Five-a-Side vs Poker

An analogy I often use when asked about what it means to be a recreational – and very much an amateur – poker player is that of 5-a-side football. This works both as a comparison but also as a contrast.

For example, I was asked the other day a classic question that I think is often posed by non-players. “So how much money do you make from poker?”

When I gave my humble answer, the look  was a mixture of derision and confusion with a  “Is that all?” Talk about kicking a boy when his bankroll is down…

But I quickly rose to the defence of all recreational players and responded, “Would you ask the guy who spends a lot of his spare time playing with his mates in a 5-a-Side team when he plans to turn professional? And why hasn’t he made a fortune and moved to some blingy mansion?”

The point is – breaking news! – I along with a huge amount of players, play poker because I enjoy it. Because the game is satisfying on many levels whether that be emotional, intellectual or social. And yes sometimes it can mean a financial profit, however small. Which of course actually contrasts it with the 5-a-sider for whom there generally is never going to be any sort of monetary gain. But I am under no illusions – however much I may like to daydream about being the next undiscovered Moneymaker, the truth is that this will always just be a hobby. And there’s no cooler hobby in my book.

Yet it’s at this point that there is actually a real contrast to be made between poker and past-times such as 5-a-side. Whereas the middle aged man kicking the ball around his local municipal pitch can happily dream that he’s scoring a goal at a FA Cup final at Wembley, he’d be a fool to think that that is ever going to happen in real life.

But for us poker players, it’s not quite as depressing. That dream of holding up the WSOP bracelet or EPT trophy is always within our grasp whatever our age, physicality or even present skill. Yes, the probabilities may be tiny and our chances bare but the possibility is still always there. It’s never utterly beyond our reach. The dream is always alive and we have as our patron saint for that endeavour the aforementioned Chris Moneymaker to keep our eyes on the potential prize.

And this is something that the poker media should always keep in mind. At various moments during the EPT, I enjoyed chatting with luminaries from the media community such as Marc Convey and James Hartigan about how the importance of what they do comes from not just being commentators. Unlike other sports fans, we don’t just watch passively. There is always going to be a didactic element to what the Conveys and Hartigans of this world do. We watch and learn. And although we may struggle to imitate perfectly the style of Ivey or Colman, we can still always take lessons from what we see and hear. Which is why poker media dwells in a very different place to the conventional style of sports reporting.

So again, whereas our dear mate on the amateur pitch can never hope to learn how to kick like Ronaldo, we are always dogs that can learn new tricks.

As I always say, while other men may stand in front of the mirror in the dark night of their mid-life crisis stricken souls air guitaring or lifting world cup trophy aka shampoo bottles, we can hold up our two cards into that same mirror and imagine….just imagine…