Pressure from peers and the press, scrutiny from fans all over the world and, of course, huge money up for grabs. A Premier League football team has more in common now with poker than ever before. But if you were to imagine each club in terms of poker tactics, which club would be which move?
Arsenal - The Triple-Barrel Bluff
On their day, they can beat anyone. Relentless in attack and yet wide-open if you actually call them, the Gunners are all about getting to the river, it’s just a shame they often drown in it themselves by March.
Bournemouth - The All-In
‘What, little Bournemouth? The all-in?’ we hear you cry. Yup, them. The Cherries have lost 18 points from winning positions this season alone, yet have won 14 points from losing predicaments. It’s all or nothing with Eddie Howe’s boys.
Brighton & Hove Albion – The Sandbag
A common term for slow-play in poker, Sandbagging is The Seagulls all over. An attacking left winger with an eye for a top corner finish, you say? Bench him. Let’s see if we can grab a draw instead. Slowly.
Burnley – The Overbet
You know how it works at the poker table. You give your neighbour a look that says, ‘Why’s this guy just shown his hand by betting too much?’ That’s Burnley. Great in September, though, weren’t they? Weren’t they?
Chelsea – The Squeeze Play
Just when you think they’re down and out, they pull out a power play and ruin your life. Or buy your favourite player and turn him from a 30-goal-a-season striker into a dead ringer for your Uncle Stan after he's eaten his Christmas dinner.
Crystal Palace - The Blind Steal
They shouldn’t really be involved, should they? They lost that early pot. They were rock bottom. But then they learned how to bet big in late positions and took a few uncontested pots. Now Grandad Hodgson is back on the Werthers and they’ll get to do it all again next year. Reload.
Everton – The Blocker Bet
Want to make sure that no-one runs roughshod over you at the table? Lead the action, put out a blocker. You won’t be knocking down skittles, but your losses will be minimal. It’s all about looking after your own. You just know that Sam Allardyce is going to be that guy in the Neighbourhood Watch who captures an offending badger when he retires, don’t you? Probably because it was wearing the colours of Newcastle United.
Huddersfield Town – Call the Clock
There’s always someone who’ll call the clock to help their cause rather than the table, isn’t there? Normally, it’s a player who’s running out of time and short on chips. Huddersfield might be hoping for nuclear Armageddon in a bid to end the Premier League season after an unprecedented 34 games instead of the traditional 38.
Leicester City - The Stop ‘n’ Go
The Foxes didn’t get where they are today by playing it safe, but they no longer possess the kind of electric firepower that propelled them to a frankly ridiculous title. They have survived by learning one move – the Stop ‘n’ Go. They are going all-in on the flop whether you like it or not and it’ll always win them enough to endure.
Liverpool – The Isolation
There’s one team in the Premier League who truly can beat anyone on their day. The only team to topple Manchester City – at time of going to press – Klopp’s Kop is a fearsome wall on its day. Sure, they’ll never actually win the Premier League title, but editing their end-of-season DVD Review is a doddle. They do it by isolating the table to one player – or team – and that focus is a recipe for isolated success.
Manchester City – The Raise
They constantly put you under pressure, swarm all over you if you make a mistake and don’t give you a second on the front foot. It could only be one move, couldn’t it? The Citizens have policed their way to winning the Premier League like the table bully raising it up every hand with all the chips.
Manchester United – The Forward Motion
There is a rule in poker that if you push your chips towards the pot in a forward motion, you’re committed and can’t pull back. If only the Red Devils were aware of the cost of doing this in literally every big game they’ve played under Jose Mourinho. Go big or stay at home, because non-committal is a sin as big in poker as it is in the most popular sport on the planet.
Newcastle United – The Check-Fold
Money saved is money earned, right? They may not take you out, but they’re tougher to get rid of than most opponents. They’ll be back next year, just to give you one of your toughest games of the season.
Southampton - The Chase
No, not that The Chase. Those who chase the flushes end up chasing buses, that’s what they say. And The Saints have given away their talents for years in the hope that another river card will save them. They’re running out of hands.
Stoke City – The Donk Bet
Having gone ahead and conceded point after point this season, maybe Stoke should learn to time their attacks slightly better. Or their moments to defend. Or keeping possession. Or doing anything except singing a Tom Jones cover from 1968 (which they only started singing in the 90’s). They lead with the nuts in early position and forego any chance of a juicy pot. They then lose 68 hands in succession before doing the very same thing the next time they get a premium holding. It’s a blueprint for ending up on the rail/in The Championship.
Swansea City – The Bet Out of Turn
When you expect Swansea to lose, they win. When you imagine they’ll pick up three easy points, they score two own goals and have a man sent off. Swansea bet out of turn, have to check the best hand on the flop, then get overtaken on the turn when they move all-in. Then they somehow hit a miracle river to survive every time. Same again next year?
Tottenham Hotspur – The Continuation Bet
Spurs haven’t won the top division since 1961, but they do the basics very, very well and are at the forefront of clubs with the recent penchant for pressing the ‘10’ position of the half they’re attacking with energy and effort. It’s the equivalent of the c-bet, a Rolls Royce of a poker move. Go strong pre-flop, then on the flop represent that you just got stronger. It’s been winning hands since it was invented. Spurs will always win more than most when they press once, then press a little harder straight away.
Watford – The Hero Call
They don’t have much, but what they have got, they’ve got in spades. Cajones. Cujones, cojones. Call them whatever Troy Deeney attempts to, but Watford will call you down with a bare ace and leave you potless. Just ask anyone who’s attended one of their home games.
West Bromwich Albion – The Fold
No-one has ever won the World Series of Poker building their game around folding, chucking, mucking, tossing or turfing their hole cards. By honouring this weakest of poker moves, West Brom have folded like a very soggy house of cards this season and may never call in the Premier League for a very long time.
West Ham United – The Flash
Won a big pot in poker? Flash a winning card, treacle! Lost one where you got mugged off? Flash a rubbishy card to make it look like you were losing anyway. Pretty soon, everyone at the table knows what cards you’re playing every hand. You’ll be tempted to ask ‘Where’s big Andy Carroll’? But a big target up top, whether in football or poker, can't always be hit if you always show your hand.
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- Paul Seaton
- Evgeny Dorofeyev