Poker makes a comeback
October 23, 2003 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Poker Redux: Poker is sweeping America (and other countries as well). From million dollar online Texas Hold 'Em tournaments to the weekend nickel, dime, quarter games with friends to the World Poker Tour (heavily promoted on the Travel Channel), poker is forcing itself into the spotlight. [more inside]
posted by hawkman (19 comments total)
Ever since amateur Chris Moneymaker won more than $2 million in the World Series of Poker on a $40 online tournament satellite entry fee, teeming masses of inexperienced players have been jamming up online poker sites like Party Poker (warning: crazy javascript), Pokerstars and Paradise Poker. There are literally millions of other poker-related Web sites out there.

Some folks, like this guy, are pretty excited about the influx of fresh meat into the online poker community (and happily taking their money on a nightly basis). Despite it's roots in illegal backroom games and Old West saloons, it's becoming pretty apparent that the advent of the Internet and online (though offshore) casinos has revolutionized the poker world. This former police officer is even trying to get poker classified as a game of skill rather than chance.

The number of books written about poker has exploded in the last few years, from Doyle Brunson's Super System to James McManus' tale of his journey to the WSOP final table, Positively Fifth Street, and many, many others.

Some researchers are even using game theory culled from the highly advanced mathematical theories of John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) to build highly intelligent, realistic computer opponents. It's a pretty cool Ph.D. thesis subject for all of you math majors out there.

Why are so many people taking up poker as a hobby (or even a career)? Is it the lure of the rags-to-riches story of a guy like Moneymaker? Is it the fact that poker isn't based on casino odds, but on the weaknesses of your opponents? Or is it because it's just plain fun?
posted by hawkman at 12:40 PM on October 23, 2003

This is an interesting subject for a post -- I wasn't even aware that poker had faded into obscurity in the first place -- and with better links it could'a been a contendah. But does it have to be so huge?
posted by majick at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2003

Thx for fixing my post, even though it apparently took the site down for a few minutes.

My bad.

(bows humbly to matthowie)
posted by hawkman at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2003

Hawkman, excellent FPP! I just bought Posititively Fifth Street and am digging it. I find Poker (cards, really) pretty fascinating, though I'm not much of a gambler. My addictive personality forces me to NOT become involved.
posted by dobbs at 1:14 PM on October 23, 2003

That was your fault, hawkman??

Ban him! Ban him, I say! At one point I got a 404 instead of the usual 'could not connect' page and I thought that Matt had finally had enough and pulled the plug.

*sighs deeply with relief, wipes sweat off brow*
posted by widdershins at 1:16 PM on October 23, 2003

My younger brother plays Texas Hold 'Em with his college buddies. He recently entered a contest at some Indian reservation (he's not 21 yet, so he can't go to casinos). He won 3rd place - $1300, enough to buy his own parachute for skydiving.
posted by starvingartist at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2003

Thank you, ESPN2, for convincing me that there really is something more boring to watch on sports television than golf. Poker, as a spectator sport ... not so much.

Great post, BTW.
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:39 PM on October 23, 2003

My addictive personality forces me to NOT become involved.

How long have you had this compulsion to not gamble?
posted by stbalbach at 1:47 PM on October 23, 2003

I play low stakes hold 'em a couple times a month with friends. Its quite a good time, and I'd highly recommend it. If you live in or are dropping by Eugene, OR, USA let me know and I'll see if I can bring you in on a game. :)
posted by woil at 1:47 PM on October 23, 2003

Thank you, ESPN2, for convincing me that there really is something more boring to watch on sports television than golf. Poker, as a spectator sport ... not so much.

My dad and I will actually sit back and watch the World Series of Poker sometimes. He plays for good chunks of change every month and I just play for fun, but watching those guys play really had helped both of our Poker games (though, I'de take a game of suicide spades over poker any day...)
posted by jmd82 at 1:50 PM on October 23, 2003

50 lashes with a wet noodle will suffice. No ban is necessary. Lesson learned. :)

Hold 'Em is a total blast. I play in a monthly $.50/$1 game with a bunch of friends, which is how I was exposed to the game. I still routinely donate my $50 buy-in, but have discovered a whole new world I never knew existed.

I'm definitely no poker expert, but have found the concepts behind game theory and strategies involved in poker simply fascinating.

Despite your addictive nature, dobbs, you may enjoy playing for free.

All of the online poker sites have play money tables, which are an excellent way to get your bearings if you haven't played much or hone your skills if you're a little rusty. Of course, their main function is to get you to deposit money and play on the money tables.

The betting is much more aggressive in the play games (because it isn't your money), but gives you a thrill similar to that of winning a real hand without any financial investment.

I would definitely recommend hitting the play tables and reading a couple of books before you jump in and start playing for real.

Playing is a lot more fun than watching on TV, that's for sure. But I enjoy the mind games the top tournament players unleash on their opponents. It's really interesting viewing if you can stomach all of the ugly people.
posted by hawkman at 1:54 PM on October 23, 2003

Great Post! I'm somewhat new to the poker explosion, and I love it.

I started on the play money tables at paradise, and after having racked up 10,000 play dollars, one of my friends bought in at partypoker. After making sure that he was able to get his money back, a bunch of us started playing, and man is it fun.

I play low limit hold'em, omaha/8 and stud/8, and just find it fascinating. As I've progressed in skill, I've found myself learning so much more about math, game theory, myself and other people, and it seems there's a deep well of information left to explore.

I used to say that you don't know a man until you've played golf with him. On the golf course you learn how a person makes a decisions, how they handle success and failure, and what they do in the face of adversity. The same traits become apparent when playing poker, both in yourself and others.

I wholeheartedly recommend that anybody interested in learning the game try out the play money tables at paradisepoker, partypoker, or any of them, really. It's fun, and it's risk-free. Well, except for the risk that you'll decide to deposit real money, anyway!
posted by mosch at 2:08 PM on October 23, 2003

If you are interested in poka on the TV, check out the World Poker Tour broadcasts on the Travel channel. Their coverage is waaay better than ESPN's.

And if you're a newbie who wants to get started with tha holdem, DON'T learn on the play money tables. Play money is nothing like the real thing and you'll learn plenty of bad/stupid habits. has frequent tourneys that have a 1 dollar entry fee, which is more than reasonable if you want to learn. It's very entertaining - just expect to spend 5 or 6 hours of your time if you want to make it to the final table...

Of course, you're still going to see some bad play when only one dollar is on the line, but a one dollar tourney is a far better idea than playing with fake money. If you don't want to spend any money at all, then watch a real money table to see how people play. I can't say this enough, fake money tables are a waste of time and do more harm than good.
posted by L. Ron McKenzie at 2:37 PM on October 23, 2003

Any other Magic players here will testify that Hold 'Em has become the time-killer of choice at tournaments. Except that we play for crap rare cards instead of cash.
posted by patgas at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2003

I wasn't even aware that poker had faded into obscurity in the first place

I don't think it did. It's just getting more media attention now. For instance, McManus cites in his book that between 60 and 80 million Americans play poker. I'm guessing most of that is informal games at home with a few friends for low stakes, but still.

(Look at that - a link to a page in a book. Outstanding, Amazon!)
posted by pitchblende at 5:22 PM on October 23, 2003

Though I am FAR from an expert (or even a moderately skilled novice), I recommend Doyle Brunson's Super System as THE book to get if you are serious about your poker. Although it's been around long enough that just about every good player has faced someone who plays by Brunson's recommended methods, dipping into this volume and applying it to your weekly card game will help you win your beer money back.

I dig watching the WSOP on The Travel Channel. I work nights, so there isn't much else on TV when I get home.

I was intrigued by comments Moneymaker made after winning. He said playing online helped him immensely because he learned NOT to try to read tells -- by operating solely on the hard info available (chip count, up cards, the betting tendencies of the other players) he was able to screen out the disinformation the other players were throwing his way. That's a pretty radical approach.

Poker is a perfect example of the old saw, "You make your own luck". Luck can beat skill, but balls will beat luck over the long haul.

Me, I'm just waitin' for an ace on the river....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:25 PM on October 23, 2003

Some researchers are even using game theory culled from the highly advanced mathematical theories of John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) to build highly intelligent, realistic computer opponents.

Most of the insights that game theory can bring to the party are likely going to be pretty banal once you strip the math frippery from the core logic.

You want to make what inferences you can from the other players' behavior. And you want to behave randomly enough that other players have a hard time drawing inferences from your behavior. Google on signaling games for more stuff.

The usual way people do this is by trying not to signal at all -- to be, well, poker-faced and not to change your expression or demeanor with respect to your hand. The ultimate version of this is a Damage player who had his face replaced by a metal mask in Consider Phlebas.

But another way to accomplish the same goal is signal-jamming -- keep engaging in wild, outlandish, obvious behavior, but behavior that's not connected to your hand. Look at your new hand and drool quietly. Or start masturbating. Or keep twitching and shouting obsceniies the whole time. Or start doing Python routines. Anything, so long as your behavior is sufficiently random. With a bit of luck, it'll also be so disconcerting that other players will let you win so that they can leave. There's a mention of theTleilaxu making someone like this in the Dune Encyclopedia, IIRC.

This is one reason why I don't play poker -- I don't think I'd be invited back.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:40 PM on October 23, 2003

Interesting post. I've been reading about poker quite a bit lately. I'm still not playing so I am probably completely wrong about the following...

Slansky's Theory of Poker or Jones ' Winning Low Limit Poker would be considered the canonical texts for beginning players.


I would think the signals that most poker players would pay the most attention to is what decisions you've made on past hands rather than tells. Also,

With a bit of luck, it'll also be so disconcerting that other players will let you win so that they can leave.

You've won but they've taken the remainder of their money home when they left. So maybe you could come up with random attractive behavior rather than random disgusting behavior?

If you looking for a purer game theoretic approach to poker check out Daphne Koller's research.
posted by rdr at 8:19 PM on October 23, 2003

I just did the graphics for a poker analysis applet that my old friend Rob did. He wanted to get into Java and it was a natural thing for him -- he plays poker all the time online and ( I am absolutely clueless about the game or forms of poker: holdem etc etc ) he wins some nice pockets of cash in little tournaments. An interesting post...kinda taps into my recent experience.

I stopped by Rob's place in NY that he just vacated before leaving for Taiwan for a month, and he had 3 screens open with various online tournaments listed on each, a few clicks and I was witnessing these names and numbers right over these 3D tables and humorous looking avatars/icons/player representations
posted by RubberHen at 10:46 PM on October 23, 2003

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