The Tennis Epiphany

During spring and summer months, I try to do outdoors sports as often as possible to balance out my poker life and clear my head. Besides taking my bike for a ride and working out in my local parks in the early morning hours, I also like to meet up with my dad on the tennis court and pass balls whenever the weather allows it.

I have been playing tennis for much longer than 20 years now, but I have always been a recreational player. If there were color coding schemes for people in real life, I would mark myself in a juicy green - which means I suck, in case you are not familiar with my color coding systems from my live trainings.

However, I have always enjoyed just playing balls back and forth, not really grasping any ambitions of winning tournaments, beating others in a heads-up game like I'd do in Magic or poker. In my previous blog entry I wrote a little about how I perceive the nature of gaming itself and not the competition to be fulfilling enough. When I come to think of it, this has always been equally the case with my tennis game.

Whenever I played a tournament at my local tennis club I would enjoy the simple sporting chance, the social team aspect, and the atmosphere most and not really care about winning much at all.

The same applied to playing with my dad for a long time.

I did however note something peculiar about this: While playing balls back and forth without any real ambition or strategy I wouldn't be able to clear my head of thoughts about other things - especially poker hands, strategic stuff or downswings were still buzzing in my head all the time.


One Saturday morning I had the idea of asking my dad for a real game. Since he is an ambitioned tournament player, I was already accepting he'd beat me 6-0 straight, but I was gonna give it a try regardless. So we played, and suddenly I found myself in a situation where I had to force my brain to think about completely new stuff that I hadn't thought of in a long time. Before hitting the ball I planned out ahead which direction I wanted it to go, what lines would be best and how to react to my dad's lines. I also felt my physical efforts rising and my stamina challenged. Winning and losing points, games or sets would affect my mindset.

Two things happened after our first match (which I of course lost):

1. I realized my head was finally clear again from any recent thoughts about poker or other stuff in life.

2. I had an epiphany about how I never quite saw what competitive tennis really is about and how similar it is to poker in so many ways.

By now I understand why so many people who had great past successes in competitive sports enjoy playing poker. They can relate and apply skills or strategic approaches they acquired in one game to another. There are parallels or common foundations shared between competitive sports and poker. Winning is not only about adapting to your opponent and figuring out the right strategy, it's also about your mindset, your confidence, your stamina and your tilt control.

I always look forward to a regular competitive Saturday tennis game against my dad even though he keeps crushing me. Today I managed to win the first 4 games straight (I was in the zone) but after that I felt my stamina going down, and suddenly I was making too many mistakes. Guess it's time put in some work on my late game!

Felix Schneiders is a member of Team Online