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Parents of young children have often told me that they don’t want to teach their kids poker until they are older. Often it is because of the stigma attached to the game and other times they think that poker is too difficult to teach young kids.

As someone that worked with kids over half of my life, I can tell you that a child is never too young to start learning how to play poker. Poker is a great game that can help children to grow mentally and socially, provided that the game is presented in a kid-friendly format.

Poker Teaches Kids to Be Observant

Depending on the game you’re playing, poker can be a great way to help kids become more observant. Games like Seven Card Stud provide a lot of information and this can help kids to develop their observation skills on a basic level. You can also try and teach them how to pick up on tells, but that may be a bit too advanced.

Personally, I used to cheat while playing and did so because I noticed how little some of the kids were paying attention. This forced them to watch the game more closely. There are fewer things funnier than an 8 year old that is watching you like a hawk – so much so that the other kids are stealing his snacks.

You’re Never “Last to Be Picked”

One of the worst feelings as a kid is trying to play a team game and nobody wants you on their team. One by one, the other kids are picked and you hope that you aren’t the last one to get chosen.

Finally you get picked because there is nobody left and someone has to take you. Afterwards, you get the crappiest position on the team and usually are last to go in rotation games like baseball, kickball or the like.

The great thing about poker is that it isn’t a team game. Every kid is playing for themselves and one can play or not. Everyone gets to play and have a good time.

Luck Gives Anyone a Chance to Win

In many individual games or sports, you won’t win if you aren’t skillful. Poker is different in that luck can be a great equalizer against skillful players, at least in the short term. If you’re playing a game with a higher luck quotient, such as wild card games, then luck can make anyone a winner.

Poker Can Help Develop Critical Thinking Skills

One problem I’ve often seen in young people over the last decade is a lack of critical thinking skills. Part of the social media mentality has resulted in kids not being able to analyze situations and come up with a proper course of action.

Poker is a great tool one can use to help develop critical thinking skills. Five-Card Draw is a game I often use because it is simple to pick up, it is hands on and it allows for a bit of simple strategy that most kids can pick up on.

Starting with the number of cards that someone draws, you can teach them to analyze what an opponent might be trying to draw to and adjust your own strategy accordingly. Did they raise pre-draw and then draw one card? They probably have two pair.

What changes to strategy might one employ based on their draw? That’s a relatively simple example, but you don’t want to make things too complicated or kids might quit the game thinking it is too difficult.

I remember one child that was particularly bright and I started telling them about tells. That child applied those concepts and later caught a counselor in a lie because they picked up on a physical tell from that person. Talk about a proud pseudo-papa.

Poker is All-Inclusive

Those of  us that play live poker regularly already know that poker players are a diverse group with varying backgrounds. It is an all-inclusive game and one that is great for bringing together kids of different backgrounds.

I used poker as a gimmick as a camp counselor for many years and often formed an “island of misfit boys” that usually came together as a result of poker. My gimmick was simple. I’d sit at a table with a deck of cards and start playing.

I can also shoot cards from one hand to another and often I’d start doing that to attract attention. Eventually, I’d start having the random kid come by that isn’t exactly finding a place to fit in and we’d start playing cards. Another kid would come along and join and this would continue.

At times, I would have two to three tables of kids playing poker or other card games. Usually, there would be at least one group of friends that would form from these games and camp would become awesome for that kid as a result of poker.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.