A feeling so foreign

December 30, 2007

Do you ever feel bad taking someone’s money?

I know, probably the worst question to ask to a group of people whose main goal is to take people’s money. But being the holiday season, I’m sure there’s no better time to raise the issue of pity or remorse at the end of a night of cards with a group of friends. I’m also not talking about cashing in a ten dollar bill here and a twenty dollar bill there. I’m talking about the awkward 20 seconds when your buddy across the felt is clearing off chip crumbs and beer spill to write you a check for $650. What exactly do you do during those moments, anyway? I usually escape to the bathroom, then emerge under the pretense that I’m not expecting a check (although all I’m doing is waiting for him to hand it to me.)

I mean……I kinda feel bad at that point. Not necessarily because I’ve been on that side of the fence (and we all have at least once). Not really because I particularly like the person, either. It’s actually hard to describe, just a sort of combination of taking advantage and undeserved happiness at someone else’s expense…maybe I’m more human than I claim to be.

I imagine the thought process from the loser, however, is much simpler. “Here’s your check, $%&*er.”
This also isn’t an attempt to make some type of generalization or commentary about whether gambling is right or wrong. I really couldn’t care less what anything thinks about that, as I’m sure my own opinion on the matter isn’t being desperately solicited. This is just me wondering if I’m alone here.

In fact, I can’t even explain why this emotion comes over me. I love the thrill of competition as much as I do spreading my fingers, joining my hands and literally raking in pot after pot. I don’t think about who lost what on what hand while it’s happening, and maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I’m the only one who does.

Overanalyzing? Perhaps.
Guilt? To a degree, even though there’s technically nothing to be guilty about. You play a clean game, you’re a more talented player. Sometimes luck is more on your side, and your winnings are less of an earned prize and more of a nice surprise. (“That’s just a real nice surprise, Clark….a reallllll nice surprise!” – sorry got caught up in the classic Christmas Vacation for second there.)

So what’s my point? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, and I don’t think I started writing this with the intention of wrapping it up with a nice conclusion. It’s weird, because as a teenager I can remember taunting and gloating and quickly spending much, much more than I remember skill, technique or restratint.

Things change, of course, but I didn’t expect to care about this. Not about how it feels to be on the losing end, because I’m certainly not thinking about how nice it must be to win all that money when it’s my wallet it’s coming out of.

No, at that point I’m usually thinking…”Here’s your check, $%*&**er.”

That’s why I like to play online at FullTiltPoker.com, because you never see the people you are winning money from.

Poker Home Games – Move Along

December 23, 2007

It’s been a while since I learned a new poker home game, but here you go. It’s pretty fun, involves some definite strategy but not a great deal of betting prowess since most of the cards will be face-up for everyone to see.

But, it can and usually does generate some sizeable pots, and isn’t that the end result of a good made-up poker home game anyway?

MOVE ALONG

**Note*** – This is a split pot game, half to high hand and half to low hand.

1) You can choose not to ante if you want. Or, if you want to feed a little more into what will undoubtedly be a good-sized pot, you can ante whatever your typical amount is.

2) Everyone receives a down card, of which you can look at but do not (and shouldn’t) flip face up for anyone else to see.

3) Now, the dealers deals 1 card face-up to the first player (usually to the left). The player then has the option of keeping the card or “moving” it along down to the next player and receive a new card for a pre-determined price. (All bets and “buys”, of course, end up in the pot).

4) That “moved” card then goes to the second player, and he/she has the same choice. This continues until every player has 2 total cards to their hand, one down and one up.

5) Round of betting

6) The “move along” step and betting are repeated until each player has 5 total cards.

7) Before the last round of betting, each player gets the option to purchase a “trade.” This, simply, is a chance to discard 1 card you don’t like and buy another one face-down. (Having 2 down cards adds to the strategy, as well). Note, though, that the cost of this is typically very steep, and can run any multiplier of the original ante (we played 10X the amount). It can pay off huge, or it can feed an already obese pot and actually hurt you in the end. But that’s part of the chance.

8) Last round of betting.

9) Reveal however you decide who is going high, low or both (hold coins in hands, say it all at once, write it on a piece of paper, etc…).

10) Compare and split up the pot. As in most games, if you go both and lose just 1 (high or low), you get nothing.

***One last note, a lot of the success of this game depends on having an honest group of players without any hard feelings, as one’s “move along” card can be intentionally passed to someone to help them out or to hurt someone else. However, this is also definitely part of the strategy of the game – as you might not need a card, but would it hurt you more to let it go and help out one of your opponents?

I had fun playing move along, and it was an easy one to pick up and learn right away (even after a couple drinks). I recommend giving it a try. Try it out at home, or check out FullTiltPoker.com to see if they offer the game.

Old Foes – A New Challenge

December 16, 2007

I remember writing an article months and months ago about playing poker after you haven’t played for a while. I enjoyed reminiscing about the experience almost as much as I did getting into a game again.

Well, this time around it’s not so much about not having played in a while, but this past weekend I had an opportunity to sit across the table from a few friends that I hadn’t play against in a while.

We’re talking at least a year. And these are good players, too. They used to do the online tournament route and each had read through a few book on Hold ‘Em. (One was a rather humorous “How to use your femininity as an advantage while playing poker” book. At least the title was humorous to me, but anyway…

Old foes – a new challenge.

It was the three of us and two people…so not a huge gathering. But I like a nice, quiet game of 5, especially when we all know each other.

No strangers, no limit – is nice.

Mind you, now, the two old foes do play together routinely still, so they benefit from the immediate advantage of being familiar and fresh with each other’s game and betting habits. I, on the other hand, had to dig into my memory to try and recall who bluffs when, how often, how much bullying I can expect and how much strength they have to typically back it up.

I bring this up because it raised an interesting question (at least one I raised to myself during one of my all-too-common episodes of random thought).

“Is it better to play against a stranger, or against someone whose game you think you know?”

I would image the quick and easy answer would be the familiar foe. Of course you’d rather have the inside track into someone’s brain. Experience across the table from someone, although never 100% reliable, would seem to give anyone above the novice level an upper hand when it comes to reading the player.

But if you haven’t played with someone for a while, long enough to forget a few things, is constantly trying to reassess your position based on your educated guesswork of a reaction from your opponents necessarily a better tactic that just guessing period? I mean, of course keeping in mind the other tools you’d use against a stranger, as well.

If my experience this past week would be the basis for a decision, I’d have to say I’d rather play the stranger.

This being separate from the social aspects of the game, too. I’m talking strictly business here.

That my feeling. I found myself trying to remember how these people used to play and it got me into trouble. My own fault, but I fell into this trap early and often.

“Ahh, Jane always used to bluff early when she was down. I am only holding Queen, 10, but I don’t think she has anything.”

I call, go down to Ace, Jack.

It happened enough times that I felt the need to write an article about it. If I had been playing a stranger, I’m sure my moves would’ve been different. Smarter. More patient.

So…if you haven’t seen an old poker buddy in a while and they want to get together to play cards, what do you do?

Go out for the drinks and dinner first, laugh about the “good old days,” and then when it comes time to break out the deck, just pretend you don’t know them.

To the guys, that’ll probably be easy, since your wife or girlfriend probably wishes you’d pretend you don’t know your old drinking/poker buddies more often anyway!

If you play online at a site like FullTiltPoker then you don’t have to worry about not playing against somebody for a while because you can keep online records of how they play.

Who’s got the deal?

December 9, 2007

Finally. Finally found a weekend recently to get back to the poker table for a Saturday night home game.

A few people I know from work and a couple of their friends gathered around a table at someone’s crappy apartment, college basketball flickering on a 20” standard definition TV in the corner, beer around the table (cola for me, of course!), and a fresh deck of cards freed from it’s plastic wrapper prison.

All right, I’m all excited. My wife and I have a new baby boy, so it’s been months and months since I’ve had the chance to get in a game of cards at any level. The anticipation runs through me quickly, and triggers the bouncy leg syndrome I tend to get. Must need more Pepsi.

Then something horribly unfortunate and frustrating happens. The guy who breaks out the cards shows his true weakness…he doesn’t know how to shuffle.

Understandably, this might not bother most people. In fact, many poker players probably spend ALL of their time playing split between computer dealers and professional dealers in casinos, so they have no idea the pain involved with watching someone murder a deck between their beer-stained, sausage-sized fingers.

But it bothers me. In fact, when I was in college, I used to keep a deck of cards with me sometimes because shuffling was a therapeutic relaxation technique. I didn’t graduate college with honors, so needless to say I got damn good at shuffling cards.

Still am, I like to think. But back to Sausage Fingers. First, he doesn’t even split the deck in half properly…He’s got about 12 cards in his left hand and 40 in his right. At that point I have to half turn away, it’s almost like watching the torture scenes in Hostel. I think he grabs them backwards and forces them together with his thumbs on top, if that’s even possible.

Nobody else seems to notice, or they’re too drunk to at this point, either way I try to keep my mouth shut since I’m friendly with these guys, but not friends, per se. So I don’t want to be left out of any future games because I was the dude who got pissed about the shuffling. (Nobody wants to be that dude).

But seriously, watching him shuffle was quite a scene. He couldn’t bridge, couldn’t mix, couldn’t even cut properly. It reminded me of the scene in Seinfeld when Kramer is trying to cook dinner for all the Jewish singles. “I can’t slice, I can’t chop…I CAN’T MINCE!”

Funny stuff.

Anyway, the reasons a crappy shuffler gets to me are:

1) You can mark the cards. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it should never happen.

2) It slows the game considerably.

3) A follow-up to #2, if there are others there who can shuffle more quickly, why does the deal have to be passed around?

So, can anyone help me out with #3? If I’m the best, quickest dealer at the table and don’t mind handling the task, what’s the difference if I deal or if the deal gets passed around? If we keep the same rotation of who gets first card and who calls the game, why does it matter who’s tossing out the cards?

It doesn’t…or shouldn’t, at least. An efficient dealer means the game is more organized, there’s less arguing or confusion, and, most importantly, there’s more poker played as a result.

So there….now give me the deck and get the hell out of my way!

Play online poker for free at www.FullTilt.net today.

Poker – The greatest scene-stealer

December 2, 2007

Discovering a poker scene in a movie is a great feeling for a fan of the game. It creates that deeper connection to the characters and the scene, the unspoken bond that says, “Yeah, I know what’s up.”

And I’m not talking about poker movies where the game is the dominant part of the plot, like in “Rounders” or “Shade,” which in their own right are still damn cool. I’m talking about movies or shows that are about something entirely different, set in a genre where you wouldn’t even think to see poker pop up.

One example that comes to mind as I’m writing this is old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Would Jonathan Frakes’ character Will Riker still be a bad-ass if he weren’t a cut-throat card shark who took Data for every synthetic dime he was worth?

Probably not…although whether Riker is considered a bad-ass anyway is debatable. (Compared to Worf, no. Compared to Wesley Crusher, yes.)

But when the commanding officers strapped on the visors and took a seat at the green felt table, even though I liked the show and the science fiction premise to begin with, I couldn’t help but get excited and involved in the program that much more because the characters were playing poker.

So…I joined up with Netflix a little while ago in hope of catching up on hundreds of old movies I’ve never seen, heard of or had always skipped over at the brick and mortar video stores in favor of the shiny new releases calling my name.

One of the recent movies that showed up was an early 1970’s science fiction gem starring Bruce Dern called “Silent Running.”

Set in the future, Dern’s character lives on a massive space station with 3 other men. We know very little about Earth at this time, other than it is completely barren. The space station houses massive domes containing self-contained forests, in which Dern and the others are tasked with maintaining and cultivating life in hopes of brining it back to Earth.

Fast-forward the plot a bit, the evil corporations that run the show order the men to abort the mission, nuke the forests and return home…a command that makes the other men happy, but infuriates Dern because he has fallen in love with one of the forests.

Dern disposes of the men, fakes an accident aboard the ship and for a time disappears from contact with humanity and gets lost behind Saturn.

During this time, Dern reprograms and befriends 2 (3 at first, but 1 is destroyed) drones that he humanizes and names Huey and Dewey.

As I’m watching this flick, interested but not blown away, we come to a scene where Dern programs the two drones with the basics of playing poker. He sets each one up with chips and cards and they get a game going.

Aside from the neat moment of seeing a poker game in an old, rather obscure sci-fi flick, the interaction between Dern and the drones is captivating and quite heart-felt. Here’s a man who’s been without human contact for months. He treats the drones almost like sons. He has an obvious passion for the game (which Dern sells perfectly), and tries to get the drones to pick up on the tricks and critical thinking that’s needed to be successful in poker. Make your own poker scene at FullTilt.com today.

The scene itself is only a few minutes long, but to see Dern’s frustration when one of the drones doesn’t take any cards with a hand of Queen-high is something everyone who’s tried to teach someone else to play the game can relate to.

And then, seeing Dern’s beautifully portrayed joy when he’s beaten by Dewey, who’s holding a full house, is really a touching moment. You have to witness the scene yourself to understand how something like that can evoke emotion in the viewer, but his sense of accomplishment in that moment is worth the price of admission alone.

I guess I don’t have a real message or strong conclusion to this article, other than to keep your eyes open in all aspects of entertainment, and always keep an open mind to watching a movie or TV show you otherwise might not have considered – you might just happen upon a poker scene worth remembering.