship with her fellow Dane Gus Hansen, who recently lost a reported €1.4million betting on Rafael Nadal to win the 2009 French Open.

Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki

While noted tennis pros such as Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov have been seen taking to the felt, you may not know that some of poker’s biggest names were promising tennis juniors.

If things had turned out differently, the likes of David Benyamine and Patrik Antonius could have easily found themselves spending their summers on the green grass of Wimbledon rather than the green felt of Las Vegas.

Indeed Benyamine, now a regular at the ‘Big Game’ in Bobby’s Room, was one of the top tennis prospects in France before injury curtailed his career.

So what has prompted the love affair between poker and tennis?

Anyone for…poker?

On the face of things, the two could not be further apart. One is a physically exhausting endeavour, while the other is one of the sternest tests of mental agility.

But if you dig beneath the surface, the similarities are there for all to see.


Tennis is one of the few major sports focusing on individual achievement rather than team effort. As such, it requires a great amount of self-confidence and self-motivation for anyone to reach the top.

The same goes for poker, where ego is often your friend not your enemy. Mike Matusow, after a number of trials and tribulations, has publicised the importance of taking a positive mental attitude with you to the table, and this strategy has served him well.

Another aspect common to the two pursuits is a willingness to do everything within the rules to increase your chances of winning.

No, I’m not talking about bluffing. I’m talking about what some people in poker circles refer to as ‘angle-shooting.’ It happens in tennis too, you know.

David Benyamine has excelled at both poker and tennis

Since the advent of the Hawkeye system, this has only increased. While the system makes the game fairer in some respects, eliminating the margin for human error which has infuriated the likes of John McEnroe in the past, it also adds to the uncertain morals played out on the sport’s mental battleground.

Now challenges can be made simply to disrupt the rhythm of opponents, or to allow oneself more time to recover between points. It’s all another way of generating even the slightest of edges.

Meanwhile, the mind-games element of poker perhaps reached their logical conclusion at an EPT event last year, in a hand between Roland de Wolfe and Tobias Renkemeier.


After seeing his bet called on the river, charismatic English pro de Wolfe announced ‘king-high’ but declined to reveal his second card. German youngster Renkemeier, fully aware of the rules, demanded his opponent turn over the other card or else send his hand into the muck.

De Wolfe opted for the latter, at which point the German jubilantly slammed his cards down on the table, revealing only queen-high. He could not beat king-high, but the Englishman’s actions meant that Renkemeier, as the only player technically left in the pot, won the hand.

It may have been a morally questionable move, but rules are there to be exploited.

And that demonstrates why poker and tennis are so closely aligned. To get to the top of either you need a never-say-die attitude, a good balance of ego and talent, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win.

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1 Response to “Up top Down Under”


  1. May 17, 2010 at 2:25 am

    your blog is very good,
    I like your blog.
    I will bookmark your blog updates to follow


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Hi I’m Tom. I’m a freelance journalist, and I recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University. In my spare time I like to play, watch and talk about poker. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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