3 Poker Lessons from Rocky Balboa

Rocky and poker

He is NOT dead meat

Rocky movies are my all time favorite!!!   A poker buddy often jokes how I base all of my tough decisions on “What would Rocky do?” All joking aside, I know Rocky would make a great poker player and a lot of his boxing tactics translate extremely well to poker.  With this in mind, I present to you 3 poker lessons from the Italian Stallion; Rocky Balboa.

Focus On Performance, Not Results

Rocky understands results are beyond his control.  He focuses on preparation and on making sure he is ready to “bring it” at the opening bell.  He focuses solely on things he can control and makes sure he is not distracted by anything else. A great example of this is in Rocky 1 where his lone goal was to go the distance in his fight with Apollo Creed, the legendary heavyweight champion of the world.   He knew if he gave it his all and did EVERYTHING IN HIS POWER TO SUCCEED he would come out a winner no matter the outcome. Rocky didn’t even care enough to pay attention to the reading of the official scorecards. He kept pushing people out of his way while searching for his beloved Adrian.

All you can do in poker is prepare for success and put out maximal effort at the table. When you achieve these goals, it stings a little less when someone spikes a 4 outer to bust you out of a big tournament. Knowing that you did everything you could to win will soften the blow and help you bounce back.  By focusing on performance rather than short term results, you set the proper mindset to play great consistent poker regardless of recent suckouts/bad beats/coolers.

Switch Gears

Rocky switched from a southpaw to a conventional stance numerous times during his epic battles. He learned how to dance around the ring in Rocky III to counter Clubber Lang’s overwhelming power.  He trained to build sheer power himself as an aged veteran against the much younger, more athletic Mason Dixon in Rocky Balboa.  Rocky is great at changing gears!!!

Adaptation is vital to poker success. You must know when and how to change gears to be a long term winner.  While avoiding Fancy Play Syndrome, consistently monitor the game conditions and look for opportune times to shift gears and alter your style of play.  Exploit your table image; this is a great way to use deception as a weapon.

Understand Your Opponent

Rocky is kind of punch drunk and is not known for being the brightest; but he game plans well.  He knows if he understands his opponents well, he will know how to counter their tendencies and formulate a winning strategy. In their first fight, Rocky learned that Clubber Lang expended too much energy in the early rounds. He knew that his opponent would not have enough stamina to be effective in the later rounds of their rematch. He exploited this tendency by letting Clubber gas himself out by the middle of the third round – similarly to Ali’s Rope a Dope against Foreman in Zaire – and scored a decisive knockout to win his title back.

In poker, we tend to think our opponents play similarly to us.  We foolishly neglect the fact that our opponents have different playing styles than we do.  To play them optimally we need to stop assuming they are playing “by the book”.  Like Rocky, study your opponent, figure out how he will react in certain situations and exploit his tendencies.

Rocky kicks some serious ass.  A lot of his traits and boxing skills translate perfectly to poker success.  Do you think you could beat Rocky in a heads up match?  Think of any other characters we could learn poker from?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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