Rugby Players’ Love for Poker: Common Skillsets

Date published: October 7 2016

Rugby and poker: two things that couldn’t be more different, you would think. But why are there so many rugby players and other sport stars playing Texas Hold’em? And you know what? They are pretty successful at the poker tables.

Playing on a rugby team and giving everything you’ve got to achieve that one goal of winning the match – or even better, the championship – will give you an enormous adrenaline rush. Rugby is a game of tactics, outplaying your opponent and taking calculated risks. Those characteristics are also present in poker, which can therefore also give you an adrenaline rush.

You might think that poker is a less physical game, and of course most of the time this is correct. But members of the England Rugby team might beg to differ. A couple of years ago they played what was literally the largest poker game ever. It took two people to rake in the pot as you can see below.

Hooker David Susigan Wins International Poker Tournament

But can rugby players compete with the professional poker players on the green felt? Well, former French hooker David Susigan proved he could by winning a very competitive poker tournament in Monaco last spring. With 383 players it was a big field and the total prize pool was more than €743.000! And what a coincidence: the winning hand of the poker tournament was pocket jacks, also referred to as “hooks”. After winning the enormous amount of €126.155 he was lost for words: “It’s crazy I haven’t the words to explain what I feel. It was very hard because I was very tired and the players were very good.”

Tired? From playing poker? Yes, poker can also be a very physical game, only in a different way than rugby. Poker tournaments, especially the high profile ones, can take up to four or five days. Every day they play for 10 hours or more. The World Series of Poker Main Event, which is played to define a new World Champion, even lasts 9 days! More than a week, sitting for 12 hours a day at a poker table can be exhausting, which is why rugby players are suited for the felt. Ten years ago it was Joe Hachem who could shout “aussie aussie aussie” after becoming the new World Champion and winning $7,5 million… Joe Hachem has his own restaurant in Melbourne nowadays and is doing pretty well.

Michael Tindall & Sebastien Chabal

A famous rugby player you can always call for a game of poker is now retired Mike Tindall. Former captain of the England team, World Cup winner in 2003 and married to royal Zara Phillips is as high profile as you can probably get. He didn’t win trunks of money by playing poker as far as we know, but he has been travelling all over the world to play poker. He also got good friend and Rugby player Dylan Hartley into poker.

On the rugby field, Sebastien Chabal was a very impressive player. Can you imagine what it would do to a poker player who spends most of his time behind a computer to have this giant gives him a staredown? Chabal has served as ambassador to poker brands, which is a bit of a trend for poker-loving sports stars, as we recently saw football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. join Team PokerStars. Let’s not forget Fatima Moireira de Melo and Ronaldo Nazario, who are also huge poker fans and take every opportunity to show it.

Mind and Body

Ask random people on the street to describe a poker player and the key words will probably be “fat, sunglasses, beer, cigars, hoodie.” But that’s no longer the case, as the best players in the world now approach poker just like a physical sport. They pay attention to their diet, just like rugby players do and take care of themselves in the gym. One of the most famous authors in the poker scene is Jared Tendler. He wrote a book called The Mental Game of Poker and is also a mental coach for professional golfers.

All over the world of sports, it seems that professionals and the experts working with them are eager to start blurring the boundaries between mind sports and physical sports in order to improve their game. Dan Abrahams, one of Britain’s most highly-regarded sports psychologists (and ex-golfer) coaches athletes to enable them to reach the top of their game. He often focuses on the topic of automatic negative thoughts, and how becoming more conscious of them can help you improve your game. Interestingly, he’s also admitted that the case is quite similar for mental sports athletes, such as poker players. Therefore, some sports people take the opportunity to use poker as a way to train their brain to be more effective on the pitch.

Whichever the reason, and there seem to be quite a few, rugby players have taken to poker – and some, like David Susigan and Sebastien Chabal, have surprised us with their skills at the felt table.