Taking on all comers at the poker table is often what every player does. After all, if you’re a tournament player, then who ends up at your table isn’t up to you. Whether you’re playing the recent U.S. Poker Open or the World Series of Poker, it’s the luck of the draw as to who you’ll face across the felt.
For an MMA fighter, the element of choice presents its own problems. Turn down any fight and you can be seen as unwilling to risk your reputation. Accept every fight and you risk not defining your career by the fights you had, but by the ones you missed out on. That certainly can’t be said about Dan Henderson, however, who stars in this week’s classic Poker After Dark Throwback Hand against former Full Tilt Poker supremo, Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer.
Henderson is now an MMA legend, one who has a previous fight in the UFC Hall of Fame, namely UFC 139’s ‘Shogun vs. Henderson’. He knows how to pick his fights ‘in the Octagon’ but does he at the poker table?
This week’s mix of MMA superstars and poker pros is one of the most fun weeks of Poker After Dark that has ever made broadcast. It’s not simply a clash between brains and brawn, of course. That would see the poker players face down on the felt in seconds. But poker takes more than simple mental acuity.
When I began covering live poker, one of the tropes I was keen to phase out from any reports was the testosterone-led one-upmanship that existed between two male players at the felt. I say male players only because it simply wasn’t the case that a man would act the same way with a woman so much eight years ago. But if a woman was at the poker table, then it was even worse.
There’s a lot to dislike about two men trying to prove to each other that one of them has bigger…let’s call it ‘guts’ than the other. Not only does It cheapen the game of poker itself, but it can make each player look less skilled than they are.
One player, (and he’ll remain nameless, he’s a big pro to this day) leaning forward onto his forearms whenever he made a big all-in bet in those days. He had more tattoos on his arms than there seemed room to fit, which only made him look more cartoonish. It didn’t work, either. It had no effect, and I very quickly left it out of my reports. All clichés get tiresome very quickly, and men acting tough over what cards they choose to raise with is tiresome to the point of viewing switching off.
Another form of ‘guts’ would be the kind of instinct a player can demonstrate. Of course, at this table, the experienced players are the poker pros, Lindgren, Lederer and Antonius. Randy Couture, Bruce Buffer and ‘Hendo’ are the ones with less experience. Who should trust their gut when it comes to making a crucial call?
I conducted an interview with the British professional Sam Razavi once where he talked to me about the power of gut instinct. He described how his was almost always reliable now that he has experience in the game. He’ll frequently make a call based on his gut, because he knows that what he feels is based on hours upon hours of information that he’s gathered over the years. Intuition is defined as being ‘the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning’ and Razavi knew that.
Henderson can’t rely on gut instinct here so much because he doesn’t have those hours at the felt that Lederer does. He’s starting with the math and developing gut instinct over time. I found the most fun of starting to build up gut instinct over your opponents is to watch showdown hands and look at players’ faces to see how they react when the flop lands.
Both men are looking for something to hit, but it’s the gutterball that Hendo craves, and when he hits it, just like any opponent he faced in UFC, it ends in a takedown.
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