If you play idn poker regularly, and you understand the game exactly as it is, you probably know that there are misconceptions among people with no direct experience. You’ve probably heard many of these erroneous viewpoints. If you are like me, you spend a fair amount of time explaining to uninformed people precisely what the game is and what it is not. For the benefit of all, this article will clear up some of the more common misconceptions.
Conversely, if you never play poker, and your entire experience of the game is what you read in print and see in movies, you probably have many wrong ideas. That is to be expected. Please, allow me to enlighten you on a few points.
1. Poker is not casual. Many people think of the game as a mellow social pastime, where friends sit around drinking, laughing and whooping it up. In fact, there is nothing friendly about poker. You can be cordial with others at your table (and you should be), but the game itself is vicious. Played properly, it is a form of warfare. It is an aggressive battle for domination. I think of poker as “violence, without the violence.”
2. A poker face is not the main requirement to play. I cannot tell you how often I hear this misconception. Nearly every time I mention poker to someone whose only exposure to the game is the media, I hear some lame comment like, “Oh, you must have a good poker face.” No, a poker face, a steely-eyed gaze, is not the essence of skillful play. True, you do not want to be sending tells to your opponents, but the so-called poker face is widely misunderstood. The ability to create a poker face does not make you a good player. Consider this: When you play on the Internet, everyone has a poker face.
3. Winning at poker is not easy. Blame television for this one. You generally see only the winners on television. Those who win get the most exposure and are most often featured. The final table in a tournament, for example, is comprised solely of players who are winners. Very little attention is paid to those who lose, say nothing of the vast majority who bust out of tournaments without fanfare. Playing well takes a huge amount of study, discipline and practice. Succeeding at the game is far from automatic.
4. Women can play. The idea that poker is exclusively a man’s game is another falsehood. Years ago, many well-known authors wrote that women do not have the killer instinct necessary to play well. Time has proven that theory wrong. Nowadays, women compete at every level, and plenty of skilled women win in cash games and tournaments. The idea that poker is a man’s game is laughable these days, and I wouldn’t have included it among common misconceptions were it not for the fact that many still believe it.
5. Poker is not a game of mathematics. In blackjack, for example, you always have one best move at any moment. Your task is to determine what that move is. If you have 13 and the dealer is showing an ace, then you should hit. That is always true, no matter who is seated at the table or what they are doing. Poker is different. You must take other players into account, and the mathematically preferable move may not be wise. Top caliber players often debate what is the best move in a particular situation. Poker cannot be reduced to mathematics because there are too many human factors.
6. Poker is a not game of luck. This is perhaps the most common misconception, and it is dead wrong. Luck averages out. Over time, all players receive the same percentage of good hands and bad hands. The difference is what players do with those hands. A good player will maximize the amount won with good hands and minimize the amount lost with bad hands. The key element that separates winners from losers, over time, is not the cards dealt, but the decisions made. Stu Unger, three-time World Series of Poker champion, put it this way: “In cards, the luck always balances out. The good players are going to win. Any player that thinks card playing is a game of luck, I’ll show you a fool. That’s what the losers always say. The winners don’t worry about the short term; we play for the long term.”
7. Cheating is not rampant. The prevalence of cheating is another incorrect impression held by many. In private backroom games, cheating does happen occasionally. But in modern casino cardrooms and high-profile tournaments, where most of today’s professionals play, cheating is virtually nonexistent. (Online, however, is a different story. It is possible to cheat when playing on the Internet, due to the nature of the technology.) Although cheating is technically possible in some situations, and it does happen, it is not nearly the factor that many people suppose. If you are hesitant to play poker out of fear of being cheated, you are overreacting.
8. Poker is not an addiction. No matter what the media would have you believe, the vast majority of poker enthusiasts play because they enjoy the game, not because they are hooked in some way. Sure, a tiny percentage of players do struggle with addiction, but they are people with an addictive personality, whether or not they play poker. We should not blame poker for someone’s compulsive behavior any more than we should blame sex for someone being a rapist.
9. Poker is not sleazy. There is nothing even remotely “underbelly” about this beautiful game. A great many good and decent folks play for a wide variety of reasons, such as fun, challenge and personal betterment. Poker highlights the best of human interaction and calls into play the most honorable of human qualities, such as courage, sound reasoning and self-control. The game is a wonderful way to build character.
10. Poker is not illegal. Most people with a functioning brain do not actually believe this, but the forces of misguided morality want you to think that the game is against the law. It is not. Poker is not associated with crime in any way. Nor is it controlled by the mob. Not is it dangerous. You do not need to be on the lookout for gangsters. Or gunplay. No, you do not need to carry a sidearm and shoot your way out of the casino to protect your loot. You’ve been watching too many movies.
These are a few common misconceptions held by many in the public. If you encounter people with these ideas, please set them straight. But be understanding; it’s not their fault that they hold these incorrect viewpoints, which are passed off as fact everywhere in today’s media. It rests with us, intelligent members of the poker-playing community, to spread the truth regarding the magnificent game of poker.