Thursday, February 5, 2009

blackjack and poker players

I answered this response to my trip report on Tampa Hard Rock poker from a fellow who wanted to make Blackjack into such a better game to play.

He wrote:

While reading this very good report from dewey, I am forcibly reminded of why I despise poker so much in favor of blackjack tournaments. BJT's are all about the cards and the math, and only about the cards and the math. If you've got the brain and can get some decent cards, you can win.

I heard a poker guy say "Poker tournaments favor the playground bully. Blackjack tournaments are for the Poindexter kid with the pocket protector full of inkpens." My pocket protector is doing just fine!

I responded:

While your analogy is a bit value laden, and "despise" perhaps a bit strong, I agree there is a great difference in the games. In poker you play the people as well as the cards and math. Some people are a bit rough, but others are friendly and easy, like playing opponents in any sport. There are bullies and there are graceful losers, taciturn players, jokers, maniacs. It is like the playground games of marbles or pitching pennies because all sorts of personalities are there and interacting and trying to deal with frustrations while they compete with one another, but unlike those games, personal interaction is a given part of the rules of play.

Most sports have the same kinds of personality difficulties. My dad had some spring training time playing baseball with the Yanks back in the day. He was a catcher. He hated Ty Cobb and the way Cobb came in to the plate with spikes up.
Ali was a very different boxer than Mikey. He used humorous rhymes and never bit off any ears.
We see fights on the hockey field and football, in spite of all the mental strategies, is fundamentally a celebration of physical bullying, which is why a pro player's life expectancy is about 55 years old and those alive suffer more than the average in old age.

What moved me from blackjack is simply what you present. Basically, the play is all mathematics and rather like being an automaton. Counting just makes it more mathematically complex, but there are no human factors. I guess in the tournaments you do figure a bit of strategy against other players, but still it is more math than personality. Basically, a computer would beat a human.

Poker mixes the personalities of the players in the game. So it becomes more complex. I think the suggestion in your analogy that smart people who are bookish and like to study avoid poker is in error. It attracts intelligence along with every other human attribute. There have been all sorts of books written about poker and poker players are always reading.

For Example, I love The Tao of Poker that puts a spiritual spin on the way we face the game.

My poker buddy John Blowers has written a novel called Life on Tilt
which explores the personal relationships of a fictional poker player and his task of sorting priorities and goals.

Both are as much about life as poker.

Yesterday I was playing with a ex Marine who had the job of being a Presidential guard for Isenhower and Nixon. He watched Nixon play many a poker game.

"He was the best poker player I ever saw," the old marine told us. " He was so sneaky."

Nixon's poker certainly revealed his Presidential pose.

Poker is basically a microcosm of human society in a world of competition and risk. It reflects reality and allows us to learn about ourselves in an environment where all we have to lose is a little bit of money.


That being said I can't tell you the number of times I've been at blackjack tables where fellow players were absolutely obnoxious about someone's failure to play perfect strategy in spite of the fact that no one player's play affects the randomness of the other player's chances for success. It certainly is no game to adopt if you want friendliness.

So while I agree that the game of Bj being much less complex, does not demand you read and play against all sorts of personality, there are plenty of bullies there as well, only they have no excuse.
And there are all forms of bullying. Gambling author Frank Sclobette talks about annoying BJ players in his latest newsletter:

"Unfortunately, blackjack is the game that brings out every false expert who has ever lived! For some peculiar reason, blackjack players, even the worst ones who have no idea of basic strategy, think of themselves as truly gifted strategists who must tell everyone else at the table how to play their hands. Worse, they must tell you just as you make your decision why that decision is good or bad. Worse still, they must tell you in such a loud voice that everyone on this side of the Atlantic Ocean is now fully aware that you don't know how to play the game."

video poker allows you to escape for the most part all of that and deal just with the mathematics in a random world. No human interaction except the odd person who needs to tell you how to play.

So game choice depends on what you want as experience.

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