Control yourself

March 15, 2009

 I was thinking recently about how if I had to boil it down to one thing, the definitive reason I love playing poker above all other casino games or methods of gambling is simply because of control. That one little thing, of which the need and satisfaction can seem to trascend every aspect of human existence, is solely what brings fullfillment to my time at the table. I could win or lose, learn a lesson or completely forget the night under a haze of alcohol and stale Cheetos, but if I know at the end of the night that the decisions I made were in as much of my control as possible, I’m at peace with my time.

What exactly do I mean? How is poker so far above and beyond anything else in terms of control? Both good questions, and I’ll answer them at the same time. First, let’s look at the game of poker itself, then we’ll move on to it’s companions in the world of gambling.

In poker, you can control just about everything. Not which cards you receive, of course, but depending on which variation of poker, how many you decide to keep, discard or exchange are all at your determination. How much you bet (after a set blind amount) is at your discretion. And if you’re not the big or small blind, going in at all is your call. If you’re talented enough, how much emotion you decide to convey in your facial expressions and physical ticks and movements is under your control, as well.

Ultimately, though, and most important, is that when push comes to shove, you’re the one who chooses to throw chips in the middle or make the bold move of dumping your cards into the fold pile on the table. Like toppling your king in a chess game, knowing when to fold – and acting on it – makes a larger impact on a game than anything else. Hmm…maybe not like toppling your king in chess…maybe more like knowing when to pit in a NASACAR race. Yeah, there you go!

In sports gambling, you have control of what game you choose, and, as in all forms of gambling, how much you want to wager, but that’s about where the control ends. I love sports and I’ve recently discovered a newfound love with the details of sports gambling, but the bottom line is the ultimate outcome isn’t in your hands, it’s in someone else’s hands, while you sit and watch and clutch your horseracing tickets (for example) hoping for a winner. Also, the sports lines are out of your control, as well, unless you’re Ace Rothstein, which you’re not, because the guy who he was based on has died.

In roulette, you control how much you bet, how much your split your bets, and how much you initially buy-in for, but that’s it. You don’t get to spin the ball (not that you’d know how to do it anyway), you don’t get to blow on the wheel…you have no say in where the ball lands. Of course, that’s the point of the game, but it cripples your ability to control much outside of the money itself.

Blackjack gives you a good amount of control, but limited betting options once the game is in play. You can double to bring more money onto the table. To be fair, in terms of decisions on cards during the game, blackjack holds its own, possibly even surpassing poker, but the lack of gambling options and the inability of reading players or emotions as they pertain to other players coming into play hurts the overall package of control.

Slots? Nickels or quarters…and I suppose a plastic coin collecting bin or a shopping bag. There’s your control.

Video poker? Not a fan. Strips away most of what makes poker interesting and leaves you there hoping an electronic screen will pop up enough hearts for you to win your dollar back. Not much control here, either.

So there you have it. Indisputable evidence :)

Don’t agree? Get control of yourself!