Why play poker?

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Have you ever asked yourself: Why do I play poker?

Whether or not we admit it, most of us play the game for recreation and challenge, with the money won as a measure of success – or good luck; and perhaps for other reasons.

There are two types of poker players:

• So-called “professionals” who depend on poker for a living. They have no other significant source of income. (If they are smart, they would invest a large part of their winnings when they do register a significant win.) We see many of them playing poker on TV. (One might argue whether these are really professionals in the true sense, but that’s another issue.)

• The majority of poker players are “recreational players.” Poker is a part-time activity enjoyed as a leisure activity – more like a hobby as distinct from an occupation. Those of us who fit into this category, play for the enjoyment and challenge of the game – and for diversion from the day-to-day grind of the real world; it’s an escape from the ominous news of wars, the troubled economy, corruption in government, terrorism, gas pipe explosions. It’s the same reason that so many people enjoy watching professional sporting events, or going to the movies – diversion, distraction, entertainment, a change from the daily routines of life. For a brief time, you are in a different world.

Other reasons

For all of us, playing poker provides a mental challenge. Can I make the right decisions? Can I pull off a big bluff? Like doing a crossword puzzle, it’s a personal challenge.

Yet another reason many enjoy playing poker is socializing – being with other people; mingling and interacting with others. This is especially so for those who enjoy playing in casinos or home games. (It’s got to be better than frequenting bars!)

Interacting with others is an important part of human nature. Even birds, fish and animals naturally socialize among themselves. There are flocks of birds; a school of fish; a pride of lions; a herd of horses…Part of enjoying a day at the baseball game is being among other people, especially when you are all rooting for the same team.

I remember an old popular tune about “people who need people are the luckiest people…” (Perhaps this explains why our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group has grown so fast – from six people just six years ago to well over 100 today.)

It makes a difference

Since most of us are recreational players, it is advisable to play at stakes with which we feel comfortable – with an occasional foray into a game at slightly higher stakes. And, as my students in my poker classes and Poker Lab pledge: “Never, never, never ever play for the rent money.” No matter how skilled you become, there is always the matter of luck over which you have no control. (By being skilled, you can influence luck – but never control it.)

Of course, going home a winner is our goal, as it should be. As my wife, Irene, used to say:

I enjoy winning; and the more I win, the more fun it is…

How about you?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and would welcome your comments on this basic – and important – topic. Perhaps we can jointly identify other and better reasons to play the game of poker, and thereby contribute to the poker world we all love. I invite you to send me your comments by e-mail: [email protected]. Why do YOU play poker?

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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