If you’re interested in any form of competitive gaming, whether it involves traditional pursuits like poker or more modern creations like video games, 2019 should be a banner year.

The fusion between poker and eSports – a term used to describe video games played in a competitive setting – is occurring at a rapid rate.

Online poker phenoms who came of age grinding out marathon multi-table sessions have successfully transitioned into the world of eSports.

Conversely, former eSports titans have proven that they can also dominate the poker arena with ease.

In both eSports and poker, the best pros assemble regularly to test their mettle against one another in tournament format. Huge prize pools are divvied up, with the winner claiming the lion’s share of the bounty while hopeful aspirants wait their turn to claim the throne.

esports team
And thanks to online streaming platforms like Twitch, players proficient in either eSports or poker can easily invite worldwide audiences to watch their every move and maneuver. Indeed, eSports and poker are close cousins on the gaming family tree, thanks in large part to the similar strategies and skills shared by elite players. Check out this photo of a professional eSports team doing their thing at a high-profile tournament.

Now take a look at this photo of Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier – a sponsored member of Team PokerStars at the time – in the midst of a record-setting high-stakes poker session. If you’re not careful, it can be quite easy to confuse the two images. In both, intensely focused competitors stare intently at their computer screens, their minds seeming to move at a mile a minute while they process information and make instant decisions.

Both photos depict players at the peak of their profession, harnessing mental and physical abilities to achieve victory on the grand stage.

And if you happened to swap out the eSports specialist for the poker pro, chances are good they’d adapt to the new gameplay format without skipping a beat.

That’s definitely true for Grospellier, a former eSports pro who rose through the ranks as a younger man to become the top-rated StarCraft player on the planet.

Playing under the screen name “ElkY,” the Frenchman relocated to South Korea and stormed his way through the StarCraft scene. For folks who aren’t up on their eSports titles, StarCraft is an intricately designed strategy game defined by building military bases, scouting out the opposition, and responding to in-game variables while attempting to conquer all comers.

Between 2001 and 2004, Grospellier put up the following run of podium finishes at the World Cyber Games, Euro Cyber Games, and other elite StarCraft tournaments:

  • 3rd – StarCraft: Brood War, KBK Jeju, 2001 (Seoul, South Korea)
  • 2nd – StarCraft: Brood War, World Cyber Games 2001 (Seoul, South Korea)
  • 4th – StarCraft: Brood War, World Cyber Games 2002 (Daejeon, South Korea)
  • 4th – StarCraft: Brood War, SKY 2 Ongamenet Starleague, 2002 (Seoul, South Korea)
  • 2nd – WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, Ongamenet WarCraft Retail League, 2002 (Seoul, South Korea)[8]
  • 1st – StarCraft: Brood War, Euro Cyber Games 2003 (Paris, France)
  • Round 8 – StarCraft: Brood War, World Cyber Games 2003 (Seoul, South Korea)
  • Round 16 – StarCraft: Brood War, World Cyber Games 2004 (San Francisco, California, United States)
After working to become one of the best StarCraft players in the world, Grospellier turned his attention to poker just as the fabled “Moneymaker Boom” of 2003 through 2006 kicked off.

When eSports pros discovered that their analytical approach and mastery of game theory optimal (GTO) strategy could be applied to poker – a game which pays out prizes significantly larger than those awarded in eSports – many made the decision to transition from one profession to the other.

Grospellier is glad he did too. Since becoming a full-time poker pro in 2004, “ElkY” has won more than $13 million playing in live tournaments alone. Throw in countless millions more claimed in the online arena – Grospellier was a member of Team PokerStars from 2007 through this year – and he’s set himself up financially for life based on nothing more than game playing abilities and perseverance.

During his time as a PokerStars pro, Grospellier won several titles competing in the site’s World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) series.

He also became the first player ever to rack up enough points to reach PokerStars’ coveted “Supernova Elite” status. Finally, Grospellier entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 after completing 62 sit-and-go tournaments within one hour.

In a recent announcement which rocked the poker industry, Grospellier revealed that his time with PokerStars had come to an end. As he told the tale, ElkY found himself missing the eSports scene, so he decided to take a spot with Team Liquid while pursuing a new career in Hearthstone – a strategy card game premised on magical realism that resembles poker in many ways.

Grospellier isn’t alone in embracing Hearthstone either, as fellow PokerStars pro and all-time tournament earnings leader Daniel Negreanu has also dove headlong into the popular card game.

In fact, “Kid Poker” managed to defeat the more experienced ElkY in a spirited three-game friendly match held at the 2015 Hearthstone World Championships – a match you can watch here in its entirety: Daniel Negreanu vs ElkY | Showmatch | HS World Championship

With top-tier talents like Grospellier and Negreanu establishing a natural bridge between poker and eSports, millions of recreational players who dabble in either are now looking to follow suit.

On that note, read on to learn about five skills and strategies that apply directly to both poker and eSports – complete with advice offered directly by both poker legends:

1 – Hand-Eye Coordination

Get a load of this footage from Elky’s record-setting sit-and-go session from a few years back, and while you do, pay special attention to his hands and eyes.

You’ll see Grospellier’s wrist flick to and fro as he expertly guides his mouse cursor across an array of screens. As he plays, Grospellier must instantly scan up to 24 tournament table screens, sizing up several variables like his hole cards, board cards, opponent actions, pot size, stack size, and players remaining.

Then, in a flash, that information must be processed in the blink of an eye before his fingers click away and make the correct play.

Grospellier is capable of repeating this process over and over again for hours on end, his eyes and hands becoming synergized by their constant connection.

Hand-eye coordination is crucial in almost all human activities, from mundane tasks like slicing vegetables and typing, to athletic pursuits like dribbling a basketball or bowling, and of course, playing online poker or eSports.

During an interview with Card Player Lifestyle, the dual pro described how pulling double duty has heightened his hand-eye coordination:

“Before I was a poker player, I played video games. That’s extremely demanding from a coordination perspective, making use of the keyboard, mouse, and your eyes. For example, between the keyboard and the mouse, the number of calculations required per minute in StarCraft is 240 on average. So, while it’s definitely the case that playing 24 tables is difficult – I’ve played up to 36 – and that you will make some mistakes, coming over from StarCraft has helped me a lot.”

Now check out this video of various StarCraft pros navigating their way around the keyboard during tournament play.

The similarities are immediately obvious, as online poker players and eSports pros are cut from the same cloth. Sitting behind a computer screen, and using hand-eye coordination to guide any number of processes along their path, both groups rely on a sharp eye and quick hand to gain an edge.

2 – Physical and Mental Endurance

Don’t let the description above fool you though, as sitting down to grind out a 12-hour session of either poker or eSports is a grueling challenge.

Imagine yourself back in high school, feverishly trying to finish off your math test before the bell began to ring. As soon as you scribble in your final answer, and hand the paper in, you probably felt a wave of fatigue wash over you.

That’s because, sitting or not, it requires an immense amount of mental exertion to maintain focus and search your memory banks in a pressurized setting like the classroom.

And those tests only lasted an hour or so at the most…

Just imagine what it takes to strap in for an extended session – one stretching several hours to a half-day – in which every move you make has real money implications.

One mental lapse, one misclick mistake, and your poker bankroll or eSports event entry can be rendered worthless. This sort of stress is enough to make anyone buckle, and yet, the best poker and eSports players out there manage to overcome and make it through.

In his case, during the aforementioned interview with Card Player Lifestyle, Grospellier attributed his ability to bear down mentally on his ongoing commitment to physical fitness:

“I think that being a pro player is very much like an athlete, because both are always looking to perform their best. I personally do a lot of physical training because the body and mind are linked, even if poker is of course much more mental in nature. Certainly, playing for hours on end is much more exhausting than people think it is. Sitting at a table for 10-12 hours a day is not easy if you aren’t in good physical condition. It’s easy to become tired, make mistakes, have difficultly concentrating. I train myself as well. I’m training for a half-marathon next year, I’ve also done some boxing as well. I’m always trying to do physical things four to five times per week, time depending.”

And if you don’t think sitting for days on end is taxing on the body too, just ask any office worker whose suffered through an ergonomically ineffective chair. Poker players and eSports enthusiasts may share similar skills and strategies, but they’re also linked by back pain, aching necks, and a slew of physical maladies attributed to their chosen profession.

Take another look at that short clip of ElkY multi-tabling for a Guinness record. His proficiency wielding a mouse may look effortless, but all it takes is a peek at the latest carpal tunnel syndrome statistics to see the havoc this stress can cause on your wrists and hands.

Poker pros have long been dogged by the public misconception that they’re overweight and lazy. Similarly, eSports pros tend to be perceived as gangly geeks who can’t lift their body weight.

But as ElkY told Vice News in a recent interview, both hobbies require a fair deal of physical fitness in order to actualize mental advantages:

“People think gamers are unhealthy, but I do CrossFit, weight training, and I love to run. I ran a 10k when I was a pro gamer in Korea and I would love to run a marathon. So far, the furthest I have run is 18k. If you’re out of shape or you eat the wrong food or too much of it, it’s really bad for your focus -you feel sluggish, and you get tired faster. It’s not that you’re going to play better when you’re in good shape, but you’re going to play closer to your A-game.”

3 – Poise Under Pressure

Back in 2008, the man they call ElkY found himself living every poker player’s dream.

After paying $8,000 to enter the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event – a live tournament sponsored by the online platform – Grospellier outlasted the 1,136-player field to secure a seat at the eight-handed final table.

The next player to go bust would take home $150,000, a fine prize to be sure, but a far cry from the $2 million top prize awaiting the winner. Grospellier had amassed 3 million chips entering the final table, which put him in second place to an opponent holding 7 million, while everybody else had 2 million or fewer.

The chip stacks put Grospellier in a great spot to score his first seven-figure prize, but as any No-Limit Texas Hold’em player can tell you, only one bad beat stood between him and the exits.

Sufficed to say, ElkY was under an immense amount of pressure – playing one of poker’s most prestigious tournaments, representing the industry’s hottest company, and hoping to win a truly life-changing amount of money.

You can watch this hour-long video to see how the final table played out, but as you can probably tell by this glowing preamble, Grospellier laid claim to every last chip in play.

In other words, ElkY shrugged off the intense pressure of the moment and focused on the task at hand – playing poker to the best of his abilities.

In an interview with Poker Listings, he attributed that performance to his prior experience playing StarCraft in jam-packed arenas with world championships on the line:

“There are so many skills that StarCraft pros can use in poker. First, as with every world-class competitive discipline, the willpower and ability to perform well under pressure as well as resilience and mental strength are a huge pre-requisite. It’s critical in poker as well to be able to keep your calm and focus under pressure, as you need to when you play huge finals in a stadium of 30,000 people or more!”

The pressure confronted by poker and eSports players can occur on the macro level, like final tabling a major tournament, but stress occurs on the micro level as well.

Watch his face at 19:52 of the final table video, when Grospellier gets it all-in holding Ace-King of spades against an opponent’s pocket Jacks.

After making the correct play with his premium hand, and watching his foe do the same, Grospellier can only watch and wait for the dealer to deliver his fate. All the skill and strategy in the world can’t save him now, just five cards dealt randomly from a shuffled deck.

Even under the stress of this pivotal moment, however, Grospellier doesn’t seem to mind all that much. No doubt, ElkY has faced similar high-leverage situations before while deciphering a tricky StarCraft spot, so this is just another day in the office.

4 – Adaptive Decision Making

If you’ve paid any attention at all to Daniel Negreanu’s poker career, you know he’s the undisputed master of reading an opponent’s hand.
You can get a good taste of his uncanny skills here in this montage of crazy “Kid Poker” reads, but trust me, it doesn’t do Negreanu justice.

This guy has no problem calling out his mark’s exact two cards, and the “soul-read” has become Negreanu’s trademark over the years.

And when it comes to poker, gaining insight as to what your opponents might hold – and adapting in order to act accordingly – is the name of the game.

With that in mind, it’s not exactly a surprise to see Negreanu make a seamless transition from high-stakes poker to Hearthstone.

The strategy card game inspired by the World of Warcraft series mimics poker in a number of ways. Random number generators (RNGs) serve to “shuffle” each player’s deck, instilling a sense of variance into the final outcome to ensure that even the greatest players can lose to rookies when the stars align.

More importantly, Hearthstone players must adapt on the fly if they hope to counter a savvy opponent’s latest strategies – a back and forth struggle which echoes the typical poker table dynamic.

Here’s how Negreanu described the natural connection between poker and Hearthstone during an interview with ESPN:

“Obviously, as a professional poker player, I like strategy-based games. For me, I just love the depth of that strategy. There are so many intricate decisions that need to be made, much like poker. The (Hearthstone) software was just so good and they hook you with the different ways you can play the game and the characters you can choose from. It’s one of those games that looks like I’ll never stop enjoying it and learning new things about it.”

You can get a better sense of how that back and forth battle plays out by watching Negreanu and Grospellier go at one another in a Hearthstone friendly.

5 – Piecing Together Partial Information Puzzles

StarCraft players are forced to use deductive reasoning thanks to a gameplay feature known as the “fog of war.”

Put simply, the fog of way describes any are of the game map which has yet to be revealed. The best StarCraft pros have an innate ability to assess onscreen variables while sorting through the possibilities awaiting them once they enter that fog.

This dynamic perfectly mirrors poker, the ultimate partial information game. Unlike full information games like chess, in which players enjoy a mutual access to all game pieces and positions, poker leaves much of the puzzle to mystery.

You don’t know your opponents’ hole cards, nor how they’re playing them. You don’t know which cards will arrive on the flop, turn, and/or river, nor how opponents might respond to those cards. And you don’t know how an opponent will react to a check, bet, or raise.

Grospellier is well-aware of how partial information forms the foundation of strategic thinking in both poker and eSports staples like StarCraft:

“Poker and the game I was playing, StarCraft, are both games of incomplete information. They are both very competitive. You don’t see everything, you don’t see what your opponent is doing – it’s like fog or war. Most of the time you have an idea, but you never know where he is [in StarCraft] or what he has [in poker]. There are lots of similarities, that’s why lots of players have made the transition from esports to poker.”


It’s no surprise to see so many poker pros gravitating towards eSports, and vice-versa, over the last few years. Both poker and video games require a skill-set that tilts toward mental acuity and creative thinking. And both industries are built to cater to twenty-somethings who want to be the best.

Whether you specialize in eSports or online poker, using the skills you’ve perfected in one arena to improve in Fthe other is a great idea. Pros like Grospellier and Negreanu may be outliers in terms of their star status, but at their core, the pair simply share a love of game playing, strategizing, and most of all, winning.

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