Palace’s Curious Poker Connections

Almost every football club has a gaming connection these days, be it a shirt sponsor, stand sponsor or commercial partner.

Palace’s shirts featured the logo of a global online gaming brand who deliver live dealer casino, online slots and poker. It is a trend with Premier League football, and many other clubs the Eagles come up against have brands from the same industry emblazoned across their shirts. However, few clubs have other strong links with the poker industry.

Lots of footballers wind up around poker tables, both during and after their careers. Neymar has spoken of wanting to become a poker player, whilst former Everton man Thomas Gravesen moved out to Las Vegas to pursue his love of the game. He was a huge success; he made a huge sum of money sitting around the poker felt.

Did you know that Palace have similar links?

The first is through former Sweden striker Tomas Brolin. The forward was a sensation of Swedish football, hitting 27 goals in 47 games. In the 1990 World Cup, he scored against Brazil, earning a £1.2m move to Parma, but more was to come, including one goal which eliminated England from Euro 92. Sweden finished third at USA 94, Brolin netted three times and was seemingly at his peak.

Four years later, he rocked up at Selhurst Park, a shadow of his former self. He had clearly not played the hand he’d been dealt as well as some, and he made 13 goalless (and some might say pointless) performances before scurrying off to Hudiksvalls ABK, where he made one appearance as a keeper.

After his career finished, he picked up a deck of cards and began to play poker. He wasn’t bad either, with his decision-making skills much better than during his time at Palace. He might not have known how to win whilst wearing a Palace shirt, but he quickly grasped how to win at poker. Brolin appeared in the World Series of Poker in 2006 and 2007 and had two big tournament cashes during his career. Very few Premier League teams can say they have a player who goes on to be a poker professional; even fewer can say they have two.

Somewhat ironically, Jimmy Kebe played for both Leeds and Palace, just as Brolin did. The Mali international impressed at Reading, scoring 31 times in 190 appearances, with five in 18 in the Premier League in 2012/13. That earned him a move to Palace, signed by Ian Holloway. Not long after, Holloway left, Tony Pulis arrived, and Kebe’s Eagles career was cut short.

He retired in his early thirties following a spate of injuries and became a professional poker player. He has played the tables of Europe, recording his first tournament cash in 2014. In 2019, he took just over £75,000 at an event in Morocco, and he still travels the world playing poker. He has even cashed in several World Series of Poker events, but he admits that poker and football are not alike.

“Poker is different from football,” he said. “When you are in sport, and you play your best, usually you win, but in poker, there’s still luck, so you can play your best and still lose.”

Kebe might have been dealt a rough hand at Palace, not just with Tony Pulis (weren’t we all), but with injuries as well. Still, he’s certainly made the most of his skills off the field, putting that disappointment behind him, to become the second former Eagle to appear in the World Series of Poker.

Will one of the current squad become the third, looking to make it three-of-a-kind from Selhurst Park?

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