Poker vs. Round 5: Sports Betting

May 3, 2009


One of my longtime passions, going back more than 10 years when I started doing NCAA tournament brackets in college, is sports betting. The seemingly endless options, the connection to a professional team, the rush from the victory, the added interest in the most mundane and irrelevant of contests, it all makes for a wild ride of gambling. And I’m not talking fantasy sports this time, I’ll talking real line bets, over/unders, all the favorites. Naturally, I wonder how one of my passions stacks up to my ultimate passion of poker.

So, returning to the ring for the first time more than 8 months, is the 3-1 poker. Poker has dusted off the boxing gloves and is ready for it’s challenger. Let’s see how he does.

At the most surface level, it’s fairly easy once you know the different poker hands. Two from your hand, three community cards totals your best 5-card poker hand. Grading scale 5/10

SPORTS BETTING: Learning how to play a game is vastly different from actually diving into the strategy and specifics of it, so taking that into account, I have to admit sports betting is probably the easiest to learn of any opponent poker yet has faced. It doesn’t bode well for your difficulty prospects when that secretary at work can beat you in the NCAA bracket by selecting the teams ranked by the prettiest uniform colors. Anyone with a couple bucks can step up and make a sports bet. You don’t really need to know anything. 1/10

I’m amending poker’s score here from previous writeups, but I’ll keep the original language, as well. The truth is, understanding poker, regardless of the actual card decisions you have to make, is quite intricate. For that alone, it gets bumped up two spots. Original test: Hold ‘em games, much more so than draw games, rely mostly on odds and statistics, instead of knowing what the keep and what to drop. So, really, under this category of the skill, if you understand what hands are more difficult to achieve in a hold ‘em game, you’ve already got a leg up against the competition. 5/10

SPORTS BETTTING: Now, to actually understand sports betting, you undoubtedly must have intricate knowledge of the rules of the game, the strategies of the games and the dedication to stay up on news, transactions, injuries, anything and everything. Staying on top of your sports betting game is a full-time job. Learning football alone is a major undertaking. Factor in just basketball and baseball, and sports betting earns its stripes and it’s place atop this category. Then you have the actual art of betting, understanding the fluctuation of a sports line, the other betting possibilities and how to maximize your return, which I’ll talk about in the next category. There’s simply no competition in this area. 10/10
Poker’s playing skill is dominated by intelligent betting, which is why these two different areas are combined into one. Taking control of the table with a power bet, throwing others a curve with a curious check, etc… (the list goes on and on) take talent, experience and balls (I sat here for 2 minutes trying to think of a better word to use, but I really couldn’t…sad). Aside from betting, poker players must be able to figure how their hidden hand plays not only against the community cards, but also against what other might be holding (of which betting from them can be a reveal to the contents of these hands, as well). 9/10

SPORTS BETTTING: Knowing a well-set betting line from one to avoid like the plague takes skill. Pinpointing the perfect over/under, and then correctly predicting on which side a specific game will fall takes skill. Working parlay bets, and actually being successful with them takes incredible skill. Much like in a golf skins game with multiple tied holes in a row, you’re carrying a wager over numerous games, all of which have to be successful for you to win. Knowing how much to bet on certain games, and how often to ride a team, both take skill. Utilizing your hard-learned knowledge when making all these decisions takes patience, critical thinking and trusting your gut instincts. 9/10
Well, this is pretty much what the game is famous for after the gold bracelets and sunglasses. If you got it, you got it…and oh boy does it make a difference. 10/10

SPORTS BETTTING: The only time I can think of this coming into play, and even this is a stretch, is trying to decipher the cryptic messages of a coach like Bill Bellichek or Mike Shannahan when they’re asking about the playing status of their stars. Also, knowing the body language of the sports stars (are they confident, do they seem defeated, have they given up on the season already?) can be a big boost to you as you make decisions throughout that sport’s betting season. So while you’re not reading your direct opponent, per se, (which is who, the bookie? Vegas? Yeah, good luck reading Vegas), this skill does come into play in some capacity. 5/10

POKER: Luck? LUCK??? Blasphemy, you say. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Even the champs will tell you, there is SOME luck in poker. No more evident that the cruel, cruel river. Luck detracts from skill, so poker gets a -3 here. Minus 3

SPORTS BETTTING: This is a tough one to gauge this time. One on hand, once the games are under way, you have no control over the outcome at all, and some would say that by default means all your winnings are the result of luck. I think people in the know realize this to be untrue. On the other hand, you could say the luck of sports betting is directly related to the luck of the sport itself. Do athletes feel luck comes into play during a professional contest? I can’t remember the last time they used the other team’s luck as an excuse for losing. You know when luck really comes into play? The coin toss. Minus 1.
Final Score:

This might be the closest contest in poker’s short but stories career. Sports betting put up a solid effort, but couldn’t get past the ease of learning the game and the mediocre score when it came to reading people. While at the top of the game in other areas, and no doubt a formidable opponent that put a scare into our reining champion, sports betting doesn’t quite have enough to claim the crown.  Poker improves to 4-1 with a 4-match winning streak.