What is Poker All About?

What is Poker All About?Many people, new to poker and already hooked alike, tend to have a ‘wrong’ perception of what poker is all about. In view of the complexity of the game and the reputation it has had in the past this is not a surprising observation. Some think poker is all about bluffing, others think it is all about luck. Some might still see poker as a gambling game played by suspect people in obscure basements filled with cigarette smoke and lit by flickering lights. Others might perceive poker as an easy way to make a fortune, ’cause ‘hey, that guy on TV could do it too, right?’

Although poker for one person might not be what it is all about for the other and hence there won’t be a ‘correct’ answer to the question posed, this article will give you more insight into what poker could be all about.

Decisions

Poker is a game of decisions. And the better the decisions you make are, the higher will be the likelihood of you ending up as a winner. Therefore playing winning poker is all about making as many of the most correct decisions as possible and at the same time inducing mistakes by your opponents. David Sklansky, a well know poker author (-ity), defined a mistake in poker as making a different decision than you would have made had you known the exact cards of your opponent.

However, even if you would know the exact cards of your opponent it won’t always be clear what exactly ‘the’ correct decision is. Besides his or her cards, you also have incomplete information about your opponent’s reaction to your decision. Therefore a mistake in poker would be making a different decision than you would have made if you had known the exact cards and the exact reaction of your opponent; a different play than the ‘optimal play’.

A game of skill

Sometimes the optimal play is merely a mathematical exercise such as calling all-in on a draw with the correct odds to do so.

Other times the optimal play will be a matter of narrowing down your opponent’s range of hands as much as possible based on the cards that are exposed, his reaction to your decisions earlier in the hand and/or your opponents betting pattern as well as a matter of anticipating on his or her reaction based on everything you know about this person.

And this is the element of skill in poker.

To come as close as possible to the optimal play with every decision you make takes a lot of discipline and patience, guts sometimes. It’s an art. And they say it takes a lifetime to master.

A game of chance

Sometimes the optimal play might result in you getting some or all of your money in the pot while being ahead in the hand. However, if there are cards left to be dealt your opponent might still be able to improve to the better hand, or ‘suck out on you’ as it is so eloquently called.

Other times you get dealt a great hand only to be beaten by a very unlikely better hand of your opponent.

And that’s the element of chance in poker.

An element of the game you can’t control and sometimes is the determining factor. It can make the seasoned professional lose from the beginner; make the optimal play result in a total loss.

A game of skill and chance

There is and always will be a discussion as to whether poker should be viewed as a game of chance or as a game of skill. Certainly with regards to poker legislation (paying taxes) it often comes down to this question. Both elements, skill and chance, are clearly represented in poker. But which one has the upper hand? Isn’t it possible to diminish the influence of chance on the end result with skill and playing style? Surely the influence of chance on results will be bigger for someone completely void of any understanding of poker than for the professional player? And bigger for someone taking the smallest edges than for someone playing more conservative? And how does it compare to for instance stock trading and starting a business? There might be many stock traders out there relying more on chance and having more ‘gamble in them’ than a lot of poker players.

Today’s poker

Poker today is as accessible as it can be. Millions of people play poker, either live or over the internet. And it is brought to many more by TV. Obscure? Maybe in the sense that some of these poker players are clicking hours on end with their pajamas still on and the curtains still closed while other people are enjoying a sunny afternoon.

So what is poker all about?

Is it all about money? The money certainly adds excitement and emotion to the game. If you think poker is all about money, then you probably would want to win as much as possible. And isn’t the only thing you can do to achieve this trying to make the best decisions as often as possible? About bluffing then? In view of the above, bluffing is nothing more than a tool to make the optimal play and/or inducing mistakes from your opponents, now or in future hands. What about luck? Sure, luck is part of the game. But how can a game that takes a lifetime to master be all about luck?

Great Britain as a fruit machine

Great Britain as a fruit machineGambling device operated by dropping one or more coins or tokens into a slot and pulling a handle or pushing a button to activate one to three or more reels marked into horizontal segments by varying symbols. The machine pays off by dropping into a cup or trough from two to all the coins in the machine, depending on how and how many of the symbols line up when the rotating reels come to rest. Symbols traditionally used include stars, card suits, bars, numbers (7 is a favourite), various pictured fruits—cherries, plums, oranges, lemons, and watermelons—and the words jackpot and bar.

The term slot machine (short for nickel-in-the-slot machine) was originally also used for automatic vending machines but in the 20th century came to refer almost exclusively to gambling devices. The first coin-operated gambling devices in the United States date to the 1880s, although they were actually mere novelties—such as two toy horses that would race after a coin was inserted in the machine—rather than direct gambling machines. Set on a bar in a saloon or similar establishment, such devices attracted wagering between patrons.

With most machines, however, the proprietor paid off winning customers in drinks or cigars or sometimes in the form of trade checks (specially minted metal tokens) that could be exchanged for refreshments. By 1888 machines that paid off in coins were in existence. In the first ones, inserted coins fell onto an internal balance scale, where they might cause it to tip and spill other coins out; among later devices were ones with a circular display and a spinning indicator that came to rest on or pointed to a number, a colour, or a picture.

The first slot machines in the modern sense were invented by Bavarian-born American inventor Charles August Fey, at the time a mechanic in San Francisco, who built his first coin-operated gambling machine in 1894. The following year Fey built the 4-11-44 in his basement; it proved so successful at a local saloon that he soon quit his job and opened a factory to produce more units. In 1898 Fey built the Card Bell, the first three-reel slot machine with automatic cash payouts.

The Card Bell had a handle that set the reels in motion when it was pushed down and playing card suitmarks that lined up to form poker hands. His next slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was built in 1899 and used horseshoes and bells as well as playing card suitmarks on the reels. Three bells lined up in a row meant the top payout. Chiefly because of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, only 4 of more than 100 Liberty Bell machines built by Fey survive. The Liberty Bell proved immensely popular among saloon patrons in San Francisco and was quickly copied by Fey’s competitors, such as the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago.

Forces of morality and the clergy, and then of law, frequently opposed the operation of slot machines. By the time San Francisco banned them in 1909, there were some 3,300 slot machines in the city. In order to circumvent the law, Fey and his competitors built machines with no coin slots in which purchase and payout (perhaps in drinks and cigars) occurred surreptitiously across a saloon counter. Soon most slot-machine factories relocated, especially to Chicago.

The ubiquitous reel symbols of various fruits were first used in 1909 by the Industry Novelty Company. In an effort to circumvent legal restrictions on slot machines, the company called its machines chewing gum dispensers, replaced suitmarks on the reels with fruit symbols that suggested various flavours of chewing gum, and built a few machines that really did dispense gum. The idea was copied in the following year by the Mills Novelty Company, which added on their reels a picture of a chewing gum pack (soon stylized as the well-known “bar” symbol). The Mills Novelty Company also invented the “jackpot” in 1916, whereby certain combinations of symbols on the reels regurgitated all the coins in the machine.

During the 1920s the machines were popular throughout much of the United States, especially in resort areas, and they continued to be popular into the Great Depression years of the ’30s. But knowledge that the distribution of slot machines was often controlled by organized crime led to increasing legislation restricting their sale and transportation as well as their use except in private social clubs. Prohibition outside Nevada, which had relegalized gambling in 1931, was virtually total by 1951, although illegal operation, especially in private clubs, was widely ignored.

After World War II the machines came into worldwide use as governments were drawn by the prospect of tax revenue. (In 1988 slot machines were permitted in French casinos, ending a 50-year ban.) In the 1950s electromechanical slot machines allowed many new payout schemes, such as 3- and 5-coin multipliers, where the sizes of the payouts are proportional to the number of coins inserted before the handle is pulled. Video slot machines, which simulate reels on a monitor, were introduced in Las Vegas in 1975.

Such machines have had limited success; for the slot-machine addict, the action of pulling the handle, the sound of the reels falling into line, and most of all the jangle of cascading coins are essential parts of the attraction. In 1986 electronic systems were introduced to link numerous slot machines in different locations and thereby allow a fraction of each inserted coin to go into a shared “super jackpot,” which may reach an extremely large size before it is won; for example, in 2003 a Las Vegas slot machine paid out nearly $40 million.

Modern slot machines contain solid-state electronics that can be set for any desired frequency of payouts. Thus, the house advantage varies widely between about 1 and 50 percent depending on circumstances, such as legal requirements and competition from other casinos. Slot machines are by far the largest profit generator for nearly every casino, averaging 30 to 50 percent or even more of total revenue. Nevada alone has roughly 200,000 slot machines.

As gambling laws were relaxed at the end of the 20th century to allow legal gambling on Native American reservations and to expand the revenue-generating options of many U.S. states, the number of electronic gaming machines (which came to include video poker machines as well as modern slot machines) grew significantly. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, more than 830,000 electronic gaming machines were operating in the United States, and the capital generated from these devices rose from 40 percent of total casino revenues in 1970 to approximately 70 percent in 2010.

In the early 21st century, casino operators feared that the popularity of physical slot machines in brick-and-mortar casinos would be threatened by the sudden rise of online casinos, in which customers deposited money to make wagers and played various games of chance using personal computers. Competition from online sites, however, had been intermittent since the advent of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which prohibited U.S. banks and financial institutions from doing business with online gambling companies. While physical slot machines had been legal only in state-sanctioned casinos, by 2013 some local governments within the state of Illinois had allowed bars and restaurants within their jurisdictions to offer slot machines and other electronic gaming machines to their patrons.

What Happens at Cockfights

What Happens at CockfightsCockfights are usually held in round or square enclosures called “cockpits” or simply “pits.” One eyewitness described a fight this way: “With neck feathers fanned and wings whirring, the birds jump and parry at each other. They kick and duel in mid-air, striking at each other with feet and beak.”

If the fighting wanes, handlers pick up the birds and blow on their backs, yank at their beaks, or hold them beak-to-beak in an attempt to work them back into a frenzy. The birds are then put back in the pits, and the fight doesn’t end until one rooster is dead or nearly dead. “Losing” birds are often discarded in a barrel or trashcan near the game pit, even if they’re still alive.

The Criminal Connection

In addition to cruelty to animals, cockfighting is often linked to other crimes, such as illegal gambling, robbery, drug use or selling, and even murder—for instance, a triple homicide occurred at a Texas cockfight. Children are often present at cockfights, and exposure to such violence can promote insensitivity to suffering and an enthusiasm for bloodshed.

“If you’ve got a clandestine operation going somewhere, where there’s some money involved, you’re going to have people of questionable morality show up, try to peddle their wares, like some dope or something. Occasionally you’ll hear where masked men come in with guns and they rob people, because they know, who’s going to call the cops on them?”

Disease Threat

According to international health experts, including the World Health Organization, cockfighting has been linked to the spread of the highly lethal bird flu virus from birds to humans through contact with blood and feces.

The Washington Post reported that at one cockfight, bird “owners scrubbed the blood off their birds with bare hands … [t]hen … stitched the wounds around their eyes,” and that “sometimes … the injuries are so severe that owners relieve the swelling by sucking out the blood by mouth.”

If you suspect that this illegal activity is happening in your neighborhood, please contact local law enforcement authorities.