Learning poker? Keep the computer out of it.

September 7, 2008

There are plenty of things we all remember about our tenure as poker players. (I’m not going to use the word career, so tenure sounded the most suitable). Your biggest losses probably come to mind first. How did you make that one misstep, where was your patience when you needed it most, why did your emotions play a larger role than normal?

Right after the losses are usually your most triumphant moments as a poker player. I tend to remember my clutch basketball shots before I remember my biggest poker wins, but still, I remember the amount of money I walked away with each and every time. In fact, I can more accurately recite down to the nickel how much I’ve won out of big pots than I can tell you what the cards were in the hands that won me those pots. But that’s how selective memory works for some people.

What else is there to remember? Your first night in a new poker group, actually nailing that “guess the card” question, running out of money and having to run to the ATM…whatever the story, we all have them, and they all make for good drunken conversation.

But answer me this question – who taught you the game?

Was it a friend, was it a family member? Were you 16 years old or were you 6? Did you stumble upon your dad’s poker game around the kitchen table one night, he pulled you up onto his knee and say, “This is how you play a man’s game, Timmy.”

Hmmm…maybe not.

In all honestly, I can’t really put my finger on where I learned the game. It was either my father or grandfather that taught me, probably when I was learning a handful of other games like chess, Uno, gin rummy and a few others. I’m sure we didn’t play for money, and I was probably around 10 or 11.

But, I can tell you one thing for sure – I wasn’t taught by the Internet. And thank goodness for that.

Why, you ask? What’s the big deal? Well, in my opinion, there are just certain things that shouldn’t be learned in front of a computer screen. Certain things that have more meaning, more value if you pick them up in the real world.

You didn’t learn to read online, you didn’t learn to tie your shoe watching an online, interactive model do it, and I hope you didn’t learn to tie a tie online (I can still barely tie one, so that example is admittedly a little shaky). And you definitely didn’t learn to ride a bike on the Web.

Life’s lessons, taught by family or close friends. At risk of getting too corny, those bonding experiences. They matter. They build relationships. I’d no sooner let my son learn to play poker online than I would let him drive a car without me in the passenger seat.

And no, these examples aren’t different than poker. Those are all important life skills, ones that you learn with real people in front of you and exchange a back and forth of praise, instruction and emotions. You can’t get that online, and you shouldn’t try to.

And yes, knowing how to play poker is, in fact, an important life skill, even if you never wager a cent in your life. Reading people, making good decisions, maintaining patience and keeping your emotions from influencing crucial and professional choices are all traits you can learn and perfect playing the game of poker. Of course, money helps add some “oomph” behind those decisions.

I guess I feel a little sorry for younger people who entirely learn how to play poker through the Internet. I just feel like they’re missing something. I know the online sites (free or pay) can be a great place to practice your game, kill some time, or enter into tournaments you otherwise would’ve had no access to…so believe me, I love playing online.

But not to learn the game online. I’ll keep that in real life, right next to building a tree-house and playing with a dog. Hopefully kids aren’t doing those things online – just yet.