Becoming Accepted as a Poker Player: Part 1
Ever since I've been old enough to walk into a bookies I've enjoyed gambling. It would start with a weekly couple of quid on the seven sections football predictions and developed not much further than that. £5-20 bets on football, boxing and occasional novelty markets pretty much summed up my sports betting, on rare occasions I'd have a £50 quid bet with my Dad on the outcome of hotly contested boxing matches, but that was for special occasions. I didn't win much, but I didn't lose much either and that was it (I am actually a brilliant boxing tipster these days, if you ever want a flutter on a fight).
Unfortunately a few of my more adventurous friends who would put thousands of pounds on the number of corners in a Hungarian second division match would tarnish my reputation by association. It didn't matter that I would probably spend the same on gambling in a month that others would on smoking, drinking or any other relatively cheap pastime, the very fact that I had a little gamble in me made me a problem gambler in the eyes of my mother, the girl I was seeing at the time or anyone else who never had a flutter. There is nothing wrong with this, it's a natural human defence to be concerned about that which you don't understand.
Then came poker.
When I first started playing, it was gambling. I didn't know what I was doing, I thought that jack high was a good hand (when we all know its Queen high) and I would call relentlessly hoping to hit impossible hands. But then I got good, started reading up and the results got better and better. Now poker is not gambling, any win I have is deserved and any loss I have I put down to myself, no matter how much unlikely odds and probabilities come into it.
So the day I had my first ever significant win I thought it was time to pat myself on the back. I joyfully announced on a visit to my folks that I had won nearly a grand in a poker tournament where I had staked only ten dollars. The champagne bottle did not burst, the room was not full with balloons and party poppers and the interview with Parkinson was definitely on hold. What followed was a very long frustrating discussion with my folks about the dangers of gambling.
I know of an organisation that is trying to get poker recognised as an Olympic sport. I personally don't agree with that idea, but I understand why they want to. One of the most frustrating thing you will encounter as a poker player, will be when non poker players do not recognise that it is a game of skill. I don't think poker should be recognised as an Olympic sport (in the same way chess shouldn't be), but it would be very beneficial if it was because then people would have to recognise the skill element.
There are many reasons why the uneducated will have a misconception about the skill element of poker, here are just a few suggestions why they might:
5 card draw is the game of choice for the television producer, because a poker hand is made up of 5 cards it is the easiest way to tell a story with cards. In every other discipline of poker there are seen cards and hidden cards, betting patterns, position, chip differentials and a whole host of criteria which can give you an indication as to the strength of your opponents hand. 5 card draw there is no indication as to what sort of hand you are against or how strong it is, blind faith in ones hand it all you have. Therefore it is very hard to convey skill in poker, the winner is just lucky.
Another thing that doesn't help that is a mainstay of the sitcom home game is the 'you have to have as much money as me to see my cards rule'. This usually is the catalyst for the hero to borrow money or give up their house in order to call a bet. This rule is of course ludicrous, whoever won the first hand at the world series would be the champion if that was the case. This rule is usually used to display desperation and teach us a lesson about the dangers of gambling.
There is also an over reliance on images of cowboys and trick decks, which make poker appear a game which exploits the most vulnerable of us. Not to mention ridiculous hands that almost never happen (cue 100 bad beat emails) like quads vs quads, even the recent James Bond film which otherwise painted a very respectful picture of poker ended with a straight flush beating aces full.
TV depicts a lazy interpretation of the game of poker which highlights to most extreme negative traits while ignoring everything which makes the game skilful and complex.
The very fact that poker games take place in an arena associated with losing money and problem gambling doesn't help the cause. Most people have had a dabble at roulette or blackjack, most people have left with emptier pockets than they did before. I could easily go into a big rant about why the Gutshot club shouldn't have lost their court case but I wont here. The fact is that when the non poker player puts poker and a casino together, they still have the 'house always wins' maxim to mind, even though the house is not actually involved.
Televised Final Tables
Real poker on TV has done wonders for the game and peoples perceptions of it, but there is one dynamic of televised final tables that might unintentionally affirm more of the gamble, less of the skill. That is the high blind structures and the all in move. When we get to the final table, the blinds are eating everyone alive and to an extent, the hands play themselves. Pairs vs AK often results in all the money in the middle before a flop and we are left with a coinflip. The uneducated watcher assumes that this is how an entire tournament is played, and the winner overall could also be the world coinflip champion. They do not see the days and days of long gruelling deepstack play, playing draws and laying down monsters, establishing table images, bubble play etc etc etc. One saving grace is the recent popularity of the show High Stakes Poker which shows real poker being played with deep stacks.
These are just a few of the reasons the people in your life might not be supportive of your infatuation with playing cards, next week I'm share with you some ways of making poker appear more acceptable with those that simply do not understand it.
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