Driving in to work this morning, I was working on this week’s article in my head, and was fully intending to write about the incredibly bad play I experienced last night in a two table game. However, the more I drove, the more I realized that writing one word about it would not change the play in the slightest. I have played with many of the same people for over two years now in home games, and it continually amazes me to see how people continue to do the exact same things I watched them do wrong two years ago. Many of the other more talented players have tried and tried to get these people to improve their games, but they simply refuse. So another article about their lack of skill wouldn’t change their behavior in the slightest. So I decided to take a different approach today, and write about something a little more important. And I will do that, but not before this one piece of advice to those that are serious about playing this game we call poker.
If you are a player that sits down to a home game once or twice a month, this paragraph isn’t for you. You aren’t playing for the money or the test of skill. You are playing for the enjoyment of getting out of the house occasionally and getting together with some friends. I don’t expect your game to be good, or improve over time. If you are a player that is out there 3-4 times a week, putting nearly $200 into the game each week, then this is directed specifically at you. The advice I have is to beg you to attempt to improve your game. Read a real poker book, watch instructional videos, sit down and talk poker strategy with skilled players, and work on getting better. It is that simple. Stop throwing hundreds of dollars away each month making the same bonehead mistakes over and over again.
Yeah, I know. It is a long drive to work.
So, on with this week’s real topic.
As we approach the 4th of July, the day we celebrate the independence of this country, it amazes me that the local, state and federal government continue to infringe on the rights of the people of this country by regulating the play of poker. We have federal agents seizing the financial accounts of websites like FullTilt, and in effect stealing the money that belongs to American citizens. We have the Colorado Bureau of Investigations raiding people’s homes and taking the money out of the pockets of players who are sitting down with friends in a $40 home game. We have the State of Colorado telling us for years that the most we can bet on any hand in a legal casino is $5, and now they have granted us, out of the kindness of their hearts, the right to start betting $100 on that hand beginning tomorrow. We even have states like Arkansas and Maryland that outright ban any sort of poker play at all. These states can arrest you for playing a penny ante game.
Poker can be traced back as many as 500 years ago with a game called Pochspiel (http://www.pagat.com/stops/
Now, if we reject these early card games, we can certainly accept that in the 1800’s, with the spread of people to the wild west of this country, the game of poker certainly took root. That is when the standard deck of 52 cards with four suits became the norm. Then in the early 1900’s, the use of community cards was developed. From these community card games, we now have the popular game of Texas Hold Em.
Poker has been played by people you know throughout history. Harry Truman had a set of poker chips made with the Presidential Seal on them. His games in the White House are legendary. Richard Nixon played poker. Warren Harding played at least twice a week in the White House. He played so often with the members of his cabinet that the press joked about his “Poker Cabinet”. Theodore and Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses Grant Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower all played. Heck, even President Obama has admitted to being a poker player.
So if poker is steeped in all of this history, and is played by the highest members of our government, why does our government continue to stamp their foot down on the throats of poker players today?
Some will say it is the religious right, while others will say it is the inability to tax most winnings. I say it is a giant combination of a multitude of excuses. These excuses play well to the voters I guess, who simply do not understand the game or the skill involved. No matter what the excuse is though, it boils down to the government regulating your behavior in an activity that is honestly none of their business.
A simple example. Say you and I are standing on a street corner, and I say “I will bet you $5 that the next car around the corner is red.” You reply “I think it will be gray.” So we wait for the next car, and it is a beautiful red Mustang. You mutter some unrepeatable word, and hand me $5. Harmless? Of course. But you have just broken the law in eighteen states. If this is not a great example of ignorance, I don’t know what is.
Here in Colorado, the laws are as confusing as the play of some of my friends. On the surface, it seems to make sense. Colorado says that home games are allowed, as long as there is a bona fide social relationship among the players. In other words, all the players in the game must be friends or coworkers or the like. So you can play poker with your friends, but make sure everyone knows each other outside of poker, or you go to jail.
Want to have a charity poker game in Colorado? Be careful. While Colorado allows you to have the game for charity, you cannot award the winner of the tournament a prize. All prizes must be randomly awarded to the players.
Want to host a game at your house, but you’d like the players to chip in some money to cover the cost of extra water usage from the toilet flushing all night, or the snacks you put out? You risk a raid from the poker Nazis we call the CBI.
Worst of all, if you want to bring in professional dealers and pay them either with tips from the players or an outright cash payment for their work, you risk thousands of dollars in legal fees defending your decision.
Now, I speak above for Colorado, because that is where I live. Many states have far more ignorant laws. Florida allows poker in a licensed poker venue, but limits the buy in to $100 and the bets and raises to $2. Yep, a two dollar limit game. And I thought Colorado’s $5 limit was bad. Interestingly enough, up until just a couple of years ago, that limit in Florida was $1. Mississippi outlaws home poker play and gambling, but allows two cities to build all the casinos they want. Missouri bans gambling, but is home to some fantastic casinos on the Kansas border along I-70. What do all of these states have in common? They allow casino gambling, where they can tax the proceeds. As always, it is all about the money.
What can you, the average citizen, do about any of this? You can start by letting your voice be heard. Write your state and federal congressman. Appeal to your city governments and councils. Write your local newspaper. Write your own blog. Let the people making the rules hear you and your opinions of their stupidity.
And of course, you should be a proud member of the Poker Players Alliance (www.theppa.org). This organization is out there every day fighting for your right to LEGALLY play the game you love to play. They meet with congress, they fight in court, and they are your voice to the world about poker. I have been a proud member since its inception, and you should be too. Even if you don’t play poker, you should be supporting the cause. It isn’t just poker players that should be worried about the government refusing to allow you to do something. Every American should be worried when the government prohibits anything for no legitimate reason. If you stand up with the poker players over this, they will stand with you when the government prohibits you from doing something you love. It is coming, trust me. They are already raiding houses in Houston confiscating guns. Martial arts participants in New York cannot own nunchakus.
OK, I now step off my soap box and return you to your regularly scheduled poker article. I promise to return next week with something more entertaining….but certainly not something as important.
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