Everyone loves the holiday season. With all the family, food, and decorations all around, it’s difficult to not be full of hope for the promise of a new year.
With all the talk about backroom deals in Congress, iGaming revenues falling below expectations, and server crashes on US-facing poker sites recently, I want to use Chanukah — the eight day Jewish festival of lights — to put out into the community the 8 things that I love the most about the beautiful game of poker.
#1: Poker is a Fundamentally Fair Game
There is something truly beautiful about the simplicity of a poker hand. Victoria Coren put it best recently when she mentioned the “inherently fair nature” of the game of poker. You put your money down, and engage in a battle of wits with others for cold, hard, cash. Anyone can sit down and get chips in front of them. There are no office politics, no subjective interpretations of your work, no one to explain yourself to. Just you, the cards, and an opponent; the idea has always resonated strongly with me.
#2: Poker mirrors life
During her recent interview on “The Moment” with Brian Koppelman, Vanessa Selbst said that “poker is life.” I couldn’t agree more. I could write an entire column just on how poker parallels life. For starters, success in Poker — like in life — requires a mixture of luck and skill. But it goes so much deeper than that. The mixture of self-interested (at the table) and altruistic behavior (within the community) is there; there is a need to hone a diverse range of left-brain (logical thinking) and right-brain (creative play) activities; you must trust that good decisions will be rewarded over the long-term despite the inevitable short term setbacks. The list goes on and on.
#3: Poker makes you a more analytical person
Studying poker seriously transformed my decision making process for all things. Instead of floating through, “winging it,” or going on “feel,” I analyze situations in my life in a deliberate manner now. If I have a complicated goal I want to achieve, I think about what steps will be necessary to achieve it, as well as what each step will entail.
Even simple decisions about whether to do something or not get talked about now in terms of their “EV.”
#4 Poker Never Gets Boring
I played a fair bit of chess growing up as a child. Studying chess entailed memorizing countless permutations of the opening moves of the game, and I found that it seemed increasingly mechanical to a certain extent as I rose through the ranks and played those who had put in the time away from the table. Poker never has that problem. No matter how powerful computer programs become at analyzing the EV of a decision, their calculations will always be predicated on Villian-specific ranges.
Every hand of poker is unique, and that makes it a constant challenge.
#5: Poker is a Global Community
The game may have started in the United States, but now it belongs to the whole world. I’ve personally done sweat sessions and group study via Skype with people from all over Europe. I live in a country with access to PokerStars, and so I get to see all the different nations of the world sitting around the poker table.
I love seeing the diverse range of people and nations at any large, televised or web-casted poker event. I just think it is so cool that a game that used to be played on the steamboats of the Mississippi River can now be found in every part of the globe.
#6: Poker Teaches Mental Control
Poker is obviously a cerebral game. Probability, pot odds, psychology — all formidable disciplines — are interwoven into it. Yet anyone who has played the game seriously knows that none of those are its greatest challenge. Being able to remain mentally calm and focused — so you can effectively use all those other things — is so crucial that an entire “mental game” industry-within-an-industry has spawned around it.
#7: Poker Can Be Enjoyed For a Lifetime
Like a lot of poker players, I have a background in athletics and am a competitive person by nature. Time catches up with all of us; the older I get the harder being athletic becomes. Aches and pains plague my training sessions, and recovery time is something that takes longer and longer with every day that goes by. I dread the moment that I have to admit competitive sports are behind me. With poker, I know I’ll always have a competitive activity I can be a part of.
That is, unless I lose my mind, but if that happens I guess I won’t even know I miss being competitive anyway.
#8: I Get to Write About Poker
Writing is a passion of mine just like poker is. I’m so excited that I have been able to be a part of the PokerUpdate team these last two months, and bring the community news and analysis about a game I love to both be around and talk about.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone back at the tables and around the community in the new year!