Of all the ingredients necessary to make a good poker player, a competitive spirit and desire to win are right up there with all the strategies, number-crunching and nerves of steel that you’d perhaps think of first. It’s no surprise, then, that top sportsmen and women appear to take to the felt as naturally as they do the sports field.
Many sporting heroes have proved the point, playing in poker tournaments wearing the PokerStars logo with pride. As part of our PokerStars 10th Anniversary celebrations, and our daily November posts looking back over the last ten years, we pay tribute today to those sporting icons who go a long way to convincing the doubters that poker is indeed a sport.
You’ll likely have heard of Boris Becker. The Team PokerStars SportStar has had more Grand Slam and tournament victories that I’ve had hot dinners. And if you’ve seen the size of me, you’ll know I’ve had a lot of hot dinners. Becker even won Olympic gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
He’s pretty handy at the poker table, too. Just a few months ago he picked up $11,500 at EPT Barcelona, adding to his cashes at various EPT side events and even the WPT Five Star World Poker Classic in Las Vegas.
Becker is not the only tennis great to grace PokerStars. Gael Monfils, the French star who reached as high as seventh in the ATP rankings this year, has also served up a treat for tennis-loving poker fans, playing at EPT Monte Carlo.
It may be a minor sport in the US, but just about everyone else is
soccer football crazy. Many quality players, past and present, have played for PokerStars at live tournaments around the world.
Manchester United and Scotland international star Darren Fletcher took part at UKIPT Manchester, and was also sponsored by PokerStars to play a $1,500 No Limit event at the World Series of Poker in 2010. You can read about Darren Fletcher’s Las Vegas trip here.
One of the biggest names in Italian football, Gigi Buffon, joined Team PokerStars SportStars and is proving himself to be no pushover at the tables. The legendary goalkeeper won more than 100 caps for Italy, winning the World Cup with his country in 2006.
Two more former football internationals have graced the PokerStars stage. Teddy Sheringham, the former Manchester United, Tottenham and England international, was sponsored by PokerStars when he final tabled EPT Vilamoura, coming fifth for a cool $118,000.
Then there is Poli Rincon, who is from a slightly older school (sorry, Poli). A former player for Real Madrid, Real Betis and the Spanish national team (he once scored four times for his country in a 12-1 thrashing of Malta), he is now a Friend of PokerStars and a great ambassador for poker in Spain.
I once saw Team PokerStars Pro John Duthie on the golf course. It’s fair to say it’s easy to see why he became a professional poker player, and not a professional golfer. Luckily for PokerStars, two of the biggest names in golf have swung by to play with us.
Paul Azinger played for PokerStars at the World Series of Poker in 2006. Azinger starred in four Ryder Cups for the US, and was team captain in the successful 2008 year. He was no slouch at major tournaments worldwide, and was in the top ten of the Official World Golf Rankings for around 300 weeks between 1988 and 1994.
Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia, the Spanish great, has appeared at several PokerStars tournaments after winning a local television show to bag his seat.
For the field version of the game, you need not look any further than Team PokerStars Pro Fatima Moreira de Melo. She won Olympic gold for Holland at the 2008 Olympics and has been showing real promise on the poker tables, winning $171,000 in tournaments around the world.
Those who prefer their hockey played on a sheet of ice will recall Mats Sundin, the Swede who played for several NHL greats including the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs, a team he captained. He was a popular figure at the felt while an ambassador for PokerStars.
My colleague, Brad Willis, had a bit of a problem when he wrote about former England cricket captain Mike Atherton playing for PokerStars at EPT London back in season 2. Willis, an American, didn’t have a clue about cricket, except that it “took a very long time to finish a game”. But he swallowed his pride and wrote about Mike Atherton and PokerStars here.
Sebastien Chabal is a giant of French rugby. Literally; the man is huge. So it was we bloggers were a little scared when he signed up to play as a Team PokerStars SportStar. At his first event at EPT Monte Carlo we, or the English among us, expected to get our heads bitten off. Instead, he was nice as pie.
Chabal, who sends housewives’ hearts fluttering, has been one of the most important players in the modern French game, playing for his country more than 60 times.
It’s a bit rude to group others together like this, but quite frankly this post would have grown huge. So this is just to say we have not forgotten Gualter Salles, a champion racing driver and team owner from Brazil who has proven himself at the poker table with $118,000 in career winnings. Salles is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.
Also kudos to Orel Hershiser, the baseball star and former Friend of PokerStars. In a distinguished career, he won the Gold Glove, Cy Young Award, the NLCS MVP and the World Series MVP with the Dodgers, whatever that all means (I now know how Willis felt about cricket).
And would it be wrong to class Team PokerStars Pro Theo Jorgensen, who won the WPT Grand Prix de Paris in 2010 for $848,000, as a sporting star? Well, if you count one night in February, 2009, then yes. That’s when he beat Gus Hansen in a well-publicised boxing match!
Finally, here is PokerStars blogger Stephen ‘Sergeant Major’ Bartley. What? I hear you cry (cry being the operative word). Well, Sgt Major Bartley is certainly not a sportsman. You should see him in his tennis shorts.
But he gets a special mention here. Last season at EPT Barcelona he arrived wearing what can only be described as something disgusting on his upper lip; a moustache. It turned out he was growing it as part of Movember, when gentlemen grow facial fuzziness for charity during the month of November.
Bartley raised a handsome sum, and that makes him a great sport in anyone’s book.