There is no doubt that poker and martial arts go hand in hand. Martial arts are all about discipline, patience, and understanding your opponent's behavior. Poker is the same. The best way to describe poker is to call it 'martial arts for money'.
Many professional poker players started off with a background in martial arts - be it karate, taekwondo, kung fu, or jiu-jitsu. This is no coincidence.
Many martial artists are successful poker players - some even make it their profession. In this article, we will focus on 15 great poker players who also have a background in martial arts.
Here are 15 of the best martial artists who play poker professionally or as a hobby:
1. Rousimar Palhares
Nicknamed "Toquinho" which means little tree stump in Portuguese, Rousimar is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the great Wallid Ismail. He won numerous grappling titles including World's No Gi Championships and Brazilian National Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Rousimar started playing poker after being suspended from MMA for holding on submissions too long. His manager asked him to find a way to make money while waiting for the suspension to be lifted so he started playing poker.
"I was already a fan of (poker) and I had friends who played. So I started studying it and practicing. As soon as the suspension was lifted, I went to Sao Paulo and won my first poker tournaments."
2. Phil Hellmuth
Phil "The Poker Brat" Hellmuth is an American professional poker player who has won a record 14 World Series of Poker bracelets. He is also one of the most successful tournament players in history with total live poker tournaments winnings of over $18,600,000.
Phil Hellmuth was practicing martial arts (he started Jiu-Jitsu at 14) while growing up in Wisconsin but stopped once he realized that it did not work when playing sports against bigger opponents. However, this experience helped him in learning how to read his opponents.
"I like the mental game of poker very much because it is very similar to the martial art of jiu-jitsu."
3. Floyd Mayweather
An American professional boxer, who knows best what boxing is. In fact, the undefeated five-division boxing world champion. He's also one of the wealthiest athletes in the entire world. Besides his outstanding boxing career, Mayweather is also known for his extravagant lifestyle and brash persona. During a recent online poker session, Mayweather managed to win more than $100,000.
"I may not be the best player in poker but I can play poker well. When I was young, my father taught me how to play the game until it became one of my favorite games"
4. Dario Minieri
Italian Dario Minieri is the youngest-ever winner of the European Poker Tour (EPT). He started playing poker at 18 after quitting his university studies.
"I remember that when I was young, my father used to beat me in chess games. I always won. From that moment, I caught the gambling bug."
Dario also won the World Series of Poker $10,000 no-limit hold 'em "Main Event" in 2007 and 2009.
Dario is a black belt holder in Brazilain Jiu-Jitsu and knows how to use his skills: "I rarely use my BJJ technique during poker games though. I prefer to save them for the streets".
5. Josip Simunic
Former Croatian footballer who played for the Australian national football team as a center-back. He holds a 3rd-degree black belt in taekwondo and is believed to be one of the highest graded members in Australia. In 2010, he won the Pokerstars.com ANZPT Sydney Main Event, earning AU$1,000,000 in the process.
6. James "Munky" Schaffroth
A former professional boxer who held a record of 18-1 and was trained by Freddie Roach at Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. As an actor, he appeared in movies such as Bloodsport 2 and 3, Kickboxer 4. He also co-operative in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs". At the World Series of Poker, he won a bracelet in 2002 in the $1,500 no limit hold'em event (Event #10), earning $262,500.
7. Tony T
Holder of multiple black belts, Tony T is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion who started training at the age of 13. He also has experience in kickboxing and karate. Tony won a WSOP bracelet in 2009 for the €2,200 HORSE event (Event #34), defeating a tough final table that included Jonathan Duhamel and Erick Lindgren.
"I do not see any difference between poker and jiu-jitsu. In both games, you need to read your opponent's strengths and weaknesses in order to take the correct decision. In both games, there are traps that you need to avoid."
8. Gary "The Choir Boy" Benson
Winner of a WSOP bracelet in 2002 for a $5,000 buy-in tournament (Event #32) that earned him $192,370. Although he is not known for his Muy Thai skills, several sources say that Benson does know how to drop the hammer on occasion.
"I have a girlfriend and if my friends knew that I go to the gym, they would never talk to me again. Once they asked me what kind of workout I do in order to be so strong at poker tables, and when I explained it they got mad at me."
9. Calvin 'The Silver Surfer' Anderson
An American professional poker player and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who has won 2 WSOP bracelets. This man has it all: good looks, charisma, and a tremendous poker talent that earned him over $7 million dollars in live poker tournaments. He is also a former member of the U.S military.
"In my time in the army, I was taught to fight. In poker, you need patience and a strong will in order to win."
10. José "Chickie" Venglass
A former kickboxer who held Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, Chickie aka 'The Kid' were a regular in underground fight clubs in Brazil where he fought to make ends meet. In 2006, he finished as runner-up to Matt Savage for the WSOP $1,500 no limit hold'em event (Event #8), earning $243,587.
"I trained a lot of MMA but it does not help you much in poker. In kickboxing, I learned to use both hands and feet, which helps me a lot in poker."
11. Loretta "The Surfer" Kenealy
Holder of black belts in judo and jiu-jitsu, she is a former Women's World Cup Mixed Martial Arts champion who allegedly was the first female MMA fighter to become a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
She also battled cancer twice before making her comeback at the World Series of Poker. She finished 4th in the Ladies No-Limit Hold'em Championship (Event #45) for $50,530 and also cashed in 2009's Main Event (45th place).
"I do not like to talk about my MMA training. My success in this game comes from the fact that I trained a lot more than anyone else."
12. Magaret "Rudy" Hartlieb
Holder of a black belt in karate, she also holds a patent for a children's self-defense course called "Kids Karate" and has been inducted into the Martial Arts History Museum Hall of Fame. She is widely recognized as one of the top female professional poker players in the world.
13. Julius "The Rookie" Malinowski
A regular at the World Series of Poker, this veteran Jiu-Jitsu black belt has 15 black belts in various martial arts disciplines under his belt. He is a highly respected poker player, with a poker strategy, who owns a sports bar with 2 professional pool tables in Florida.
14. Zachary "Z-Man" Ferguson
Former kickboxer and long-time poker pro, he also co-operative with Quentin Tarantino for the movie "Death Proof". In 2005, Zachary won the WSOP bracelet in No-Limit Hold'em (event #28), earning $558,331. Now retired from poker, he is involved in MMA.
"In my youth, I trained a lot of MMA and boxing as well as weightlifting. In poker, you need patience and strong will in order to succeed."
15. Nathaniel "The Boogeyman" Rich
A professional poker player who made his name at the poker tables around California. At an early age, he was involved with martial arts and also became a two-time Golden Gloves champion boxer. His grandfather is Robert W. Lohr who co-founded Lohr Distributing, a wine and liquor distributor based in the Central Valley.