I’ve got a crummy little head cold right now, one that isn’t serious enough to put me under but is enough to keep me from being able to concentrate on anything. I don’t want to spread it around, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. Yesterday I installed myself at fuego’s place to abuse his Internet for a while (and water MaK’s plants). I tried to write, it wasn’t working. I tried to work on Jer’s Novel Writer, but I just didn’t have the patience. I found myself drifting around the Internet, looking for something to entertain me.
Somewhere along the way I stumbled across an online poker place that had a mac.com/patible client. I had seen someone playing online poker in a bar a few days ago, and I was curious. What caught my eye was that you can play for fake money. Aha! thought I, here’s a chance to hone the old poker skills without any monetary risk. Soup Boy’s been talking about having a poker night, so I figured it would be helpful to be in top form.
I ventured over to PokerRoom.com and read up on how the whole thing works. It’s pretty straightforward limit Texas hold’em (there are other games as well, but not for fake money). Finally I entered my vital statistics and joined a table.
Playing poker over the Internet for fake money is not the way to learn the game. I watched, incredulously, as people did the most amazingly stupid things. Case in point: on one hand there were two Queens showing. I had another, and a ten. There were no straight or flush opportunities showing, so I was pretty happy with three queens, but a bit worried about the limited support from the ten. Three other people were bidding up the pot extremely aggressively. I looked again at the cards, to see what I could be missing. One of those players might have the fourth Queen, but what was up with the other two? At the end I saw their cards, then went back over the play-by-play to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. Two players had bid up the pot to the limit based on having a pair of queens. The hand showing on the table. I wanted to smack them upside the head and say, “Hey! Did it occur to either of you that with all these people betting, someone might have more than the minimum possible hand?“
In the above account, an astute Texas Hold’em player wold ask, “But Jerry, why did you even play a queen-ten?” Indeed, I shouldn’t have, and I paid the price. I lost to three queens and a king. It’s just that when there’s so much “stupid money” on the table, sometimes you lose perspective. After that hand I reminded myself to be patient, to be the shark swimming deep under the silly people splashing above, and wait for my moment to strike. At one point someone else at the table noticed I had folded several times in a row, and posted a message, “When you play a hand, I’m folding for sure!” I played, he had a good hand, he stayed in, and I won. That guy was fun to have around, though. At least what he did made sense, in a loose and carefree kind of way.
I saw people do silly things over and over. People betting to the limit on a king high, with other people also betting enthusiastically. When four cards of the same suit are showing, people betting when they have less than a flush. People staying in the game when the junk in their hand should have been folded before it was even dealt. I folded far more often than anyone else, and I while sitting out I would watch the others play, hoping to pick up the patterns of my opponents, to try to learn what to watch for as the cards played out. There was no pattern. I would try to predict what people had before they showed their cards, but it’s tough to do when people who have no chance of winning continue to throw in chips. Time and again I would say to myself, watching two people run up the pot, the rest of the table blindly following, “Man, the one with the jack is going to be bummed when he finds out the other has a queen. I don’t know what the rest of these guys are thinking,” only to find out that the people raising and re-raising were not the ones holding the good cards.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Poker, at it’s heart, is a game based on greed. You want to take everyone else’s money away. I imagined that in the fake-money tables greed would be replaced by pride, but apparently the game is so well-focussed on pure greed that nothing else can ever replace it. Poker for play money, especially in the anonymous world of Internet poker, is not poker at all; it’s people throwing chips at each other. I wondered more than once if they were even looking at their cards.
I guess I’ll have to get my poker lesson somewhere else.