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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Grinding Online: The Purpose of Poker

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While reading James McManus’ Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, I began to realize just how important the game has been in the development of the unique set of characteristics that the world has come to recognize as America, and how poker has, along with jazz and basketball, been one of the most influential cultural exports that the United States has ever produced.  So that got me to thinking:  Why do we play poker?  What purpose does it really serve in our lives?  And SHOULD there be a purpose for it beyond just the winning and losing of money, especially since, for many of us, it has largely become a game that we play on our computers rather than face-to-face with others?

This last point is, I feel, a very important one.  I have played in a home game for the past dozen years, and I could give you numerous reasons why I continue to participate in an incredibly low-stakes game, where a huge win in a night is $8.  First, there is the camaraderie of getting together with men who have become friends over the turn of a card and the raising of a glass.  There is the opportunity to network with other professionals, to see what is going on in the world outside of my own business.  There is the chance to solve the problems of the world in political discussion.  There is the likelihood that I will hear a joke that will have me close to tears, and that I will want to repeat the next day, although never to children.  And of course, there is the busting of chops over the way people look and play, forcing someone to match the pot when they misdeal, chortling over a well-timed bluff (which in this game is ALWAYS shown to the hapless loser) and the ability to match wits with other men that doesn’t involve anyone getting hurt or killed.  In many ways, our game is not that much different than the one that Franklin Roosevelt used to convene at the end of almost every day during the height of the Depression and into World War II.  It is a way to blow off steam after a hard day’s work, and remember how much fun it is just to have fun.

Online poker
provides little of what I described in the previous paragraph.  While there is occasionally chat about a recent sporting event or the weather, most of what you find in a chat box is simply a stream of invective demeaning the playing ability, the sexual preferences or the intelligence of someone who has just gotten lucky winning a pot.  It is language that would never be allowed in a live game; in fact, in the Old West, those words would lead to someone winding up dead and the other person in jail or hung.  Of what use is it, other than to demonstrate the emotional immaturity of the speaker?  It usually doesn’t do anything other than to cause the bad player to leave the table, reminding me of the classic exchange between Margaret Dumont and Groucho Marx, where Dumont huffily stated “I didn’t come here to be insulted,” to which Marx replied “Well, then, where would you like to go to be insulted?’  The fish swims away, and all chance of winning his ill-gotten gains back disappears.

In recent weeks, I’ve been trying to examine how I can create a more purposeful experience for myself playing online.  For younger players, the answer is probably simple.  We have seen in recent years the remarkable rise of the competitors like Tom “durrr” Dwan, Annette Obrestad and the youngest to date WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada, all of whom cut their teeth playing online, using the speed of the Internet to play more hands by the time they left their teens than grizzled warriors like Doyle Brunson and TJ Cloutier have played in a lifetime.  So, for those youngsters and others like them, the Internet is a professional training ground to learn the game at previously unheard-of speeds, allowing them to then exploit their advantages in youthful physical stamina when they get into long tournaments, whether live or online.

For me, at the ripe old age of 57, I don’t kid myself into thinking that I’m going to make a sudden shift into being a professional poker player.  While I still expect that I will have a one-day run of cards and skill that will enable me to take down a big online tourney someday, my desire to do that is based more on wanting a discretionary bankroll to challenge myself at higher stakes against better players, not out of some pipe dream about being a full-time gambler, which, quite frankly, sounds exhausting and doesn’t really suit my risk-tolerance.  Instead, I am redoubling my efforts to work on my own perceived character flaws while I am playing.  

•    Can I learn increased patience, in waiting for the cards and/or opportunities to come to me while I play, instead of forcing the issues?  
•    Can I stay calm and focused in the face of adversity, especially when I experience a particularly bad beat?  
•    Can I stay in control of my bankroll management, only moving up levels when the quality of my play has earned it?
•    Can I become a better observer of human nature, by understanding what the other players’ bets mean, and discovering how to counter them?  
•    Can I recognize when I am playing badly and simply shut down the computer, rather than throw good money after bad?

All of these things can only help me be a better businessman, a better father, a better husband and a better friend.  While I won’t be using the tells that I pick up to decide whether or not to challenge Iran on its nuclear policy or how to best manage a battle in the Civil War, as our leaders and generals have done throughout history, I will be continuing to further myself as a man while enjoying a hobby that has given me a great deal of pleasure in my life.  This, I feel, is purpose enough in itself.

*Read Dr. Dad’s Blog*

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