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.
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. 😉