What’s The Real Reason We Play Poker?

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WE PLAY POKERWhy do we play poker? What is the point? The buzz is always the same: We play for the money! Over and over you hear and read about it. Money is what counts. Forget the fancy plays. Who cares about the elegant moves? Get the cash. Look for the best games. Move when the rocks sit down. Find the fish, the tourists with the fins and scales.


Well, sure, money is fine. And if you’re at the poker table to put bread on the dinner table you go where the money is. But this point of view, we suspect, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s face it; precious few of the denizens of the poker rooms around the country are professionals. Most are recreational players. Many are also long term losers too. When the rake and the tokes are factored into the cost of doing business, a commonly cited figure is that only about 10 percent of regular poker players are long-term winners.


And you know what, that figure might even be too high. If you’re playing where the rake for a $10-$20 game is $5 per half hour and you tip a buck for each winning pot and each “free” coffee or bottle of water, you’ve got to be beating the game for something like $15 an hour just to break even!


So why is everyone there? Well, there are a lot reasons, and most of them are obvious. Friendship, the social setting, the love of the game, and the craving for action are all cited. To these we can add two more. One is the game’s intellectual challenge. The other is player ego!


The first is pretty obvious. You have to be on your mental toes all the time if you want to play poker successfully. Few things tickle the frontal lobes more than this kind of investment of cognitive energy. There are an awful lot of superannuated characters playing this game and keeping themselves mentally young because the game – if you play it right – just won’t let your brain die.


The second is bit trickier. So, here’s a short tale to use as an object lesson. This just happened to one of us recently. And please, no catcalls, boos, hisses and forget about passing over a towel to mop up any crocodile tears.


With only two free hours, one of us sat Unique Casino down in a $15-$30 7-Stud/8 game. Not his usual game, but he’d been reading up on it and had gotten interested in its complexity. In fact, he passed on his usual hold’em game where the crew has been having him “for lunch” for the past two months. In fact, things had been going so bad over there that his bankroll had shrunk to the point where he didn’t even need a rubber band!


But our hero dove into the 7-stud/8 game with whatever enthusiasm he could muster. “Got two hours here,” he said to himself, “let’s see what happens.” Win a few; lose a few. An hour and a half goes by and he’s basically even. Not much was happening until he looks down at Jc-Kc in the hole and Js door card. Though he usually eschews hands like this, he got away with matching the bring-in and stuck around. Another K hit on fourth street. And he filled it on sixth street. The two lows bricked out and a lovely pot was won. This was just the beginning. The next 25 or so minutes were unreal. Every hand that had died a-borning over the last eight weeks got filled. Our hero hit a miracle card to fill a wheel, and then followed that exploit by catching the suited ace on the river to scoop with a baby flush. Then he took down a monster by hitting runner-runner for a small straight. Sheesh. This must be what they mean when they say, “I got run over by the deck.”


When the two hours expired, one of your authors cashed out on the plus side just a tad under $1.4 kilobucks ¾ and all of it won in just under a half hour. Nothing like a split game if you’re going to get hot. Your hero rolled into bed and fell asleep. Not the sleep of the just. Not the sleep of the righteous. Not even the sleep of the conqueror, just the sleep of the tired. The next day was oddly flat too. It didn’t make sense. He’d won that kind of money in the past playing at these levels and it always made his day, indeed, his week. But not this time.


It took until the next day before he realized why this magical session seemed so drab. He had absolutely nothing to do with it! He just sat there and picked up magic cards. In fact, after the third scooper he really didn’t even recall paying much attention to anyone else’s cards. It didn’t seem to matter what they had. They all would just “brick out” while our boy would catch any gut shot he might have needed and take down another pot. It was as if someone had said, “Hey buddy, want a bunch of money?”




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