World Cup and World Series of Poker are worlds apart

By Norman Chad
Monday, June 7, 2010

The two greatest sporting events on the planet -- the FIFA World Cup and the World Series of Poker* -- coincide over the next month.

(* Technically, poker is not a sport; it's a game. And, of course, in many parts of the world, soccer is not a sport; it's a religion. Anyway, for the purposes of this column -- and, to be honest, for the purposes of the rest of my natural life -- poker is as much a sport as tennis, basketball or the shot put.)

As a public service, Couch Slouch now will compare and contrast the two pursuits:

Watching from home: Poker translates easier on TV than soccer. In poker, all the action -- yes, we'll call it "action" -- is confined to an area no larger than, well, a poker table. Soccer is spread out over, well, a soccer field.

Watching on-site: Attending a World Cup match is an unsurpassed sporting experience: The intensity of the crowd often matches the intensity of the play. As exhilarating as the World Cup is, the World Series of Poker is excruciating: Spectators are unable to see each player's cards. It's like watching construction work at a construction site, minus the excitement.

What's at stake: The World Cup is about national pride and bringing home soccer's world championship. The WSOP is about personal pride and -- in the case of the Main Event -- bringing home maybe $10 million.

Icons: The World Cup has the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona; the WSOP has the likes of Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu. But soccer players, like most athletes, eventually get too old and retire. Poker pros never retire, they just buy more chips.

Scoring: In poker, someone wins a big pot every several minutes; the "action" is nonstop. In soccer, the action is nonstop but a goal is scored only once or twice a day.

Flops vs. Flopping: Poker has flops -- those are the three community cards used in Texas hold 'em; this happens on every hand. Soccer has flopping -- that's when a player falls to the ground as if shot by a sniper and feigns untold pain; this happens on every trip downfield.

Injuries: Soccer players suffer the usual array of aches and pains associated with physically challenging activity; leg maladies are commonplace. Poker pros used to suffer from second-hand smoke -- until smoking was banned from most tournaments. Nowadays, the biggest problems are back woes (from sitting too long) and wrist woes (from playing too much online poker).

Penalties: At the World Cup, you can receive a yellow or red card for inappropriate conduct. At the WSOP, you can be disciplined for verbally abusive behavior, though if strictly enforced, Phil Hellmuth would be suspended for years at a time.

Celebrations: Nothing in sport equals the wide-eyed/arms-raised mad dash of the goal scorer, culminated by either jumping into a teammate's grasp or sliding onto the grass while holding his head in disbelief. On the other hand, in poker, the new-age foot-stomping "That's what I'm talking about!" post-pot explosion is generally frowned upon by card-room cognoscenti.

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