It’s NOT elementary, my dear Watson

April 27, 2008

Have you ever tried teaching someone to play poker? I don’t mean the fundamentals of poker – what beats what, how to bet, how to deposit money on FullTiltPoker – I mean tried to explain to them how a new house game works that they haven’t yet heard of?

I suppose that’s basically what I do half the time with the poker home game articles, but in print it’s quite a bit easier. You have the opportunity to think longer about what you’re going to say and how to phrase it, you can add breaks and notes and tips throughout the way, and the person learning can read through it at his or her own leisure, take their time and review anything they may not have caught the first time.

But, in a live setting….things are different.

I haven’t had the “luxury” of playing the poker game instructor in at least a year; in fact I’m actually the one being taught these new games that we’ve started added to our semi-regular playing rotation. Now, it’s a rare thing that I’ll drink while playing cards. I’ve done it, I know what it’s like, but since the drink of choice tends to almost always be beer, and beer just isn’t my thing, I’m usually option for the cola on hand.

However, I will go on record as saying that beer is, without a doubt, the worst enemy of even the most patient poker game teachers.

Even the simplest twist to an already understood game becomes a challenge…an eye-rolling challenge of pure frustration and rage, and people who you were just having fun with, chatting about the upcoming football season, turn into what you hope will be the receiving end of an open waffle iron.

Here’s an example: Baseball. Many different ways to play. So any normal player, when given the opportunity to deal, will ask what the house rules are? In a recent example whoever’s place it was that night came out and said, “It’s stud, 3’s and 9’s wild.”

My mistake….my horrible mistake….at that time was pressing the issue, and asking about a match or fold rule on a 3 coming face up, or the extra card for the price of the ante rule if a 4 is dealt face up.

You’d think I was asking them to break down the political views on our current presidential candidates (of which the candidates probably couldn’t even do). I’ve never seen so many blank stares.

“What the F— are you talking about?” one asks.

“So, if I get a wild card I have to fold?” comes another winning question.

“Do I have to trade in the 4 for another card? Why would I pay for that? Do I have to match the pot on the 4, also? Is the 3 wild if I match?”

Ah, and here’s the best one….. “What happens to the 3 if I fold? Is it still wild?”

Yeah, buddy. The 3 in your dead hand is still wild. In fact, it can make your whole hand smell like cinnamon buns for all I care.

My point, as trivial as it may be, is that it was obviously the beer talking. But even sober, you’d be dumbfounded how typically intelligent individuals can break down into third grade head-scratchers at the very mention of a new game.

Not all of them, mind you, but it’s usually around half. In fact, unless it’s at the VERY beginning of the night, before people start playing and get in a rhythm (thus not wanting to break it for 10 minutes to learn a new game), I won’t even make an attempt to bring up a new game.

I tried it once with a game I’ve explained on here before called Continents, and in hindsight I think I’d rather sit through another Jennifer Lopez movie than deal with the onslaught of bafflement that ensued.

Actually now that I think about it, I’m not sure I have a point. Maybe to consider your situation before voluntarily upping your stress level trying to bring a new game into the rotation.

I’m probably exaggerating a bit. On occasion I’ll be sitting with a group that really enjoys learning new games (as do I, what a concept), and isn’t too toasted to stay interested and attentive through the rules.

I will add, as well, that it might be worth going through a little bit of frustration and agony to get to that end result…which is usually a winning hand in your favor, at least until the drunk bastards can sober up and pick up on the strategy.