The Poker Principle

An image of a person playing the poker varient...
An image of a person playing the poker varient, Texas Hold’em (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Texas Hold ‘Em: the sport of choice for the non-athlete. Why has it become so wildly popular?

It’s a game that I have become a big fan of over the past couple of years and I go play at least once a week at a local bar whenever I have the chance. In most urban areas and in even greater abundance in working class suburban areas you can find free poker nights at most bars. They get butts in the seats ordering drinks on off nights and provide a low cost entertainment and social option. But that’s not all poker provides.

It is safe to say (at least from my ethnographic observation) that Hold ‘Em has a strong blue collar following. Providing a social outlet notwithstanding, poker is also a game that requires serious analytical and strategic skill. You have to know how to read the cards, figure out odds as well as read the behavior of your fellow players to bet right, stay in the game and win.

Most blue collar day-jobs don’t exactly over-index non the hardcore brain-work. That being said, it shouldn’t be presumed that people who work in blue collar jobs don’t like to use their brains. Case in point: Poker provides an outlet for flexing mental muscles and he measure of a poker player’s “athleticism” in the regular circles they play in is rooted firmly in their mental and strategic interpersonal skills. Youth, physical build, coordination, agility and speed are irrelevant. Poker heroes are the antithesis of the Olympian.

In the circles where I am a participant observer the social makeup consists of truck drivers, day laborers, phone room workers and various other physical labor or administrative professionals. In the more hip urban locales, the demographic shifts to IT guys, musicians and various young knowledge workers and creatives.

And the average age overall spans the late 40’s, over-indexing on senior citizens.

Further, poker in any community is its own subculture, with its own rules, mores, vernacular and rituals, providing a sense of community in addition to an outlet for training and maintaining your brain.

From an anthropological perspective, the culture of poker is deep and rich and worthy of deeper examination. Perhaps as I rise up the ranks of the local Hold ’em circuit I will have the opportunity to document this fascinating subculture. But for now, I am thrilled to have an alternative way to exercise my brain outside of work and hang out with the salt-of the earth folks I see every week…drinking beer, bluffing and knowing “when to hold ‘me and when to fold ’em”…but rest assured I will not “walk away” from this tribe any time soon.

2 thoughts on “The Poker Principle

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