Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
Doubling up.

Doubling up.

So having been around the merry go round a few times, I might as well confess that I’ve embraced my share of basically harmless vices. Booze? Check. As in, check my liquor cabinet for the good stuff. Loud rock’n’roll? DUH. Did I tell you about my big Lyle Lovett hair that I grew out for the surf-punk power pop band I was in and the number of ladies’ undergarments that have ended up on the headstock of my bass over the years? (Worn by actual ladies, in case you were uncertain.) And yes, I have two kids, so… OK, let’s leave that one alone. But somehow for over forty years I managed to dodge the sin of them evil cards.

I’ve even been to Las Vegas a couple times, usually for business conferences. Stayed on the Strip, took in the shows, had the prime rib, saw the art collection in the Bellagio. But as for gambling? Never went past blowing $20 in sucker money on nickel slots. I just didn’t understand the lure of throwing money after a game of mainly chance. (Still don’t.) Pretty much the only card games I’d played were Uno and gin rummy. Certainly nothing like blackjack.

Or poker.

"Poker Chips" by Logan Ingalls. Licensed CC-BY.

Then came the Southeast Linux Fest, where Max and Greg decided my personal corruption cap was one feather short and introduced me to Texas Hold’em. Well, that’s one way to tell the story. Another way to tell it is that Robyn goaded me into playing because she knows an easy mark when she sees one. Yet another way to tell it is that I hung out at the table watching until curiosity got the better of me. So I sat down and learned that there’s more than a little bit of strategy involved in poker. I also learned that I had a LOT to learn.

I took a beating in both games I played, but it was well worth the entertainment — in fact, it cost me less per hour than a good movie. I got to hang out with friends and get schooled in some of the most elementary poker lessons you might have learned in high school (depending on who you hung out with in high school). I even discovered that some of those things actually fell neatly in line with common sense for living. Such as:

  • Don’t fold when you can check. (I put it a little differently in this status post.)
  • If you can’t spot the sucker at the table, rest assured it’s you.
  • You sometimes have to risk a lot to win a lot.

So when I came home from SELF, I did a couple things. First I had a nice dinner with my family. Then I ordered three things from Amazon: two books by Phil Gordon, who strikes me as a fairly level headed and straight arrow kind of poker player; and a set of poker chips. I started to educate myself a little about the game — the terminology, the basic strategies, and also how much fun it is to play.

I even started casting a net with my DVR for poker tournaments on TV, to see how some of the great players do their thing. I’ve been watching the repeats of the 2010 World Series of Poker over the last week or so, and the 2011 WSOP is going on right now which I’m taping too. I think I’ve found a sporting event I actually enjoy watching at home. No Super Bowls or Stanley Cups for me, thanks, but I really get riled up by championship poker on TV. Who knew?

At night after I finish work, I might take twenty or thirty minutes to play online a little, although I simply won’t play for real money on sites, not just because I have better things to do with my money, but also (and especially) because many of them seem to be joined at the hip with crooks. Sorry, ALLEGED crooks. When your money’s not on the line, though, you don’t play as carefully, and that means the game as a whole suffers somewhat. According to most experts, though, you can go from rank novice to mediocre amateur through the experience of playing online even in no-money games such as those found on Facebook or a lot of smartphone marketplaces.

By the way, did you know you can download and install a free software Texas Hold’em app called PokerTH in Fedora? (See, there was a tie-in to Fedora waiting somewhere in this rum-sodden den of iniquity.) The computer engine is pretty awful, an opinion I’m basing purely on the fact that I beat it regularly. I hear that Wilson Software makes one of the best simulation/training programs on the market, although of course it’s only for proprietary operating systems. PokerTH does make it possible to get together with friends and have a network game, though, which is pretty cool. And there is an online server run by the project that has hundreds of games going on at a time too. I sometimes try those out although they tend to favor very fast play which puts novices at a great disadvantage! But still, it’s an experience.

Now granted, none of that has really made me a better player yet. And lest anyone worry, this is a fairly minor obsession for me which centers on exploring the strategy of a game that I totally missed out on in my 20s and 30s. So I’m only inching forward in progress — instead of getting beat all the time, I get beat most of the time.

Still, you have to start somewhere — even when it comes to picking up a new vice.

* By the way, it will be interesting to see if anyone is able to send a substantive comment to this post without it getting flagged by the spam filter. ?


  1. Next step: watching Rounders? 🙂

    I used to have a major poker fascination for a couple years way back. Reading posts like this still gets me riled up to play. PokerTH looks like fun, would be neat to organize a game with a distributed team of people from work or Fedora land.

  2. The more you watch and play the more you’ll figure – poker’s one of the most complex, mentally challenging, and non-luck based games around. Quite a few chess players have moved over to poker – in large part due to the amount of money you can make, admittedly, but it’s certainly difficult enough to challenge them. I love it too. I also love the WSOP on TV mostly because the commentators are fantastic. Aside from that I like Late Night Poker because it’s not much of a gimmick show, they play very long-lasting games, the stakes aren’t very high by the standards of the people on the show, so you get to see really good players playing a pretty relaxed game over a long period. See you at the table next FUDCon…=)

  3. @dgoodwin: I was upset this isn’t available on Netflix streaming! 🙂

    @COD: When I set up one I will DEFINITELY let you know. I may need a table first though.

    @Adam: I’m just now getting to the point in one of my books that includes tutelage on calculating odds, which I expect I’ll be grinding on for a while. I’ve been enjoying the WSOP commentators for 2010 — one of them is more of a “color commentator” and he’s occasionally hilarious. Last night he said something after a bad beat like, “Poker is a totally unrewarding pursuit, and no one should ever play it.”

    Also, to all you guys, I’m already well aware that being invited to a table should NOT be considered a compliment. 😉

  4. “@Adam: I’m just now getting to the point in one of my books that includes tutelage on calculating odds, which I expect I’ll be grinding on for a while.”

    Heh =). That’s one of the big splits in poker: a lot of the newer players are serious math heads; you can get really into calculating odds, and some people play that way almost exclusively, they don’t worry so much about trying to read opponents. Then there’s the more old-school players who barely study the probability side beyond basic rules of thumb and what you learn as ‘common sense’ after playing for a while, and mostly play the game as psychology rather than math. Just one more thing that makes it fascinating, especially when you’ve got players from each school against each other. I tend to go the second way, because it’s less work and more fun, but if I were playing for a career I’d probably go the first way. =)

    Yeah, I love the color commentator guy. For 2010, every time – every single time – he mentioned a player’s college affiliation, he followed it up with “(name of school) – I believe they are the Raging Cajuns”. Even if it was a Belgian university or something. It was one of those things that went from mildly funny, through annoying, to utterly hilarious with repetition.

  5. bochecha

    I’ve never understood how people can enjoy poker. Where is the fun in that game?

    What is more frustrating than losing (or winning!) without even knowing why?

    I mean, people bet, at some point only one of them goes on and others fold, and that’s it, he wins? But why? Did he have a better game? Or did he fooled everyone else?

    Not knowing was killing me everytime I tried to play with some friends. I ended up playing with the following strategy so I wouldn’t be frustrated:
    1. never ever ever fold
    2. that’s it, no other step

    This way:
    – people would absolutely never know whether I was bluffing or not, since I would always go on (by the end of the game, I wouldn’t even bother looking at my cards anymore)
    – I would always get to see the cards of people who would not fold, so I would know why they beat me when they did.

    The problem is that once people understood it, they would get scared and unless they had a really good game, they would fold.

    This turned the game into a pure luck game, which frustrated everyone, and ultimately, I won.

    That day I’ve pissed off some good friends, so to avoid being incredibly frustrated (and for the sake of keeping friends :P) I’ve decided I wouldn’t try to play poker again. 🙂

    1. @Bochecha: I think it’s the combination of luck and skill that makes the game itself enjoyable. But on top of that, the combination of good friends (hopefully), fun conversation as well as trash talk, and hopefully delicious beverages and snacks, enhance the experience. I do agree that playing someone determined to take away the skill aspect against the preferences of the other players would be frustrating.

  6. Casey Dahlin

    as far as TV poker goes, Poker After Dark on NBC is a lot of fun. Its great players, but its very casual, so you get a feel for what entertaining weirdos great players really are.

    Don’t look too closely at the poker chips. Acquiring and collecting sets of chips alone is its own hobby (and probably more expensive).

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