News and Views
Former Royal Kébé Now Playing in Pro Poker
12 November 2021
By Hob Nob Anyone?
Longtime Reading supporters remember Jimmy Kébé as a sure-footed right winger who graced 175 appearances for Reading between 2008 and 2013. The French-born, Mali international player netted 31 goals and 45 assists during his six seasons as a Royal.
Kébé was a favourite for the fan base at Mad Stad; a cult hero who personally benefited by becoming a key regular after Reading were relegated to the Championship following the 2007-08 season. Prior to landing at Reading in January 2008, Kébé came up in the French leagues with Lens and spent loan stints with Châteauroux and Boulogne. Kébé traded the pitch for the felt top and life as a professional poker player after retiring from football in 2016.
Life on the Pitch Doesn't Last Forever
Kébé's ouster from elite football was an unpleasant spiral. A spate of injuries, including a groin strain suffered against Everton while with Reading in March 2013, ultimately knocked him out of the game. Still, Kébé fought for several seasons to stay in football.
In August 2013, he departed the Royals and joined Crystal Palace where he played 190 minutes in six appearances. He eventually landed on loan with Leeds and scored one goal in nine appearances in 2014.
Kébé moved on to Real Mallorca for the 2014-15 campaign but did not see any playing time for the vermillion side.
A Forced Career Change Pays Off
Kébé's poker interest modestly well before the conclusion of his football career. He would often play card games with teammates on the club bus while traveling from away matches. Kébé recalls his poker savvy was heads and shoulders above that of his teammates.
Once he started to get serious, Kébé learned more about tournaments, especially about how the different types work, and he even started competing against the pros. He also sought out cash games with competitive punters while at home in England.
The move to poker has paid off for Kébé over the last half decade. He was once ranked at #411 in the world, and he's currently ranked as #372 among French players. His all-time poker winnings have amassed nearly $370,000 USD.
Kébé's biggest live cash win was a $99,960 grab and second-place finish in No Limit Hold'em at a WSOP Circuit Main event in Marrakech in 2019.
The footballer-turned-poker-ace notes a distinct difference between the sports. In football, playing your best usually results in a win, according to Kébé'. This isn't the case with poker. Players with superior skills often lose due to poker's nuances of timing and opportunity.
Once a Royal, Always a Royal
Kébé carries fond memories of his days in the Royals kit and still maintains connections to the club. He often speaks to former teammate Khalifa Cissé. The Malian duo were staples under managers Steve Coppell, Brendan Rodgers, and Brian McDermott from 2008 to 2010.
The 37-year-old met his wife while playing for Reading, and the couple lives in London. His father-in-law remains an ardent Royals supporter. On the rare occasion that Kébé misses a match, his father-in-law is quick to update him via text or phone call.
Kébé's favourite moments with Reading were pushing for EPL promotion in 2012 and scoring the Royals' then-quickest ever goal in 2010-a blistering 9.5 seconds score that came against West Bromwich Albion in an FA Cup tie match.
That mark was bested by Yakou Méïté in October 2020 on an eight second goal during a 4-2 Championship victory over Blackburn.
A Bright Future with the Chips Down
Kebe feels that having poker in his life eased what might otherwise have been a rocky transition away from football.
He notes that many former players have difficulty adjusting to life without a set schedule and practice routine. Kebe's involvement in poker was rising at the time injuries forced him to give up football.
The former Royal will always be grateful for the opportunity to move from one competitive sport to another.
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