It's 2013, and the World Series of Poker (WSOP) bug is making me itch like crazy. I don't know what it is, perhaps an ego thing, but it bothers me to watch people playing poker, and then write about it, when I could be playing. I want to play, and the only thing that's stopping me is a lack of money.
So I devised a brilliant plan.
As a devoted Manchester United fan I knew that in the 21 seasons since United had won the Premier League in 1992/93, they only finished outside the top two spots on three occasions and had finished in the top two positions eight consecutive times.
It was a no-brainer.
I would place a £1,000 bet on United to finish in the top two and I would use my winnings to play some poker at the WSOP. Sir Alex Ferguson may have left, but he was leaving a team in the capable of hands of David Moyes that won the league by 11 points the year before.
And they went and finished seventh, failing to qualify for the Champions League.
They sacked David Moyes, and I lost my £1,000.
So when it comes to a few tips on the team that will win the 2016/17 Premier League title, don’t ask me!
What Does The Sportsbook Say?
According to the odds at 888Sport, the 2016/17 Premier League will become a two horse race between two halves of Manchester, one blue and one red.
Manchester City is the favourite priced at 3.40.
Manchester United is the second favourite priced at 4.50.
The punter's cash has flowed in the direction of the rainy city largely because of the appointments of Pep Guardiola (Man City) and Jose Mourinho (Man Utd). The two most successful managers in the modern era are going head to head in the English Premier League for the first time.
It’s time for me to get my money back, but I need some help.
Fortunately, I know a lot of poker players. The poker community is an ideal breeding ground for sound football betting advice. Poker players are amongst the most astute gamblers in the world. They understand the odds. They recognise edges that most people can't see. So in my hour of need, I turned to 28 of the UK's finest professional poker players. These stars of poker had accumulated £45.9m in live tournament earnings, more than the £43.6m that Eddie Howe spent to strengthen his Bournemouth squad, and not that far behind the £54.4m the champions Leicester City spent.
This is what they had to say.
2016/17 Premiership Winners: The Poker Community Choice
My poll echoed what the bookies have been saying since Leicester City upset the apple cart back in May. Man City will win the Premier League. 46.4% of voters thought Man City would win, 25% believe Man Utd will win, 17.9% plumbed for Chelsea, and the rest of the pack voted for the North London rivals Spurs and Arsenal.
The decision by the Manchester City board to announce the appointment of Pep Guardiola in the midst of the 2015/16 season was a disaster. The trajectory of the Blues dipped South; they slipped out of the title race, and a sputtering Champions League run ended with bitter disappointment after a woeful performance against Real Madrid.
But the past is the past.
I think Guardiola is overrated and this will be a much harder test than his previous jobs. (Matt Ashton)
Guardiola is the most sought after manager in the world of football. For the first time in Premier League history, all the talk seems to be about the managerial appointments and not the player transfers, with Guardiola's move from Bayern Munich to Manchester leading that chatter.
At Barcelona, Guardiola won three La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey Cups, and two Champions Leagues trophies. He then moved to Munich in Germany where he won three consecutive Bundesliga titles before Man City paid top dollar to bring him to England.
On the transfer front, it's been unusually quiet. The Spaniard has signed Ilkay Gundogen from Borussia Dortmund, Nolito from Celta Vigo, and Oleksandr Zinchenko from FC Ufa.
"After the ridiculousness of last season, it'll be the usual suspects back at the top this year." said Jack Salter, a rising star in the poker world with over $3.5m in live tournament earnings in the past three years. "It'll be a fascinating battle between the managers with some exciting signings as well. City under Guardiola will be a formidable combination and the partnership of Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero could fire them to glory."
Jeff Kimber has been a mainstay in the UK poker scene for many years earning $1.6m in the process. He believes Sergio Aguero will be the key for Man City.
“I think Pep will prove what a great coach he is at Man City, and I think Sergio Aguero is THE quality striker in the Premier League and will flourish under Pep.”
With $1.1m in live tournament earnings under his belt and a keen eye for a spot of value, Keith Hawkins concurs.
"City has the best squad with the best manager. How does anyone propose to stop them?"
"I am looking forward to the season," said the former member of The Hit Squad Chaz Chattha, "It's a tough one to call with all the big boys with new managers and the Premiership being so competitive. I believe any one of six teams could win the league this year; it's whoever is most consistent. With Guardiola and the players they already have, I am going for them."
The former WSOP Poker Player’s Championship winner, Matt Ashton, believes Guardiola is overrated.
"I think Guardiola will have a harder time adapting to his new squad along with it being a new division. I also think he's overrated, and this will be a much harder test than his previous jobs." Said Ashton.
Interestingly, none of those who chose Man City hailed from that part of the world. 30.8% of them hailed from London, and people from the East Midlands and South East had an even 23.1% split.
Niall Farrell, Jeff Kimber, Jack Salter, Billy Chattaway, Keith Hawkins, Daniel Rudd, Rob Yong, Kevin Allen, Andrew Teng, and Sunny & Chaz Chattha believe Man City will win the Premier League next season.
Who Will be Man City’s Main Challengers?
How do the figures stack up when we look at the most popular votes to finish in the Top 2?
Man City is once again the overwhelming favourite with 42.9% of the votes. 23.2% of people believe Chelsea are the dominant force, 21.4% believe it's Mourinho's United, and Spurs have 7.1% of the votes, with Arsenal, the outsider.
If there was ever a tale of two halves, it was Chelsea's performance in the 2015/16 season that epitomised the grand old saying.
Chelsea sacked Jose Mourinho after a dismal start to the season that saw them lose 11 of his 25 games in charge, picking up 15 points in the Premier League, for an overall win percentage of 36%. He left them languishing in 16th position.
Gus Hiddink was brought in to take temporary charge of the club until the end of the season and by March he had broken the Premier League record when he became the first new boss to take a club on a 12 match unbeaten run. They ended the table in 10th place.
It was one of the worse defences of a Premier League title in living memory, but there were signs that the club was on the mend towards the end of the season. Roman Abramovich signed Antonio Conte to take charge of the current season; John Terry signed a one-year deal to remain at the club, and the signing of N'Golo Kante is as astute as they come.
"I think Chelsea will be back this season; Conte is exactly the manager they need - high energy and pushing their young players," Said the WSOP bracelet winner Craig McCorkell.
“I think Kante will be huge for Chelsea and him and Conte will shore up the defence with Costa and Hazard back to their best going forward.” Said 888Poker Ambassador and the world’s most prolific online tournament player with over $13.3m in online earnings, Chris Moorman.
Not everyone agrees that Chelsea has what it takes to challenge for the title.
"I don't fancy Chelsea because they have the same squad as last season, and I don't think Conte will score enough goals." Said Dusk till Dawn (DTD) owner Rob Yong.
Iaron Lightbourne, Kerryjane Craigie, Craig McCorkell, Chris Moorman, and Dan Owston believe Chelsea will win the Premier League. Niall Farrell, Jeff Kimber, Billy Chattaway, Rhys Jones, Steve Warburton, Simon Higgins, Kevin Allen, and Andrew Teng believe they will finish runner-up to Man City.
All of the people who think Chelsea will win hail from the South except Dan Owston who lives in Wales.
Champions League Places
When it came to the Champions League places only eight teams received votes with the UK poker community; the top four were as follows:
- Man City
- Man Utd
Manchester United lost their way when Sir Alex Ferguson left the club at the pinnacle of English football, but there were promising signs that they were on the way back last season.
Louis van Gaal was criticised for his ‘philosophy’ but it made them stronger at the back, and he delivered the first piece of silverware since Ferguson’s last title win after winning the FA Cup.
The arrival of Jose Mourinho is the number one reason the poker community believe Man Utd will do so well this season. Also, he has signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a one-year contract, brought in Henrikh Mkhitaryan to give them a little jolt in midfield, and might still set a new world record in their chase to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford.
Chris Smalling emerged as one of the world's top centre-halves last season, David De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world, and Marcus Rashford came from nowhere to give United some much needed attacking sparkle in a fruitful relationship with Anthony Martial.
Steve Warburton, Matt Ashton, John Eames, Roberto Romanello, Fraser MacIntyre, Chris Sly, and Jake Cody believe Man Utd will win the Premier League. Most of those poker players who have an allegiance to United grew up in the North West.
"Despite the unexplainable dip of Chelsea under Mourinho last year, I'd still take him over any other manager, and I think he's going to get the best out of this strengthened squad." Said Matt Ashton.
"Mourinho will have a huge impact at Man Utd winning the title in the first year." Said Wales winningest live tournament player with over $3.3m in cashes, Roberto Romanello.
“Jose Mourinho will come back with a bang. He will have a real desire to achieve at Man U, and especially to prove himself again after last year. Couple that with the new signings that he is bringing on board, and I think they will be hard to beat.” Said the former EPT Main Event runner-up Fraser MacIntyre.
"I honestly feel Man Utd can win the title with players they have bought and how hungry Mourinho is." Said Chris Sly, who once won an auction to compete with the great Man Utd Class of 92.
"I think Mourinho's Premier League experience will be a crucial factor." Said the Triple Crown winner and winner of over $4m in live tournament earnings, Jake Cody.
Rob Yong expresses some caution on United's chances: "I think if Mourinho doesn't start well, the hangover from Chelsea sacking will unsettle him."
All is not well at The Emirates.
I think this will finally be the end of Wenger. (Jake Cody)
Despite finishing runners-up to Leicester, Arsenal was never in the run-in for the Premier League title last season. Arsene Wenger clashed with his fans, and they are a 7.00 shot to win the title at 888Sport. Fans of Arsenal want to see more activity in the transfer market. Once again he has failed to provide. The signing of Granit Xhaka is hardly earth shattering, and Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and Mathieu Flamini have all left the club.
That said, Arsenal are the experts at finishing in the Champions League places having finished in the top four spots for the past 20 seasons.
Let’s hear what the poker community has to say about Arsenal’s chances for next season.
"Wenger's ineptitude will see us miss out on the top four," said 888Poker Ambassador Chris Moorman.
"I will vote Arsenal in my top four only if they sign a striker," said former Poker Million final tablist, Kevin Allen. "If they don't sign a striker I will have to go for Spurs to finish in fourth."
Allen knows his football. He is the nephew of former Spurs star Paul Allen who played 292 times for the North London club. Allen wasn’t the only poker player who voted who had a strong tie to football. Steve Watts played professionally for Leyton Orient, Shrewsbury, and Dagenham & Redbridge before he found poker. Watts is an Arsenal fan and believes that Arsenal will win the league.
Jake Cody doesn’t agree.
"I think this will finally be the end of Wenger, "says Cody. "And they won't make the top four."
The End of The Fairytale
Neither the bookmakers nor the poker community thinks there will be another upset this season after Leicester City's 5,000-1 fairytale last year. Interestingly, the longest odds you will get on a Premier League team winning the title this season is 1,500-1. It seems the bookies have learned their lesson. 888Sport has made Leicester City 30/1 to retain their Premier League title. Only one poker player thinks Leicester will finish in the top four, and that's Steven Warburton.
Spurs are the best outside bet according to the poker community. Mauricio Pochettino continues to show that he is one of the world's most talented managers. They were the only serious contenders for Leicester City last season, and if Harry Kane and Dele Alli can continue to hit top form, they will be up there again this season.
Hendon Mob founder, and two-time WSOP bracelet winner, Barny Boatman, thinks they could win the league.
“As well as playing brilliantly Spurs were statistically the best side last year. They just had an above average number of draws. They are still improving and given a better distribution of goals I think they could do it.” Said Boatman.
The last two sides that the poker community believes have a chance of breaking into the top four are Liverpool and West Ham. Slaven Bilic had a great season at West Ham last year transforming Dimitri Payet into a world beater. Jurgen Klopp is another top manager and given time he will make Anfield a fortress.
The Relegation Dogfight
Without a doubt, the top six teams are strong, but it still feels like a weak Premier League overall with so many mediocre teams making up the numbers this season.
West Brom was woeful last season, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace were dropping like rocks by the end, and Sunderland survived by the skin of their teeth before losing Sam Allardyce to the England job. Couple that to the poor quality of the promoted teams and there is a host of teams in trouble this year.
The UK poker community believes any one of nine teams could be heading back to the Championship with the batting order looking like this:
Slightly different to the bookmaker's choices:
Premier League 2016/17 Relegation Favourites (data from 888Sport)
“Watford, Burnley, and Hull will go down because they are all pony.” Said former pro footballer and WPT National Champion, Steve Watts.
“Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Burnley for me,” said Hippodrome Poker Room manager, Kerryjane Craigie, “They don’t have the manpower or the strikers and doing a ‘Leicester’ has got to be way out on the odds.”
“Sunderland will struggle, as they always do,” says Jeff Kimber, “losing Big Sam this close to the season is a killer for them.
"Hull have had the worst possible preparations for the new campaign and could find themselves in real trouble." Said Jack Salter. "Middlesbrough has been the polar opposite and some shrewd signings mean they should be comfortable in mid-table. There's been too much upheaval at Watford, and I fancy their luck to run out whereas Sean Dyche will have learnt lessons from the last time Burnley were in the Premier League. Sunderland has teetered for too long now, and a few injuries in the wrong areas and they'll tumble."
"Hull looks the weakest side," said Kevin Allen.
"Hull is doomed and is a club in turmoil at the moment," said Jake Cody.
"West Brom has been struggling for years now, and they lack quality. Hull will find it very hard to pick up points" Said Chaz Chatta.
The Golden Boot
Harry Kane may have had an absolute shocker at Euro 2016, but he did finish the Premier League season as the winner of the Golden Boot with 25 goals.
I asked the UK Poker Community if they thought Kane could go back-to-back like Robin van Persie did in 2011-12 & 2012-13, and the answer was a very affirmative NO.
It was a one horse race.
If he can steer clear of injuries, everyone believes Sergio Aguero will be the main reason Man City win the Premier League this year, and this time, the poker players choice is the same as the bookmakers.
Premier League 2016/17 Top Goalscorer (data from 888Sport)
Sergio Aguero 4.50
Harry Kane 7.00
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 8.50
Romelu Lukaku - 13.00
The View From an Expert
Ray Parlour is an Arsenal legend winning three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1992-2004 making 333 appearances and scoring 21 goals.
Parlour took some time out from his duties with Radio 5 Live and Talksport to take a look at the tips from the UK poker community and believes poker's punters know a thing or two about Premiership football after revealing that his tips for the upcoming season are the same.
Like the most of the UK poker player, Parlour believes Man City will win the league:
"Guardiola will demand a lot out of a good squad of players, and I think his recruitment has been perfect in giving the team the quality they maybe lacked in key positions last time around."
Equally, he believes Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal will join Man City in the Champions League with Jose Mourinho’s United pushing them the hardest.
“There is no doubt that Mourinho and Conte will provide Manchester United and Chelsea with the experience that they will require to win titles at the top level again. I think that Conte can get the best out of Fabregas, Costa and Hazard and that they will be back to the attack minded Chelsea we have been accustomed to see in previous years. Under Wenger, Arsenal remain a team based on consistency and I strongly believe that they will at least make it into the Champions League places. One or two more signings to add to an already very good squad might see them get closer to title contenders but at the moment I see them propping up the other contenders come the end of the season.”
Sergio Aguero was the UK poker community’s overwhelming choice for the Golden Boot, and Parlour also believes the Argentinean will too hot to handle this season.
The UK poker community has spoken.
Manchester City will win the Premier League ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea. Arsenal will sneak into the top four ahead of Spurs, West Ham, and Leicester.
Hull and Burnley will be returning from whence they came at the first time of asking, and Sunderland's David Moyes will endure a second torrid spell as the Black Cats finally lose their footing after many years of scratching and scraping.
And although a few people believe Harry Kane has a slight chance of retaining his golden boot, and a few loyal Manchester United fans think Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have a great season, it's Sergio Aguero who will win the title for Man City by banging home goals for fun.
Now it’s your turn?
Who do you think will win the title?
Who do you think will qualify for the Champions League?
Who will go down?
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Thanks to Fintan Gavin, Steve Watts, Iaron Lightbourne, Craig McCorkell, Chris Moorman, Kerryjane Craigie, Dan Owston, Niall Farrell, Jeff Kimber, Jack Salter, Billy Chattaway, Keith Hawkins, Daniel Rudd, Rob Yong, Rhys Jones, Kevin Allen, Steven Warburton, Matt Ashton, John Eames, Roberto Romanello, Fraser MacIntyre, Chris Sly, Jake Cody, Barny Boatman, Simon Higgins, Andrew Teng, Sunny Chattha, and Chaz Chatta for their help and support with this project.