The Perils & Pitfalls of Poker – don’t even go there?

Gambling as an addiction is a major if not increasing problem in the UK and poker is up there pretty close to the top of the problem gamblers pile. Now, many people in the UK play the National Lottery [and don’t even realise that they are gambling!], or can have a flutter now and again as a bit of fun and it plays no major part in their lives – say like having a bet on the Grand National, yet know nothing about horse racing and simply pick a name that strikes their fancy, eh? Others of course are not so casual in their approach to gambling and develop an uncontrollable dependence that destroys their lives and the lives of their families

Gambling is all about decision making and risk taking which is an innate part of mankind with some kind of biological basis – though risk seeking apparently tends to become less attractive as we age [wisdom replacing the recklessness of youth, perhaps?].

The thing is that betting, gaming, gambling or whatever you name it, is actually about playing a game of ‘chance’ which needs to be enjoyed solely as a social activity, while recognising that the excitement of winning (or losing!) is merely transient. That very fact is the root of the problem for those in society who are illusional and don’t fully appreciate the reality that chance cannot be controlled, so believe that they are somehow ‘lucky’ or smart individuals who can beat the odds – dream-on you problem gamblers!

ALL of us who have a bet regularly, or even like most just ‘now and again’, remember well the wins (however small) and selective forget the loses (however GREAT). The unfortunate truth is that those who achieve a relatively BIG win early on, in any form of gambling are more likely to keep on betting, despite heavy loses and indebtedness, as they become mentally convinced that the jackpot is within their imminent grasp and somehow they falsely believe that the string of failures is bound to reverse, when in reality the chance of a win has not altered, has it?

[No – for example, if you are rolling a dice and throw five 1s, then the odds of the next throw being a 6 (or even a 1) remains UNCHANGED (mathematically the same probability of 1/6), however lucky the player might feel, eh?]

Bookmakers, casinos, slot- machine operatives, and the like, are all of course well aware of the ‘early-win’ bounce influence on gamblers’ subsequent betting, and that is exactly why you will find that artificially you are a very “lucky” punter when you initially set out but then go rapidly downhill thereafter when actually applied the true chance factor kicks-in. Moreover, lottery operators ensure that the public have a good chance of a so-called WIN by having a multitude of so-called ‘prizes’ of a free go (which means NO money whatsoever is lost from their income fund), or the prize is simply the return of the stake money – so players ‘think’ they are ‘winners’ when that is a glaring travesty of the truth, and this is simply a ploy to mislead people regarding the true chances of winning [should be illegal?]

[For example, we are being misled by advertising that boasts a 9 to 1 chance of winning a prize in the National Lottery, because that is mostly a free ticket and the reality-check reveals that the jackpot chance is over 45 million to 1 (made 3-fold worse since 2015 by the Operators extending the number range), or for the EuroMillions jackpot it is nearly 140 million to 1 – so the odds are stacked against us, aren’t they?]

Gambling can become an addiction exactly in the same manner as illegal drug abuse, and that occurs in both situations when a mental dependence develops – with drugs it is chasing the high previously experienced (which never comes), and with betting it is the striving for the reward of the BIG win (which never comes) that will make all troubles disappear – indeed troubles for those that often reach a state of distress brought on by their earlier failed gambling, probably?

Coming then to the game of poker itself, which it has to be said the majority of people in Britain know zilch about. Well, gaming companies have over the past twenty years have put poker online and have used the power of the internet to generate a massive cash-cow. The older generation will know from watching Westerns that gambling on games of chance played the major role of entertainment in the wild west, so everyone from cowboys to lawmen ‘played’ and poker was a big part of all that.

People ought to be aware though, that past ‘committed’ poker players have faced some risk – as the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, lawman and avid gambler, found out by unwisely joining a poker game in a Deadwood saloon, when the fact that he took the only seat available (despite it being NOT ‘against the wall’ so against his personal safety rule), meant he was shot from behind by a killer who was able to get the drop on him

 Dead man’s hand: said to have been held by the murdered Hickok is a nickname for a particular poker hand, of a two-pair of black aces and black eights

Well with poker, those who seriously play it, those who are hooked on it, or particularly those earning a livelihood by it (or trying to), are living the dream that it is NOT really a game of chance but oppositely that it is a game of pure skill (which they possess?) – for them you see that fully justifies their committed involvement, doesn’t it?

There is not such a simplistic thing though as a ‘game of poker’, and that is because there are many variations of it, which have been around for some hundred years or so (mostly down to America). Nevertheless, the ‘chance’ element in all versions is indeed altered somewhat by the intellectual ability and wider experience of the individual player – that is where the false justification is thrown-in that it is a game of skill, isn’t it?

[The three most popular poker variants are Draw poker (a complete hidden hand improved by replacing cards), Stud poker (a combination of face-up cards and face-down cards in multiple betting rounds), Community card poker (incomplete hidden hand combined with shared face-up cards)]

You see, those playing in a poker game have constantly work out the potential value of the hand they hold at any particular time (based on its odds of being a winner), against their perception of the strength of the other payers’ hands. That is compounded with a strategy of fooling the others about what kind of hand they hold while making unquantifiable personable judgements on what cards the other players are holding – hence the well-known term ‘poker-faced’ which is used to describe a person’s demeanour whereby their face doesn’t show what they are thinking or feeling [inscrutable, deadpan, impassive].

A key skill supposedly employed by a successful poker player is the one of deception, whereby bluffing, semi-bluffing, and double-bluffing is at the forefront of play, with the objective of throwing the opposition off their play strategy – that can take the form of steadfastly betting high despite holding a poor hand to induce opponents to fold potentially much better hands, or alternatively betting hesitantly and weakly when holding a superior hand, to induce the others players with weaker hands to carry on betting instead of folding, and so increase the eventual pay-out

While young novice players ought to be discouraged by the ‘claimed’ relatively skilled nature of poker, nevertheless it is indeed a potentially destructive gambling activity that is better suited to a generation that has yet to assume the normal responsibilities of life [meaning young, no dependents, nor big demands on their time]. Those of us who have come across a pro poker player actually doing it for a living, will know that it provides a roller-coaster ride for their whole family – rags to riches, well off to poor, happiness to misery, in a never-ending reversing cycle?

Oh yes, some can make a living gambling as a professional poker player these days and ninety-five percent of them are single and young (under 30). Those who do so have to be extremely dedicated, more knowledgeable than most other players, fully understand the odds involved, and have time energy and space in spades – then and only then can the gambling odds be turned in favour of decent profit (over time!).

It is difficult for us non poker players to believe those that claim that in the long run, poker is actually a skill game can really be telling the truth, when the bulk of them (75 million?) are these days playing online poker [you see, casinos and other brick & mortar venues just can’t make enough profit from only rake or time charge}, so there is no practical possibility of employing the skill subterfuges that ‘might’ apply in a live poker table game, is there?


[The young, in particular, need to be aware of the lure of the game, as poker can easily become a fascination leading to obsession, and subsequent addiction with devastating effect on lives – so perhaps it is best restricted to a fun activity played for low value stakes?

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