Poker, and its identical twin – ski-cross


The winter Paralympics are now underway, emulating its senior cousin with grit and the odd bit of steel. For me it serves as a useful reminder that poker is not the only sport riddled with randomness.

It’s been a frustration over the years, watching poker tournament after poker tournament and finding no logic or pattern of familiarity in any of them. Sometimes it’s as if each tournament existed in isolation – its winners never to be seen again.

But then in true Olympic fashion, I sat down to watch one of those sports that you only watch every four years. Specifically ski-cross.

If you’re not familiar with ski-cross – perhaps you were watching the figure skating instead – it consist of four skiers of a dauntless disposition, hurtling along a downhill course of jumps, dips and turns. The idea is to be the first down to the finish line in one piece, with the first two advancing to the next round, the next two to the hospital.

You don’t have to watch a lot of it to realise that you’re probably watching it for this element of peril, like Rollerball but with handshakes at the end.

There’s a racing line and each “rider” wants it. The result is often catastrophic crashes, or miscalculations that seem improper to watch at home with popcorn and a beer. Just watch the remarkable photo finish between Egor Korotkov of Russia, Victor Oehling Norberg from Sweden, and Jouni Pellinen from Finland to get the idea. In that race Korotkov was forced to jettison his considerable skill and instead use whatever body part he could extend across the line first.

But then when it’s done properly it’s a marvel to behold. Great concentration, tremendous courage and precision skill, developed after years of practice and taking the odd fall along the way. Not unlike poker.

Poker may not have the crashes, but it does have great players who crash out. It may not have the pace and speed, but it does have the same element of randomness. Commentators suggested that in ski-cross anyone from a pool of around 30 of the sport’s top athletes could win any particular competition, which creates a competitive spirit and camaraderie among participants who travel the world together. Here again were some comforting similarities with poker.

And so as EPT Vienna looms perhaps it’ll prove a little easier to deal with the randomness by keeping Korotkov in mind. Poker may be a little random, and just as with ski-cross the winner may be lucky, but in both cases neither is a fluke.