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Best of Gary Trask
Top 10 similarities between poker and golf20 June 2016
But trust someone who has worked in both industries for the better part of the last 15 years: The two are much more connected than you think. Poker players and golfers are the same breed, and they approach, react to and experience their respective games in amazingly parallel fashions.
So, with the World Series of Poker in full swing and yesterday's pulsating U.S. Open from Oakmont Country Club fresh in everyone's mind, there's no better time to break down just how alike the two really are.
10. The media
The first time it struck me that golf and poker were very similar came when I was sent to cover the World Poker Tour's Foxwoods Poker Classic in Connecticut early in my Casino City career. After writing for a golf magazine for a few years, it was surprising to me how eerily similar it was covering a poker event and a golf tournament.
First off, they're both individual sports, with differing personalities. The crowd loves some players and loves to hate others. As a writer, you sit on press row and wait to hear what's going on out on the course or on the tournament floor. You'll be alerted about key moments ("Mickelson just birdied 11!," or "Ivey just had trip jacks cracked on Table 54!"), and once in a while you venture from your computer screen out onto the course or ballroom floor to catch some of the action up close and get the flavor of what's really going on.
As the field whittles down and players either finish their round or get bounced from a tournament, the media scurries to a sectioned-off area to get the players' reactions — and these interviews can be everything from painfully boring to downright riveting, depending on the personality of the player and how tense the situation is.
The media members are also very similar in poker and golf. All of them are fans of some sort, and maybe even frustrated players themselves. And like the Media Days that surround most PGA TOUR events, in which members of the press get to play the host course, the World Series of Poker also annually holds a Media Tournament inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino just before the Main Event.
9. When you’re running hot, you can't get enough
We've all been there. You walk off the course after a great round — or get up from the poker table following an especially lucrative session — and all you can think of is when you're going to play again. You have a certain hop in your step and your confidence is at an all-time high. You can't wait to get back out there.
8. "I'm never playing again . . ."
Admit it. As poker players and golfers, we can be fragile. We doubt ourselves during a bad run. We question why we're wasting the time, effort and money with something that's beating us up so bad. We grumble that we're never going to play again. At the very least, we give ourselves a break and ease back into things. But we ultimately can't stay away — and before you know it, we're back in a groove. The momentum swings are cruel, but the thrills of the highs always seems to outweigh the distress of the lows.
7. Playing partners are key
Listen, I love golf and poker. If I could play both every day I would. But put me in the wrong foursome or at an unpleasant table, and I can't wait to cash in my chips or get to the 18th green.
Even though in both circumstances I'm there to compete, win and hopefully make some money, I want the people I'm with to have decency and respect for me, the other players and the game itself. I'm not going to get rich playing poker, and I'm not about to compete on any kind of professional golf tour. So my ultimate goal with each is the entertainment factor. I'm hoping to have a few laughs, maybe enjoy a few drinks, smoke a cigar and keep the competitive juices flowing. And I don't want to be around anyone who's going to try and take that away from me. Which bring us to . . .
6. Characters of all kinds
You run into all kinds of different people on the golf course and at the poker table. My general nature is to have some friendly banter, admittedly more on the golf course as opposed to the poker table, and maybe learn something about the new person I'm about to spend a couple hours of my precious free time with. Hopefully in the end we both walk away saying we'd do it all over again with that person as a playing partner or tablemate.
But I don't want to play golf with the guy who has a bag full of state-of-the-art equipment and the Ricky Fowler wardrobe, but takes 12 practice swings before regularly duck-hooking his shot into the woods. I don't want to be around the guy who, because he's having a bad round, takes it out on the rest of the foursome and sucks the enjoyment out of the day for everyone else, by throwing clubs and making excuses. I have no use for the incessant plumb bobber who four-putts most greens.
Same goes for the poker table. That Negreanu wannabe wearing headphones, shades and a PokerStars cap at the $1-$2 table, shuffling his chips as if the ESPN cameras are there, taking way too long to decide if he's going to check or fold pre-flop? No thanks. The dude who wants to painstakingly break down every flop like Norman Chad and deliberate how poorly you or the lady across the table played each hand? Check, please. I'm outta here. Life is too short.
5. Bad beat stories
Everybody has bad beat stories from the poker table or golf course, and guess what? Nobody wants to hear them. The most frustrating thing about it is that most players fail to remember the good fortune they occasionally run into. Those moments are conveniently forgotten.
For every bad lie in the fairway you get, or for every putt that rolls around the cup and out, you probably had a wayward tee shot hit a tree and delicately land back in the short grass on the fairway. And, yes, I saw your trip kings get cracked by the dumbass who wouldn't relent, kept calling and caught the runner-runner straight. But you're probably forgetting that pot an hour ago in which you turned two pair into a full house when a deuce spiked on the river and you took down the guy next to you with trip kings. Roll with it, people. The breaks tend to even out over the long run.
4. Endless amount of games
There's nothing better than standing on the first tee, or having someone at a dealer's choice table, reveal a new game that you've never played before. The variations for both sports are limitless.
While I'm a Hold'em fan for the most part, it's always nice to mix it up once and a while and play Razz or Five-Card Stud, or get crazy and deal some Guts or Acey Deucy.
In golf, the old standbys are Skins or a Nassau, but you can spice it up and play Wolf, Las Vegas or, yes, Acey Deucy again.
Oh, and one of my favorite golf games to play when you have multiple foursomes is, you guessed it, Poker Golf. Every player earns a poker card for one-putts, birdies and sand saves. And, in addition to a set price for playing the game, you throw an additional fee into the pot (determined before teeing off) for every three-putt you card. At the end of the round, everyone tallies how many cards they earned and how much money they owe. Throw the dough on the bar in the 19th hole and deal the cards to the group. Best poker hand scoops the pot. Trust me, it's a blast.
3. It's between the ears
Both poker and golf require a tremendous amount mental fortitude and discipline. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can't deal with the mind games each game will undoubtedly play with you, you simply won't succeed at a high level.
Most observers have no idea the grind a poker player goes through when competing in a large tournament like the Main Event. We're talking about spending as many as 12 hours a day sitting at a poker table, sometimes going an hour or more without getting any decent starting hands.
In golf, the pros are fortunate enough to compete on the best courses in the world, but there are other elements to contend with — weather, fans, media, slow play — and it's not always so easy to go out and remain sharp for every single shot when you are sometimes playing a five-hour-plus round.
2. It's a game of skill
With apologies to the lawmakers who are opponents of legalizing and regulating online poker, the truth is that this is a game of skill with, of course, some luck involved. The pros you see winning bracelets on a consistent, annual basis are typically the best in the world and are simply playing at a different level than most amateurs. Put a legit poker pro at a table full of amateurs, and while it may take a few hours, more often than not the pro will end up sending everyone else home in a barrel.
Same goes for golf. Yes, a high handicapper like myself could maybe, just maybe hang around with a scratch golfer for a few holes, maybe even the entire front nine, but by the end of 18 holes, the difference in skill and talent will be clearly evident, both from the eye test and on the scorecard.
1. You will never master it
Poker and golf are both games that you categorically cannot master. I don't care how successful or gifted you are at either one, or how much time, effort and practice you put into it.
You can always lower your golf handicap. And because of all the variables, you'll never play a perfect game of poker. Even better? You can compete in both into the late stages of your life (just ask Norman Spivock!) and you'll always learn something new or see something you've never experienced before.
Looking back, maybe that's why both games are so captivating.
I'll forever be on the hunt for that one No-Limit Hold'em tournament where I catch all the cards, make all the correct reads and walk away a winner. Or that rare round of golf in which I'm dialed in from tee to green for 18 holes, drain some long putts and stroll off the 18th green into the 19th hole with a career-best scorecard in my pocket, while taking some cold, hard cash from my buddies. As frustrating and cruel as both games can be, those are the shining moments that will always keep me coming back to both poker and golf. That's one bet you can take to the bank.
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