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“Why Do We Play Poker?” by Alan25main

September 15, 2021

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So, what’s the real reason why we play poker? Alan25main discusses several poker settings, and what they all have in common.

At any given moment, there are almost certainly several million people around the world playing poker. Of course, there are a lot more people just sleeping or working, but we can ignore them for now, while we look just at the players.  

Some fraction of them are playing in casinos, clubs, or card rooms. If you walked into one of those places, you’d immediately recognize the sound of clinking chips or coins, the quiet ruffling of cards being shuffled, the laughter or groaning of the winners and losers, even if you weren’t sure what they were playing. You might hear a few curses or shouts of triumph, too. 

“Official” cardrooms will usually provide the equipment – a reliable location, tables, chairs, dealers, cards, runners for drinks, et cetera, and some protection from the weather – and oversee the games to be sure the house’s rules are complied with.

Why would they do that? For money, of course. They don’t care who wins or loses, they just want to continue producing the rake that keeps them in business. It’s to their advantage that the games be honest, so they work at keeping everything as open and fair as they can. If you want to become an unemployable nobody in Las Vegas, just get caught cheating once; it won’t happen a second time.

“Unofficial” cardrooms generally try to provide as much security and safety as the official ones, but lack the legal right to enforce the rules equally. Note that this doesn’t mean they aren’t enforced at all, just that the enforcement tends to be more selective and personal.

For example, if you get caught with an Ace up your sleeve at the Mirage, they aren’t likely to send five big guys to beat you up; at “Fat Joey’s” in the cellar of Harry’s Bar and Grill, that might not be the case. But, it could be the best game in town.

“Amateur” cardrooms abound. You can find them in many hotels, on cruise ships, inside most fraternal organizations’ clubhouses, in fancy homes, and in back rooms behind all sorts of businesses. The main difference is that while they may have the space and equipment, they almost never have the trained personnel you’d find in an official venue. There’s no floor man to settle disputes, no official dealer to guard the house’s interests because there is no house. This is the world most older players who grew up without legal poker were raised in. Yes, it was sort of Wild West-ish.

There are also “home games,” usually played among friends and relatives. Often played at the dinner table, often lacking chips–using cash, in other words–or house rake since there is no “house,” with each player dealing his or her favorite game.

The main advantage to these is that the betting is likely to be low cost and the rules are enforced by the social pressure of potential embarrassment for unfair or dishonest play. No one wants Aunt Sue angry because she caught them dealing seconds–she’d tell Uncle Tony who’d beat the heck out of you. No, that wouldn’t do, at all, would it?

What do they all have in common beside involving cards and money? They’re all social occasions disguised as poker games.

A lot of the players attend because they enjoy being with the other players. If they lose a little, that loss is out-weighed by the sense of belonging they feel by being part of the group. When it comes to on-line poker for imaginary chips, the stakes don’t really mean much compared to that sense of belonging, do they? That’s why we all play.