Poker is a popular hobby among famous athletes. Successful sportspeople like tennis player Boris Becker and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps can be seen frequently at poker tables. Perhaps more than any other athletes, though, some of the most successful footballers of all time have developed a taste for the popular card game. Some have even taken it so seriously as to become borderline-professional players.
The following are five particularly noteworthy footballers who have made themselves at home on the green felt.
Football is a sport in which all the attention is concentrated on the striker. In order to become a world-famous goalkeeper, though, you have to have the skill to overcome attacks from those commanding strikers –– like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name a few. The Italian player Gianluigi Buffon was just that good, to the point that he’s now recognised as one of the all-time greats at the position. He manned the net for clubs like Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain and the Italian national team in multiple World Cups.
It’s not common to see Buffon sitting at a poker table in a casino, as he seems to prefer online matches. But in the realm of online poker, he’s known to be a regular player and can frequently be found playing under his football nickname “Gigi Buffon.” His poker skill hasn’t yet resulted in massive online tournament winnings (that we know oooh). Still, his appreciation for the game and charisma led him to become a PokerStars ambassador for a couple of years.
Neymar made headlines early in his career when fans collected 14,000 signatures to have the coach of the Brazilian team, Dunga, include him on the 2010 World Cup roster. While Dunga didn’t include him at the time, the young Brazilian player has become a top scorer for both the Brazilian national team and European clubs like FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, winning multiple championships along the way. He’s known for his dribbling and feinting ability and his tendency to “bluff” injuries in the field.
In addition to being one of the best and highest-paid footballers though, Neymar is known to be a high-quality poker player, having finished sixth at a Brazilian Series of Poker event. His most significant victory in poker to date earned him €18,000, which is impressive but still puts him behind more experienced players like Gerard Piqué and Ronaldo. Meanwhile, like Buffon, Neymar represented Team PokerStars for a while.
Those who saw the legendary Ronaldo play for either Barcelona, Inter Milan, or the Brazilian national team, called him The Phenomenon for his explosive ability to start attacks, sometimes single-handedly, leaving the most talented defenders feeling useless. His ability helped him win multiple European titles and helped Brazil win the World Cup.
Today, when he’s not busy managing his multiple businesses, he’s developing his skills as a professional poker player. In fact, younger generations might know him more for his achievements at the tables than those on the pitch. His most impressive victory in the game came during a tournament in the Bahamas, where he earned approximately $42,000 in one go.
Considered by some to be the best football player globally, “CR7” spent several years playing for Real Madrid, with whom he won both the Spanish league and the Champions League multiple times. Known for his physical strength and speed, he’s also famous for having an impressive ability to visualize attacks, seemingly seeing several passes ahead.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a huge fan of poker. Indeed, he likes the game so much that he has become a sort of advocate for it, appearing in events alongside all-time poker great Daniel Negreanu (among other lesser pros). Given that he’s done about as much winning at the tables as Ronaldo has on the pitch, we imagine Negreanu has gotten the better of their encounters. But rest assured, CR7 is dangerous at a poker table as well.
The Spanish player used his ability to overpower players and tackle them with precision to protect FC Barcelona from teams like Real Madrid –– and earn himself the nickname PiquenBauer, for his stylistic similarity to the famous German player Franz Beckenbauer. On that team, he played alongside Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, winning La Liga four times and becoming known as the best defender of his generation. He is one of the few players to have won the Champions League two years in a row, even though he did it with two different teams.
Piqué isn’t just a fan of poker, meanwhile. He’s a legitimate professional and regularly participates in the main events of the World Series of Poker. His ability to read opponents’ offensive strategies seems to have transferred to the felt, allowing him to beat experienced poker players consistently. His biggest win thus far was on the European Poker Tour, where we won $56,000.
Becoming a star in either football or poker is no easy feat. But it seems that many top footballers find it easy enough to leap into competitive poker once they’re established. These five are some of the best.