The Best and the Rest

The Best and the Rest

He almost looked bored. Frustrated when he lost a point, but not because the loss threatened his domination, but rather his effort was a mere waste of time. Why bother when the result is inevitable?

In the semi finals of the Indian Wells Masters, Rafael Nadal played with every ounce of heart a champion could expect. As he so gallantly does, he fought for each ball as if it were the last he would ever hit. But the 4th ranked player in the world, arguably in the top 3 all time greats, still couldn’t touch the world number 1, in contention to be the best of all time, Novak Djokovitch.

With each passing winner that Novak hit, the gap between the gladiators grew further, and a rare sight was seen in men’s tennis, Rafa was defeated before the match was over. Outstanding lies in making the difficult look easy.

I’ve always loved competitive tennis because it’s so similar to poker. The pressure, the solidarity, the mental fortitude needed to thrive, the swings.

Here are the 4 aspects that reminded me of my time on the felt.


As a player’s confidence increases they go for more difficult shots. Novak played stellar tennis the entire time, but the near security of the win raised his game to another level, and he made shots that were truly outstanding.

In poker you see this all the time. A player wins a tournament then goes on to win another or a massive upswing ensues after a big victory. It’s not luck, it’s stepping into that player you always knew you could be.


With more room for margin and a bigger lead a player can take risks they otherwise wouldn’t. Novak went for shots on points where, if the match were closer, he may have played them more conservative. Being able to afford to lose gives one a massive competitive advantage.

In tournament poker as a players stack increases they can afford to apply pressure in spots where short stacks can’t. If you get an early lead, continue pounding the aggression.


The players are very good at mixing up their play. It’s very difficult, for example to determine where a player will hit their first serve. During the rally the best do a great job of utilizing a variety of shots that utilize the entire court.

There’s one area of improvement though. Second serves. Most players’ second serve is too predictable – an easy lob to get the point in – that the returning player can come in and attack from the start. Occasionally mixing in a full speed second serve (John McEnroe was famous for this), even at the risk of double faulting will keep the opponents guessing.

In poker one must balance their range to keep their opponents guessing, even in marginal situations. Sometimes you have to make a big call or run a huge bluff otherwise your game is just too predictable.


It’s incredible how much of a difference there is between even the most elite players. The match may have been close on paper, but it was clear to Stevie Wonder that Novak dominated.

Many are the levels of separation between athletes. Casual players can sometimes compete at a high school level, but once you reach college it’s game over for almost everyone.

The big leagues are another level of separation that is equally profound in talent.

The all stars fractionize the pros and the world’s best are a handful of people whom make even the All Stars look bad.

Poker players, like nearly all sports and competitive industries follow this pyramid as well. Most players are casual, very few are actually great and the best in the world are so much better than the rest that it’s truly a shame their talent isn’t appreciated like it is in other sports.

What makes poker unique is that everyone rates themselves two levels higher than they actually are. ♠

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  • Matt March 22, 2016 9:57 am

    Love your videos, they’ve helped my game develop so much! Your generosity to the game is beyond measure. Thanks a ton.

    On the fly poker analysis is exhausting. I would add yet another category to your article: physical fitness. Bobby Fischer got big laughs on the Dick Cavett Show when he tried to assert that chess players needed a level of physical fitness to withstand the long hours of thinking. Just like you maintain, people definitely don’t understand the toll of serious competitive play in poker. I know there’s plenty of out-of-shape players out there, but more and more, as the game progresses, you’re seeing much younger, more brilliant, more fit players at the table. Surely that is further proof of the competitive and sporting nature of poker!

    Thanks again,
    Matt Timms

    PS Why is it that EVERYONE in poker, from the players to the analysts to the announcers, INSIST on the misuse (or no use) of adverbs? Everyone plays good, plays confident, plays bad, plays serious. !!!??!? Why is that a thing in poker!? It drives me batshit!

    • Alec March 22, 2016 12:26 pm

      Hhahaah great observation Matt. The physicality is definitely a key component that’s often under looked as well. Thanks for sharing!

      • Rudi Storm March 22, 2016 3:42 pm

        Outstanding article Alec. You guys are so right about physical fitness and poker. I am currently out of shape and am really trying to workout more. I have noticed when I work out before poker that I am more aware and my mind feels more at peace; thus enabling me to make better decisions.

        Alec- What are your thought on the Global Poker League? Do you think the GPL will succeed and show that poker IS a game of skill and those at the top need to be recognized as such by the general public. Cheers! Rudi Storm

  • James Gilliam March 22, 2016 10:32 am

    Alec, I have read your article. Unfortunately, I’m not very accurate of expressing myself I writing. Right now, I’m dealing with the confidence of being a very good poker player. I want to improve, but where can I start? Thank you, Alec have a great week.

    • Alec March 22, 2016 12:26 pm

      Great question James. I’d start by using poker programs like PokerStove or PokerCruncher to work through the numbers. Then when you’re ready consider some training or coaching to have a more in depth approach.

  • mcgavel March 22, 2016 1:04 pm

    Great points, thanks. Lol, even Stevie Wonder can see that tennis is a great analogy for poker – I love it. I especially like the points about balance and second serves. All I want to do lately is study poker and fractionize my skill until the rubble that’s weighing down my game is discarded. Then I can finally start to refine and polish. GL and never give up!

    • Alec March 23, 2016 7:16 am

      Keep on it McGavel! Good work man.

  • Phil B March 22, 2016 2:46 pm

    I agree with Matt Timms about grammar. But I have come to believe that if the person is understandable, it is enough to expect. And if you are going to complain about it be careful not to write “there’s plenty of out-of-shape players out there” when it is correct to write “there are plenty of out-of shape players out there.” Just sayin’.

    • Alec March 23, 2016 7:17 am

      Hahahah Thanks Phil. Tough crowd 🙂

    • Matt March 31, 2016 10:32 am

      HA HA! Touché, Phil! I can be a know-it-all, and my writing on the Internet can be hasty and bad. Still… misused modifiers, usually verbalized, are a big thing in poker. But I’m here for the poker lessons, not boring grammar snark!

  • mike March 22, 2016 3:01 pm

    Who are the top 5 players? Also wondering what separates the 1% from the 1% of the 1%?

    • Alec March 23, 2016 7:19 am

      Honestly most are vastly underrated and unknown. I’d say Mikael Thuritz, Nick Heineker, Andy Moseley, Andrew Robl and Keith Gipson.
      And it’s just that little something: a stronger fortitude, more talent, consistency, etc. But when you see it on the felt, just like in tennis, it’s very clear.

  • Matt March 22, 2016 4:00 pm

    Fractionize? You meant fractionalize, which is a real word.

  • Frank L March 22, 2016 6:55 pm

    Can you put up a video sometime showing the best use of the poker programs to self teach

    • Alec March 23, 2016 7:20 am

      Sounds like a good one, thanks. I go over this detail in my book, The Four Steps to Beating Anyone at Poker. I’ll try get it in a video though too. It’s a little technical for the average user though.

  • Joe March 23, 2016 3:53 am

    Alec, just as I, and the average observers, do not recognize the intricacies in tennis and the difficulty of some shots, I’m afraid the world will never truly appreciate the greatness of some poker players. It’s likely also the reason that players rate themselves two levels higher than they are, because they don’t know yet just how good they can be. Not even watching the pros can help you understand fully because you just can’t recognize how much better the play is if you don’t understand the moves. It comes down to the saying “only real can recognize real!” Lol. Anyways great article, love reading your stuff and just finished up watching you at Sugarhouse in Philly on PokerNite, hell of a lay down with that set of 9’s, now that’s a great play, and Hellmuth exemplified my point saying that the majority of the world didn’t realize just how good the play was, (those of us reading you posts excluded ;).

    • Alec March 23, 2016 7:20 am

      Thanks Joe. Great points and I appreciate you writing in. Cheers!

  • David Warady April 5, 2016 1:48 am

    Hi Alec,

    I appreciate the content you put out on the internet, especially your “Hand of the Day” examples and analysis. It forces me to stretch my mind and think of things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.

    I wanted to reply because your “The Best and the Rest” article hit home, for I’m a relatively competent tournament player (6 WSOP cashes in 24 events, including a top 100 Main Event showing), and have athletic achievements, few, if any, poker players have (ex-championship ultra-marathon runner, including winning a 3,000 mile, 64 day, Tour de France, footrace across the United States.)

    I can personally attest that the things I learned in an athletic career that spanned 4 decades, and numerous sports, are directly relevant to successful poker, ESPECIALLY as I’m working hard on my own breakthrough, to the next level, in the poker world. In the Prologue of my book, “Running Through Cancer,” unfortunately, still unpublished, I site “Preparation, Attitude, Resolve, Tenacity, and Smarts,” as the tasks critical to success, whether it’s winning a running race across the US, fighting cancer (lymphoma, in my case), or placing high in the WSOP.

    The point I’d like to make is that the aspects (Confidence, Strategy, Balance, Separation) you highlighted, and the 5 I sited (above), are out there, free for the taking, for anyone with the desire to succeed. I’ve done it all my life, and poker players, that want to improve, can too.

    • Alec April 7, 2016 8:38 pm

      Hey David,

      Thanks for the kind words. Your journey has been incredible, congrats on the hard work, tenacity and courage to keep on fighting. Please keep me posted on your journey and I hope to meet you one day as well. I think we’d have some interesting conversations.

      Thanks for being a reader.

      • David Warady April 8, 2016 2:50 am

        You’re welcome. I’m on a Doyle-type free roll in life, and like Gehrig, the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

        Will email in a few.

    • Alec April 7, 2016 8:53 pm

      By the way I just saw you’re located in Huntington Beach (at least you were). Are you still in the OC area? If so we could catch up for a drink sometime. Email me at

  • Diego Meza June 11, 2016 1:54 am

    Been a while since a read a post on your blog, i’ve been watching only the videos… i’m lossing a lot of value and knowledge by just doing that. o.O

    The pyramid of poker, nobody likes to be a casual player lol.
    I like to be honest with me i guess…

    I like the for aspects used here, btw the four elements of your book and the four elements (earth, water, air, fire) are they related?

    Thank for sharing your words with us.
    Enjoy Italy!

    • Alec Torelli June 11, 2016 1:20 pm

      Hey Diego,
      welcome back! No the four elements aren’t related but that’s an interesting observation!

  • George August 14, 2016 4:09 am

    Great video Alec, I play college tennis at Emory University in Georgia. I like the parallels you drew between a sport I understand already (tennis) and a game I am still trying to master (poker)!

    • Alec August 14, 2016 6:05 am

      That’s awesome man! I love tennis. Huge fan as you can probably tell. Keep going for your dreams man. Work hard, now is the time.

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