Brighton FC staying poker faced despite dip in form

Brighton chairman Tony Bloom
Brighton chairman Tony Bloom playing poker

Staying composed and maintaining a stoic demeanour is crucial when the odds are stacked against you.

This is a lesson Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton has had to learn this season. After taking over from Sammy Hyypia in December 2014, Hughton inherited a team in turmoil.

Too many draws and not enough goals left Brighton languishing near the bottom on the Championship. But the club’s chairman, Tony Bloom, had faith in Hughton. That faith appears to have paid off.

Brighton's faith in Chris Houghton appears to have paid off
Brighton’s faith in Chris Houghton appears to have paid off


A surge of results at the end of February has not only lifted the Seagulls clear of the bottom three, but it has also given the manager a burst of confidence heading into the close of the 2014/2015 season. Although the club are far from being title contenders, it seems the faith Bloom had in Hughton could prove to be a solid long-term appointment.

Although he may not have had a record that inspired much confidence from fans of Brighton, Bloom’s experience as a poker player allowed him to see beyond the stats. It allowed him to see the future value a manager such as Hughton could bring to the club.

Bloom breaks out of the boardroom

Having built up a sizeable bank of skills and cash playing in professional poker tournaments across the world, Bloom knows how to spot a positive EV (expected value) proposition at a hundred yards. In fact, while Hughton was settling in at the Falmer Stadium, Bloom was inside Melbourne’s Crown Casino at PokerStars’ 2015 Aussie Millions. In the process, he was proving that his ability to make the right moves wasn’t simply confined to the boardroom.

A strong showing in Event #3 earned the poker-pro-turned-club-owner $26,395 and proved that his time as a chairman hasn’t dampened his ability to tussle with the world’s finest poker players.

While Bloom can’t teach Hughton much about formations, he knows about form thanks to his time at the poker table. In poker, nothing is certain, but if you’re able to assess all the variables and make the right play, regardless of the immediate outcome, then you’ll usually win in the long run. This ethos is something that Bloom has tried to filter through the club.

From his partners in the boardroom to the managers and players in the changing room, Bloom has instilled resolve in the club that’s based on the same mindset he uses on the felt.

Brighton chairman Tony Bloom
Brighton chairman Tony Bloom playing poker


Small changes yield long term benefits

In fact, before he left the club, Hyypia believed that Brighton were doing everything right and were just a few steps from breaking out of a rut. This vision was manifested in a run of draws, during which Brighton’s fortunes could have gone either way. Although Hyypia was unable to focus on the long term and ultimately resigned, Bloom and his board maintained their faith in the team.

This is the main reason Bloom enlisted the services of Hughton. Knowing that he wouldn’t enter the set-up and demand a slew of radical changes, Bloom was comfortable handing over the reins to the former Norwich City manager.

For all intents and purposes, Hughton was a safe option and someone who wasn’t a gamble. But what else could the new manager learn about football tactics from a professional poker player?

Although there might not seem like a direct correlation between the two sports a number of footballers and managers have gone on to have success in poker. The transference of skills from the pitch to the felt is actually more connected than many realise. Aside from being able to stay composed and look beyond the short term, football managers and poker players need to know how to adapt. Poker players can be classed in different ways (according to their playing styles) and to succeed against each, a canny pro must adjust their play.

Similarly, skilled managers must switch up their tactics and shift players around depending on whether a team is attack-minded or defensive.

Applying the right strategy

This is something Hyypia was criticised for during his time at Brighton. Playing Sam Baldock as a floating front man was seen as a tactical mistake by supporters. The player himself has since admitted that it was “strange” playing in an unfamiliar role.

Fortunately, Hughton quickly noticed this strategic error and moved Baldock into a more central position. That appears to have paid dividends. Thanks to Hughton taking a more pragmatic approach to the formation of his team, Baldock has thrived since the start of February and recently put in a strong performance against Leeds.

However, there is much work that needs to be done if the club are to thrive next season. The signing of Emmanuel Ledesma from Middlesbrough was the first significant move by the new manager. But more changes are necessary if Hughton wants to challenge the top contenders next season. Indeed, a poker face may have got Brighton through a rough patch this season, but they’ll need to bring in some fresh blood before the start of next season if Hughton is to repay Bloom’s gamble.




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