It might not seem obvious at first glance, but poker and mixed martial arts actually have a lot in common. As both the UFC and the World Series of Poker strategize for their long-term return to Vegas, it’s the perfect time to examine these similarities. Apart from the high levels of competition in both games, how else does poker intersect with MMA?
Both rely on mental fitness
MMA is obviously very physical, and today’s poker players are increasingly realizing the value of physical fitness. However, none of this should distract from the fact that both professional fighters and card players primarily rely on their minds. Whether a person is trying to leverage all possible combinations on the poker table or use all their limbs in combat, mental fitness is the key to victory. Apart from history’s many poker champs, this can be observed in LowKickMMA.com’s guide to the career of Jon Jones, a fighter whose athletic prowess is matched only by his own intellectual acuity.
Unpredictability wins rounds
Mental sharpness determines one’s ability to be unpredictable. And in both sports, unpredictability makes champions. As Poker.org’s guide to winning at the tables covers, poker is a game of deception. It’s important to play a balanced range of moves in order to keep the opponent guessing. This is how poker players successfully bluff their way through bad hands and secure the pay-offs for good ones. Similarly, the more a fighter can mix it up, the better they can actually land big shots and submission attempts. Both light heavyweight legend Jon Jones and poker genius Stu “The Kid” Ungar are known for their highly successful, aggressive, and unpredictable approaches to their respective games.
The importance of pacing
Pacing allows you to stay competent longer throughout the game. This applies not just to rounds, but entire careers. And just as pacing allows poker players to hedge their bets with intelligence, so does it allow fighters to balance their aggression with their endurance. In the Octagon, iconic welterweight Georges St-Pierre is known for never overexerting himself but still finding ways to win in spectacular fashion. In the world of poker, Doyle Brunson – also known as the grandfather of Texas Hold’em – is well known for his long, 50-year career, as well as his ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. And as fans of these legends can attest to, they’ve always observed optimal pacing.
Not letting emotions get in the way
Feelings cloud decision-making and can be detrimental to either sport. Strong emotions can come from both winning and losing, and it’s important not to let these emotions affect the way you play. Having too much confidence in your own abilities can leave you open to attacks. Likewise, too much anxiety about defeat can hamper your movement when it’s time to be aggressive. These are true for both pugilism and card play.
Learning to accept defeat
It may seem counterintuitive, but knowing when to surrender is one of the most crucial aspects of surviving a brutal fight or game. In poker, knowing when to fold allows players to recoup their losses and regroup in order to do better next round. In professional MMA, even Shogun Rua who’s known for being one of the toughest light heavyweights of all time knows when to throw in the towel and retreat. Whether on the poker table or in the Octagon, surrendering lets you walk away with all your limbs intact. And sometimes, given the cards that a player or fighter is dealt, it’s the best option they can take.