Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Poker People

So here it is, 2006, and all the world loves poker. You know poker right? It's that game that's played where everyone gets two cards, then five cards are turned over in the center of the table. Then someone pushes a big stack of chips forward and says "All in!" and the other players sweat for about an hour before deciding to call or fold. Texas Hold-Em' is what they call it, and THAT is poker - to the EXTREME! Right? Wrong.

Poker is a little game that I just happen to have been playing since I was 13. Well over two decades ago. Now some years I played maybe once every other month, and some years I played every week, but over that period of time I've had a lot of experience at low stakes home games of a variety much broader than the silly macho pissing matches that are suddenly on every two bit cable channel in town.

There is an entire joyful world of poker out there, unbeknownst to the current bandwagon Texas Hold-Em crowd. Now I don't begrudge them that much, they are fun to take money from; but I do feel sorry for them missing out on what is so great about the game. Poker is not staring down your opponent and pushing all your chips in with an 8 and a 2 in your hand, then getting lucky and sucking out your opponent who has an ace and a king. Poker is a far more complex and subtle, thinking persons game, that demands - if you are to have any success in the long run - patience, critical thinking, and an unwavering focus of attention.

And contrary to what all the books will tell you, Poker is not about the money - or even about winning. It's about getting together with friends and competing with your brains. Poker is social and poker is competition. It is the best of both.
Pay attention, it's your bet.

Now, I've been pretty rough on Texas Hold-Em so far, but there are more than a few reasons why it is the most popular poker game in the world right now. Texas Hold-Em, especially the no limit variation, is a blast to play - and a deceptively simple game that actually has a lot going on under the surface. It is, a very fun way to play poker. And it is almost as fun to watch on television, only two cards in the players hands - and the advent of miniature cameras to see these cards, makes for an exciting couple of TV watching hours.

But how many people know how to play the far more exciting and complex cousin of Texas Hold-Em - that mind bending game called Omaha? If you want big pots, and big adrenaline - Omaha is the game to play at your next gathering. And make it a cash limit game for goodness sakes, what fun is no-limit tournament style when most of your guests will end up sitting around for a couple hours or more while the two luckiest players get to pretend they're on television?

And try seven stud every once and a while, make it high low with an 8 qualifier, and feel your brain come alive - because you actually have to pay attention to the exposed cards. Then keep mixing it up, play some lo-ball - and see if you can keep up. If you feel a little wild, try some wacky games. These aren't my favorite all the time, but they do liven up the party a bit. Try throwing in some wild cards, play pass the trash or baseball. Stretch your mind and the fun will follow.

And for goodness sake, please don't think you know about the game because you wear sunglasses and a hat and can quote Chris Moneymaker. Or rather, go ahead and think that, and I'll relieve you of your chips, pronto.

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