Wednesday, December 3, 2008

House of Cards

I played poker the other night for the first time in awhile. Was going along just fine until I called an all-in in which I flopped two pair. I was way ahead and of course got beat on a lucky river pull for the other guy --- OK, sorry, at least I kept it brief. The only think more boring than listening to someone's bad beat poker stories (and boy can some folks regale you with long-winded poker tales!) is listening to stories about someone's latest golf round (you know the stories, "I would've got par if..." "I almost holed in from the rough, but..." etc., etc.)

Anyway though, Poker can be a lot of fun. And I got to thinking about why. Of course there is the rush of winning a big hand, or even just being in a big hand. Your heart starts beating a little faster, though you try not to show it. The gambling rush. And then there's the competition -- going mano a mano for all the chips. And I think that has a lot to do with it. Unlike say, sports, you don't need to be in especially good athletic shape to be a winner (though those dudes who play several days at the World Series of Poker constantly talk about how much 'endurance' they need). You need to be smart in some sense; it helps to know about odds and math and reading other people. And I know we've all played in home games where people take all this VERY seriously. I guess it does make them feel important to be able to gripe about pot odds when they are deciding whether or not to bet. I think these talkers and gripers (see Phil Helmuth for the Pro version) are pretty much tools, but they make me laugh.

Still, at the end of the day, no matter if you have a PhD in math or if you are a mentalist, there is still a certain amount of luck. So, unlike say basketball, where no matter what, Joe the Plumber could never beat LeBron James in a game of one-on-one if King James is trying, the worst poker player in the room could beat the best player heads-up on any given day. That chance makes the average guy, who still has those ancient competition genes in his DNA, pony up to the poker table for a chance to be a legend. At least in his own mind. Now, shuffle up and deal!

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