From the Courts to the Tables
So what exactly does an ex-tennis pro do once he’s retired? For Vince, it was a no-brainer. He used the same formula that worked so well for him with his first career and followed the love of his other favorite hobby all the way to poker tables.
Now a commentator for the World Poker Tour, a television show featured on the Travel Channel, Vince spends most of his time either playing poker or commenting on poker. “Believe it or not, I find that normal life, doing what I do now—I’m an actor, a poker player, a commentator for the WPT, I have a family life—I’m not exhausting myself on the tennis court all day,” Vince said.
While Vince still plays tennis—usually with his wife, "Young and the Restless" star Eileen Davidson, or with his sons, Richard, 12, Vincent, 9, or Jesse, 2—his busy schedule keeps him from playing too often. But he has found a way to apply the lessons he learned on the court to his poker playing.
“To become a top-notch poker player, you need a great competitive spirit. You have to not just know the rules but be able to execute them. I can do that because I’m highly competitive when I want to be, and I don’t want to lose. If you don’t want to lose, you’ll figure out how to win,” Vince explained. “Not many people can do that, but a lot of athletes know how to do that. If you’re going to play poker, then you better know, otherwise you’ll lose money!”
Vince also learned how to handle losses and wins without self-destructing. “Tennis taught me not to get over confident after a win, and that when you lose, how to make a comeback and not make things worse,” he said.
But the skill Vince emphasizes the most is the ability to have confidence in yourself, in your game. “Just believe in yourself, that you can beat anyone. No intimidation. If you think, ‘That guy is better than me,’ you are done. To be a great competitor, you must believe that you’re the best, but take the ego out of the game.”
As most tennis players know, sometimes this is easier said than done. But these are skills Vince is confident anyone can attain through practice, practice, practice. “Keeping a poker face on the court and at the tables is essential for success. If your body language shows you’re down, you’ll be picked on. Players can sense that you know that you’re losing. Then they get more confident, play better against you, and they’ll beat you.”
Clearly Vince has a lot of experience with these tricky situations, and his success in tennis and poker are solid proof he’s a master of game playing. How did he get so good? It’s all about having the right attitude. “Attitude is a talent in itself. Some have it inherently, and some have to continue to work on it. I worked very hard on keeping good body language, even when I was down a break on the court.”
For anyone picturing a McEnroe tantrum right about now, Vince is quick to point out that McEnroe’s on-court anger worked for him. “He would get mad, but then he would play better. So it worked for him in a different way. But he would never give up. The players that give up don’t make it in the long run,” Vince said.
All these lessons have contributed to Vince’s success in his new career. “The players that get down on themselves at the poker table and start feeling like a loser, and go on tilt—as we say in the poker world—play even worse and blow off more money than they should because of their attitude. These are the victims. These are the causalities of the game,” Vince stated.
A Gambling Man
At 47-years-old, Vince feels life is just right. He has the time to be a family man, and, come on, he pretty much plays poker for a living. Not too shabby. “I play twice a week in big side ring games in L.A. and Las Vegas. I also play on the soon-to-be televised Pro Poker Tour, where the top 200 players in the world are invited to compete.” In fact, in a few weeks, Vince will be competing in the Poker World Series event, featuring an $8 million prize pot.
If you want to get Vince out on the tennis court, the best way to entice him is to bet money on the match. “I like to make friendly bets on tennis games.” Actually, Vince will bet you on almost anything. “I like to bet on all different things. I like to gamble on the major tennis tournaments. It’s a fun way to watch matches, although I’ve had a little edge over the years with my gambling experience, and the tennis, of course,” he said.
Regardless of where his poker may take him, Vince won’t forget that it all began on the tennis courts. “I grew up in Forest Hills, and I still remember watching people play on grass and the smell when you open a fresh can of tennis balls,” he reminisced. “It’s a beautiful sport.”
You can hear more from Vince Van Patten next Wednesday, June 29th, from 9-12 p.m. (EST) on the Travel Channel’s World Poker Tour: World Championship Season III episode. “It turned out to be a marathon final table, and it is the most spectacular tournament we’ve seen in three years. You’re seeing high emotions constantly, and ridiculous, almost miracle draws happening.”—Vince Van Patten
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