Despite being part of a national lottery syndicate my mother has had very little experience of gambling, so it is only natural that she want to protect her son from the dangers of wagering sums of money on an uncertain outcome involving randomly shuffled cards. Even now I occasionally get quizzed about it, but not only has my mother accepted poker in my life, she has embraced it and is probably grateful to it. Now if I'm being honest it is mainly due to the writing and media work that poker has given me, she very much enjoys telling people I am a writer and not a poker player, but there is something else I did that turned her around on the subject - I played a game with her.
We sat down one evening and I entered a tournament on Full Tilt, which proved the ideal poker room because she was instantly attracted to the cute little cartoons of dogs and donkeys. Fuzzy little cartoons made poker seem a little more recreational and a lot less you are going to hell. Our table started and I had player notes on two people at the table, one telling me that the cat to my left was a very aggressive solid player I didn't want to get involved with without a hand, the other telling me the hockey player opposite me was an ace hugger. I explained how I would alter my strategy and range of hands accordingly depending on which one was in the pot.
I went into detail the reasons for every one of my actions, in finite detail. I told her why I would not play KQ under the gun but why I elected to raise it from the late position. I showed her the advantage of having the button and why a single ace is not a very good hand. I was accurately putting people on hands and impressing her in the process. I scared her a little when I was going all in a lot during the pay bubble, and how calm I was about it, but never the less it was working and I was actually playing one of the games of my life. We ended up making the final table and I came 7th, picking up a decent cash in the process. At no point in the game did I ever do anything that was too much of a gamble, I always had a hand, or position, or a read on a player or something that gave me an edge. She wasn't completely convinced, but I had changed her opinion, possibly impressed her a little, and we did have a lot of fun.
Rather than distancing your loved ones from poker, get them on board, or at least give them an understanding of it. Show them what you do and why you do it:
If you play both, I'd suggest showing them a tournament rather than a cash game. I actually think cash games are a little more skilful, but the fact you can reload and the fact that it is real money being played can reinforce the greed and despair element they already have implanted in their mind. When you load up a tournament and pay the entry fee, declare clearly that THIS IS THE ONLY THING I WILL LOSE, you can't reload and you can't throw more money at it. This makes it easier to rationalise, if you paid $50 for a chess tournament then they maybe wouldn't bat an eyelid, so make the comparison.
You might even want to play a freeroll just to further emphasise how hard it is to go broke if you play prudently.
One of the major concerns my mother has is how much I lose. If I mention a win she comes back with something in the vain of 'yes, but what about all the times you lose'. I explain that my bankroll is made up of money I otherwise never had, and when I have a big loss it is not coming out of the money that pays my bills or feeds me, it is from previous winnings. I also explain my system of never playing with more than 5% of my bankroll in any one session, and how I would inevitably drop down a level were I to suffer successive losses, meaning that the chances of me going broke are very slim.
I also like to show people some of my records and spreadsheets logging my results, at this point people get very bored but have to concede that a lot of care and attention goes into money management, and I am not throwing money indiscriminately at the first table I sit at.
While you are at it, show them everything you do away from the table to improve your game. I am member of instructional websites, I have a mountain of poker books, magazines and DVDs, I study my hand histories and I have a lot of software like poker tracker. A hell of a lot of effort goes into my game before I even see my hole cards and whenever I am successful I do not want to be told I'm lucky, do the same.
Turn on the TV
There is so much poker on TV nowadays that if you pick the right shows you can win people over. Any WPT or WSOP show can win folks over with the glitz and the glamour that comes with them. Gus Hanson, Tony G and Daniel Negranu are great entertainers and make poker easier to watch, likewise any show with Barry Greenstein is a must because of his noted charity work. If it's a lady you need to win over, get yourself on DVD some of the programmes which show women dominating the men, High Stakes Poker season 1 has a lot of Jennifer Harman and Mimi Tram outplaying their male counterparts, plus there are loads of women only tournaments on TV which might capture your female doubters imagination.
Plus the new James Bond film has probably helped the cause in leaps and bounds, and with a few more poker films coming out this year maybe we won't have to worry about this as much in a few years.
One of the problems poker players have is that they keep those that don't appreciate poker on the outside of the loop, we were all non believers of poker before we started playing so why should they be any different. I'm not saying the aim is to convert them into poker players, just to let them into your world.
In my final part of this feature, next week I'm going to look further into how to handle the people that are struggling to come to terms with cards in your life.
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