Who would’ve ever imagined poker becoming a spectator sport? Nobody playing in the regular Saturday night game at my house ever had such a thought. But over the decades, technologies came together in a cyber storm that made it so.
The central catalyst was the imbedded popularity of the game. Like baseball and apple pie, poker was — and is — part of American fabric.
My dad taught me using toothpicks for chips. Way before television entered the house, we listened to radio programs while playing cards at our kitchen table.
Mom liked canasta, but Dad and I preferred poker. I don’t know why it wasn’t Mom’s favorite also because she typically beat the tar (toothpicks) out of both of us.
Fast-forward 60 years with poker a huge sport as measured by the numbers of spectators and piles of money attracted to the activity. However, poker has one very distinct personal advantage over all other spectator sports making it unique.
Spectators watch professional sports with the sure and certain knowledge they personally couldn’t compete against those players on fields, courts or tables. That’s untrue of poker.
Poker successes are a blend of skill and luck. Every successful tournament player will concede that any win requires some random lightning strikes of pure, unadulterated luck.
That marriage of skill and luck is exactly why the game is so attractive to millions of laymen like me. I can compete here but not in any other professional sport.
So that’s why I trek to Las Vegas every year for the World Series of Poker. Last week, they posted the 2013 tournament schedule so I have my exact date and am ready to register.
I go to this annual thing because it’s such a total hoot. I harbor no expectations of winning a single dime. But I’m a member of a mathematical universe that grants me some tiny chance of winning a pile of dimes, so don’t confuse me with a Don Quixote vainly battling decks of windmills.
Naturally some level of skill is needed. At the very least you should know what hands beat which hands. Also you should have some acquaintance with basic strategies like the role of table position relative to blinds.
In truth, the best gambling asset is common sense. Do you remember "common sense?" It’s very much alive and thriving at poker tables.
The World Series of Poker consists of 62 separate tournaments of various games. I play the "Seniors Event," which is the largest single-day start tournament. The entry fee of $1,000 is modest by WSOP standards and worth every shekel for the experience.
This year, there’ll be more than 4,000 players in "my" dance, all of whom are 50 or older. There’s not much mouthy drama and few earrings except those worn by ladies.
Oh yeah, don’t be shocked that females play tournament poker. In fact, a lady won this very event last year.
That’s not surprising. Women generally have an edge over men in the "good sense" department. At least that’s true where I live.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.