WSOP 2011 Best Bets: Sports Stars

Fatima Moreira de Melo
Gold medal gumption translates to success at the poker table.

Every year, PokerListings releases its list of Best Bets for the upcoming World Series of Poker.

In years past we pushed our luck, spotlighting individuals and making brash predictions about those individuals winning bracelets. As it turns out it’s no easy feat to predict winners at the WSOP.

So this year we’re going to do things a little differently.

Rather than pick individuals, we’re going to throw darts at groups of individuals in the hopes one or two might stick.

And so we continue with the 2011 WSOP Best Bets series with our next group: Sports Stars.

With more and more successful athletes turning to the game of poker, it’s really only a matter of time before this group begins dominating in yet another arena.

One need only look at the last 12 months to see the stars of other sports knocking on the door of poker greatness.

To follow up his deep run in the 2009 WSOP Europe main event, English football legend Teddy Sheringham made an EPT final table this season.

And, Dutch field hockey Olympic gold medalist Fatima Moreira De Melo made the final table of the Amsterdam Masters Classic to name just two of many former sports stars’ increasingly impressive poker results.

"You have to have the will to learn, and the ability to focus. I think people that are able to compete in sports at a high level bring that to the game of poker.” - Fatima Moreira de Melo

At the 2010 WSOP, De Melo cashed in three of 11 events she played and although she’s not the biggest fan of Las Vegas, she does enjoy the all-poker-all-the-time atmosphere at the WSOP.

As a former high-level athlete, she embraces the intensity and believes she and the other stars of sport that have turned to poker are trained for success in such an environment.

Boris Becker
Boris Becker has the poker face down cold.

“I’ve always been a competitive person,” she told PokerListings. “I’ve always wanted to win. I’ve always wanted to be the best in my class, that’s my drive and that’s something that comes from within. I think the best poker players also have that.

“Then you have to have the will to learn, and the ability to focus. I think people that are able to compete in sports at a high level bring that to the game of poker.”

After making the final table of the 2009 WSOP Main Event, Dennis Phillips knows what it takes to succeed at the World Series and when he sees players like 1988 Major League Baseball World Series MVP Orel Hershiser or tennis Legend Boris Becker signing up for WSOP events, he knows they have it.

“They’ve been competitive their whole lives, probably from grade school on,” he said. “These guys have been doing it year after year and they don’t like to lose.

"I don’t like to lose either, you give me a game of Tiddlywinks and I’m going to try and win the damn game, and that’s where we are similar. But they have an edge because they’ve been doing it day in, day out for years.”

Sports Star Winning a Bracelet Would Be Huge for the Game

De Melo believes mainstream media interest in a sports star winning a WSOP bracelet would be tremendous for the game of poker.

“For the media to be able to connect those dots makes it a whole lot bigger,” she said. “Otherwise, when a poker pro wins a million Euros or something, people don’t really have anything to connect it to, because there’s no built in back story.

“So if you have well known people who achieve something in this field, it will help the poker world to be more accepted in the mainstream world.”

Now all these sports stars have to do is what they’ve always done: Win.

Stay up to date with all the action from Vegas this summer with's WSOP 2011 Live Coverage section.

More Sports Stars to watch out for:

  • Earl Barron (former Miami Heat center and regular at the WSOP)
  • Scottie Upshall (Current Columbus Blue Jacket winger w/ $15k cash at 2008 Borgata Poker Open)
  • Shane Warne (international Cricket legend and sponsored 888Poker pro w/ 3rd-place finish at Victoria National Poker Championship in 2010)

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