Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Poker. Know when to hold em and know when to fold em

Does poker qualify as a sport? Both professionals and amateurs play it.
On the plus side, at the higher levels, there's a lot of money involved, players study their opponents' tendencies, probe their weaknesses, have a game plan, and will resort to most any tactic to eliminate the competition. Game management is paramount. They can run pick and rolls (check and raise), bunt (limp in), take a knee (fold), blitz (go all in), or resort to any number of other ploys. Two-a-days, sweating it out, are commonplace, and no other "players" make as many road trips as these folks. It's extremely rare they ever have a "home" game.
On the minus side, it's not like these boys and girls are highly conditioned in a physical sort of way. Also, there's no rain-outs, playing in a blizzard, technical fouls, or dodging thrown octopi; depth charts, leg cramps, special teams, and bullpens dont figure in, but getting a case of the yips or too many bad calls just might. And I can't remember a single poker player being placed on the disabled list -- unless of course, they went bust, but that's a little different.
Nowadays, only one poker game takes center stage. Texas hold-em. Sure, you might play 5 or 7-card stud, 5-card draw, jacks or better to open, or a lot of other games with your friends, but after a few hours, when everybody gets tired, and maybe a little tipsy, don't the games get goofier with more and more "wild cards", and isn't there always at least one hand of "showdown" that goes on before you call it quits?
There's the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, the Super Bowl, and the World Series. Champions are crowned.
Then again, tennis and golf have their 4 "majors", and NASCAR has it's appropriately named "chase", but these rely on some weird point system to declare a champion at the end of the year. They lack a defining event. The NCAA basketball tournaments have their Final Fours, and various poker tournaments have their Final Tables. It's takes a lot of skill, perseverance, and even sometimes luck, to get to either.
But poker only has one true champion a year. Whoever wins the days long marathon of the unlimited hold-em tournament annually held in Las Vegas can wear the bracelet like a king for a year. (No offense ladies, but none of you have pulled this off yet, so I don't mention queen.) Most of the players ante up $25K just to enter the tournament, for a chance at glory. Wouldn't it be nice if athletes in other pro sports, already making obscene amounts of guaranteed money, had to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of possibly achieving the same glory, rather than reaping even more bucks just to fold when the pressure is on? But I digress.
Other sports are covered on various major networks throughout the year, but poker will probably never get to that level. It's kind of like soccer. Either you're into it or you're not, most American sports fans aren't, and there's that little thing about the Nielsen ratings that, for some reason, the TV people take seriously. Poker mostly relies on getting people to visit various websites to spark their interest. Though I've never actually participated in what's offered on these sites, I happened to notice an interesting TV ad while watching a high stakes poker game on some obscure cable channel.
They boasted their site was played by people in over 225 countries. Considering there's only 196 countries on the planet earth, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, that's an amazing claim. I wonder where those other 30-some countries are.....  
Unless the Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Ewoks, or some other race in another solar system are busy logging on to that site, they might just have overplayed their hand.

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