In many ways this is true.
Most people who play poker know more terminology than applicable math, which you might be surprised to learn is essential to the game. But because anyone at the table can win any hand at any time, there’s a misleading allure to the contest. People who play badly sometimes beat people who play well. This phenomenon keeps the game alive — if bad people never got to hit the jackpot, they’d never play against the people who are good enough to win in the long run.
The very reason the game exists on such a large scale is the same reason it kind of sucks — bad poker players are really annoying.
Here’s how Texas Hold’em, today’s most popular poker game, works in general: Everyone gets two cards — hole cards — nobody else can see, and five cards end up face up on the table after four rounds of betting. The best five-card hand using either one or both of the hole cards and a combination of the cards on the table wins (sometimes the five cards on the table constitute the best hand, in which case the pot is split). Players can fold anytime, but you have to stay in every round of betting to be alive to win the pot at the end.
It’s both simpler and more complicated than it sounds. But, rest assured, there are some real dumbasses who know how to play.
Popular topics of conversation at live poker tables (live as in-person rather than on the Internet) include how much money someone won the previous night when nobody present was around, the heinous way some shitty player (known as a “donkey” in the poker world) got lucky against all odds against someone (“bad beat stories”) and, inevitably, the various ways Barack Obama is ruining America.
Did I mention that poker is an Everyman’s game? This isn’t the type of discourse that takes place at an urban wine bar.
Poker is the only game in a casino in which the players control the odds, which means the best players put themselves in a position to win more often than they don’t
For instance, if one person is dealt pocket aces — the best starting hand in Hold’em — against someone with 2-7 off-suit — the worst starting hand — the person with aces begins with an 89 percent chance at winning the hand. So if you’re dealt pocket aces and some dumbass goes all in for $100 with 2-7 and you make the call, you will lose your money 11 percent of the time. Shit is harsh.
But great players feel little emotion when this happens. They see the game in the long-term — consistently putting yourself in a statistical advantage makes a profit over the long haul. They might lose $400 in one night, but they make up for it with consistency on other nights.
The emotions involved with winning and losing money fuel a lot of the action during poker games — both on and off the table. One person might be super rich and not care about losing money — he or she will be targeted by the good players but will make the tighter players (those who don’t typically make bluffs or take big risks because they’re scared to lose their money) super sad when they beat them with a 2-7 because it’s so [expletive] hilarious to play crappy low cards when they’re the same suit.
Poker is difficult because every time you play it’s part of a small sample size, and unless you play enough to ride out the peaks and valleys and you have enough cash to feel relatively sane when things don’t go your way — even when you do everything right — it’s a high-stress endeavor. Mix in a couple dudes from Erlanger wearing matching PokerstarsTM sunglasses and some lady who knew she was losing but “just wanted to see the river” and you’ve got yourself a Friday night more terrible than going to the in-laws’ for someone’s birthday you don’t like.
This is why recluses and social people alike enjoy the private confines of Internet poker, where the associated chat room is a prime tool for correcting the grammar of shitbirds who get lucky on you. Unfortunately, thanks to the government (and this is one place where the tea party people and conspiracy theorists you’ll find in the live game are reasonable), playing poker from the comfort of your own home against college kids and people who hate their jobs is illegal in the U.S., so the only sites offering it right now are sketchy offshore companies.
Until that changes, I’ll be at the live game as much as I can handle it. See you there, but please don’t talk to me.
CONTACT DANNY CROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org