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Both poker and golf depend on individual skills. Most people play for recreation; winning is the goal. In both games, the pros are relatively few.

Both attract millions throughout the world. About 25 million Americans play golf. That doesn’t come close to the number who enjoy the game of poker. According to the WPT, there are more than 60 million poker players in the United States.

Poker is more “democratic.” Only selected golfers are invited to participate in its top tournaments. Anyone with the money and nerve can enter the biggest poker tournaments. The winner gets rich! Physical well-being is essential when playing golf. On the other hand, people using walkers and canes are often seen playing poker; even wheelchairs can be accommodated.

Both games have significant costs. Players often travel to participate; although, online poker in your own home avoids travel costs (and time). Not so in golf. Travel to these events can be expensive. Poker and golf tournaments are held throughout the world.

 Major golf tournaments, such as the PGA, get lots of media attention – much more than do poker tournaments although the WSOP and WPT poker tournaments are gaining popularity.

To play golf, there is the green fee to get on the course. You need to buy (borrow?) the equipment (golf clubs and bag, golf balls and tees); you may need a caddy and a golf cart. That afternoon of golf can be expensive.

The same applies to poker. In a casino, the cost-to-play poker is the house rake, the Bad-Beat jackpot drop, and a tip to dealer when you win the hand. That adds up to over $20 per hour – quite significant if your session runs many hours. Poker tournaments have entry fees.

Other Factors

Poker can be played 24 hours a day – no matter the hour or weather. Golf is limited to daylight hours and good weather. Try playing golf in a rainstorm or when the course is covered with snow. Both games provide social interaction. That’s especially important as we age. Social interaction contributes to our well-being – particularly our mental health. In that regard, poker is far ahead of golf.

In my first poker book, “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners,” Chapter 8 is entitled “For Senior Citizens: Playing Poker for Fun, $, and Good Health.” Quoting Professor W. Warner Schaic of Penn. State University: “Mental exercises, like physical exercise, can help older people sustain and in some instances even improve their mental abilities.” And, I call your attention to Dr. Alan Schoonmaker’s new book, “Stay Young; Play Poker” (available on Kindle;

On the intellectual side, the mental challenge when playing poker far outweighs that on the golf course. Counting your outs and estimating your card odds vs. the pot odds; “reading” your opponents; looking for tells; deciding whether to call or raise; using position; using the Esther Bluff to get your opponent to muck his hand – there are so many mental challenges while playing poker. There is no comparison in golf. A healthy mind leads to a healthier body – a great bonus when playing poker.

On the other hand, golf gets you out into the fresh air. It’s so refreshing. On that score, golf takes the lead. What’s more there is some physical exercise when playing golf – swinging the golf club and walking along the golf course (if you don’t use a golf cart).

Poker players can make up for that by doing isometric exercises while seated at the table. For the arthritis in my knees, the VA Medical Center even prescribed an exercise I can easily do seated at the table. And we can take short walks as a break from the game.

All in all, both poker and golf have their merits. Interestingly, many poker players enjoy a round of golf with friends as a break from the game. I tried golf many years ago, and found it so boring. I’d much prefer the challenge at the poker table to chasing that little golf ball around the course.

(Ref. “Golf lands in the rough,” by James F. Peltz; L.A. Times, May 26, 2016)

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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