POKER SKILLS AT 60KPH

Track Cycling Small 6aug12Olympic cycling is just like poker. Well, a little bit.

With track cycling dominating the weekend Olympic schedule, a few analogies came to light as the likes of Britain’s Victoria Pendleton, China’s Guo Shuang and Hong Kong’s Lee Wai Sze raced at tremendous speed around the velodrome on their way to the gold, silver and bronze medals in the sprint competition.

Kitted out in familiar aerodynamic uniforms and specially designed helmets, each rider tried to outwit their opponent, picking the right time to make their move, bluffing one direction before darting past in another just a second later. It made for dramatic scenes for the enthusiast as well as those watching cycling for the first time.

But there was another element to their uniforms, the visor on each rider’s helmet, not simply there to keep the 60kph wind from their faces, but mirrored to hide the rider’s eyes. With the race hinged on so many subtle variations of intent, each rider depends on surprise. The eyes – known to many as the windows to the soul – can easily betray a rider’s strategy, tipping off opponents as to your game plan. Spotting that can change a race entirely.

Noticed any similarities to poker yet?

The booming trade for sunglasses at the poker table is not a fashion statement – well not always. Sunglasses can, particularly for new players, add a defensive layer when in high pressure situations, the eyes often giving away the strength of a hand to a stronger player with a finely-tuned ability to spot weakness.

It’s why many believe there shouldn’t be sunglasses in poker. In fact in the 2011 IFP World Championships, sunglasses were not permitted, much to the surprise of some who have come to count on this little wardrobe accessory (few protested). Instead, their eyes could be seen clearly, putting this important if hard to learn skill back in the game.

So is cycling poker on wheels? Perhaps that’s as far as the analogy goes, although at least one commentator in the women’s Olympic road race picked up on the “poker game” that was the closing stages, when three breakaway riders tried to outwit each other to win gold.

But in many sports such mind games exist. The analogies made to poker are spot on.