The Tebow Effect: What Poker Players Can Learn from Tim Tebow

Published on Jan 13th, 2012

In the sports world, Tim Tebow has been the topic of the year. Without him, one wonders what ESPN and sports talk radio would have found to fill the time. He is a phenomenon, a combination of belief, determination, luck, perseverance, work ethic, and the right attitude.

He is not the most talented or polished player in the NFL. Not even close. What he is doing is proving the analysts wrong and showing there is more than one way to skin a cat.

With all of the data tracking and training software that has hit the poker world over the last few years, there has been an exponential growth in players who play similar styles, especially in No Limit Hold'em. Poker is at least as situational as football, probably more so, and Tebow is proving that an unorthodox style the "experts" say can't succeed can actually put up results.

That style is now taking Tebow and a not-all-that-talented team to the second round of the NFL playoffs, a place that some highly touted and talented quarterbacks on some pretty good teams haven't seen in years.

In poker, having a baseline strategy is important, but playing like everyone else says you should, or thinks you should, is a method that at best will result in mediocrity. There are players out there who put up great results by employing tactics and strategies that a lot of poker players don't agree with and think can't succeed.

In poker, more so than in football, it is very easy to chalk a player's success up to variance and luck because there is plenty of that in poker. Tournaments have the most variance of all; one key hand can make the difference between being a world champion and min-cashing.

The presence of luck has led to the dismissal of many players who have shown solid and consistent results. It always makes me wonder if the "really lucky" players have just figured out something the rest of us haven't caught onto yet.

Other than just saying there is more than one way to get the job done, there are some other elements of what Tebow does that can correlate to poker. Having confidence in yourself, being willing to work extremely hard, and avoiding big mistakes are things Tebow has had in abundance so far. They are also traits that are found in most long-term successful poker players.

After three fairly dismal weeks of passing the ball, mostly into the ground or to the wrong team, Tebow came out against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend and threw some pretty good looking balls, putting up big passing play after big passing play. His day culminated in the first down, 80-yard, on-the-money strike that sealed the overtime victory. Reports are that Tebow throws hundreds of balls every day, working as hard as he can to get better. There seems to be little dispute that he is a workhorse and a leader who believes in himself and in those around him.

A hot streak in poker is a combination of a good run of cards and confidence, with the latter being an often overlooked and undervalued part of the equation. If you expect to throw incomplete passes, you usually will. If you expect to lose at poker, you usually will. We could spend hours and thousands of words on the psychology of why this happens, but it pretty much comes down to this: if you expect to lose, you will play in such a way that losing is almost inevitable over time.

Expecting to win doesn't guarantee a win, but if you package a little confidence in yourself and your game along with enough hard work to continue to improve and accurately assess your shortcomings, you will have a much better shot at coming out ahead.

In football, turnovers are the big mistakes that can quickly turn the tide in a game. While Tebow's first few starts were pretty rough in almost every statistical category, he did a good job of not turning the ball over and was able to give his team at least a chance to win late in the game.

In poker, you see a lot of players who when they are on top of their game are solid and impressive. But, as soon as things start to go against them, they start throwing up hail marys and the other players at the table start picking off pass after pass. Minimizing your losses is just as important as maximizing your wins, and players who find a way to avoid the big blowups and steep downward spirals are the ones who are in the black year after year.

There is something else we can learn from Tebow. When he plays poorly and loses, he takes the weight of it on his own shoulders and vows to improve. When he wins, he gives credit to those around him and doesn't get a big head. It's the poker equivalent of when you win take the "Aww shucks, I just got lucky at the right time" attitude. It's also the equivalent of when you don't do all that well, instead of blaming luck or focusing on bad beats, you pick some areas where you could have performed better.

While there may be more than one way to skin a cat, they all take hard work. Have confidence in yourself, don't be afraid to go against the grain, and maybe if everyone is out there talking about how badly you play, you can be the one laughing all the way to the bank.

Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities in the poker world. He also plays regularly in cash games and the occasional tournament. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at


  1. wow...just wow.

    can't wait for the pats to crush him tomorrow

  2. Best article on p5s yet.

  3. in case u guys didn't know this, battler33 and tim tebow are the same person

  4. Translation: If you're bad at something you can still get lucky and win.

  5. @double_kyan hahahaha! isn't he the luckboxer of all time! dam you battler

  6. Who's Tim Tebow?

  7. Nice work Court! Enjoyed it

  8. while I do get annoyed by the all the media ball-gargling being done over Tebow, this article is very well written and brings up a lot of good points. maintaining confidence and positive momentum seem to be such an important and overlooked aspect of the game, thanks for the article, great read!

  9. Henry Ford said it best, "Whether you think you can...or think you can't...You're Right!"

  10. Good article!

  11. Haters going to hate!! Great article, good read!!

  12. I don't get it - why is everyone "surprised" at his success? He won the Heisman. He was SUPPOSED to be a good athlete. He's doing OK, got some luck (not divine intervention), and is waaaaaaayyyy overblown. Of course, the media NEVER does that to ANYONE. Jeebus. I stopped wearing Jockey shorts because Tebow is now a spokesman...just sayin'.

  13. Tebow has as many playoff wins as Romo does now...

  14. Not sure why in an article clearly about thebattler33.... his name isnt mentioned.

  15. Great article. well done. hands down.

    Originally Posted by dadams588 View Post

    Not sure why in an article clearly about thebattler33.... his name isnt mentioned.

    this +1

    Originally Posted by zackmorris99 View Post

    wow...just wow.

    can't wait for the pats to crush him tomorrow


  18. Can't even get away from Tebow on a poker forum now.When everyone is tight you should play loose and vice versa. Maybe when everyone passes all the time you should run more.There have been a few heisman winners that barely or didn't play in the NFL. A heisman does not mean they will be a great pro.

  19. If I run godly the first 3 quarters maybe I'll still be in contention and be able to luck box myself a win and suck out a few times in the 4th quarter(final table). Then I can thank my lord and savior jesus christ because obviously it was him that gave me the opportunity to win.

  20. GG

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