When it comes to competition, poker is never far away
It's summertime and with the good weather I've been playing a lot of tennis lately. In Holland you can register for weekly tournaments -- singles, doubles, or mixed -- in which you can play and improve your ranking from week to week. It's a great way to stay active, both physically and mentally.
I'm not the kind of person who just likes to go for a run or ride a bike. Generally I need some kind of competition, or I get bored. But when playing tennis or indoor soccer or some other competitive sport, I'm always more motivated. I think I was a dog in my last life, the way I love chasing a ball around and trying to do something skillful or creative with it.
One thing I have noticed when playing tennis is that my poker playing genuinely affects how I think about strategy and how I talk about the game. Just the other day after a match I was talking to my opponent, and I started speaking in terms of percentages and shot-making. I was pointing out how I'd only won, say, 55% of my riskier shots -- like when I was going for winners -- whereas I could have kept rallies going and won 75% of the points otherwise. I don't think I would have thought about our match or talked about it that way if I weren't a poker player.
I think in poker terms, too, when I consider my development as a tennis player. Every time I play I gain experience that helps me, even if I'm not winning a particular point or game or match, kind of like how you can improve with every hand of poker you play whether you win or lose. I'm also trying not to be "results oriented" with my tennis -- again, like in poker -- but of course I have such a competitive drive that the desire to win will take over sometimes and distract me from simply working on being a better player.
My perception of the world is different because of poker. It doesn't hurt that I get asked about poker a lot by people who don't play, and so I frequently find myself explaining the game in non-poker terms.
For example, I sometimes get asked about the skill element in poker. I'll respond by saying you could get into a car without knowing how to drive it and try to drive, but the chance is good that you won't get home safely. You can play poker the same way, just throwing in your chips without knowing how to play. You might win, but there's a greater chance you won't.
But after studying and becoming more knowledgeable about how to operate a car, and then after driving a car for many years, your chance of getting home safely goes way up. Of course, you might still get into an accident, but the chances are much less than before. Similarly in poker if you study the game and improve your skills, you have a better chance of succeeding.
Making those comparisons comes instinctively to me now, and I find myself "seeing" poker in all sorts of non-poker contexts. I didn't really anticipate that happening when I first started playing, but now it's almost automatic for me to think and communicate in poker terms.
Some of my friends joke with me, saying "I liked you better when you were playing field hockey -- at least I could understand you!" I think, though, that the transformation has been very positive -- that poker has helped me be much more analytical and able to notice details and patterns than would have been the case otherwise. I was doing some commentary for the field hockey World Cup recently, and instead of just focusing on players and talking in general terms, I was incorporating percentages of penalty corners made and other statistical information in my commentary that I know came directly from my poker background.
Learning poker and seriously studying it is almost like learning a new language. You can immerse yourself in the game, and then before you know it you're "translating" other aspects of your life into poker terms.
I guess some terms are the same in tennis and poker, though. Like aces -- they're good to get in both.
Fatima Moreira de Melo is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.