Monday, February 20, 2006

My Poker "Resume" - Part I (The High School Years)

Before I get into any in-depth poker discourse/analysis, I should probably give a summary of my poker experience so anyone that ever reads this will know just how much (or more likely, how little) my two cents is worth.

Like many poker players I know, my introduction to the game came way back when I was in high school. During my junior year, a group of us started to play in the cafeteria during free periods and while eating lunch. The games were the typical home-game selection of baseball, follow the queen, anaconda, and just about any other game that incorporated wildcards and crazy rules. Because gambling was not exactly smiled upon by the school administration, we kept track of all betting on paper with our own form of secret code rather than placing money or chips on the table (all debts were settled at the end of the week). Despite our precautions, I'm fairly sure that at least one of the teachers (I won't give his name since I know he still teaches there and I wouldn't want him to get in trouble) knew what was going on but didn't bother us.

When the game first started, it consisted of a small group of kids from mostly middle-class families. We were playing for very small stakes - nickels and dimes - with no one losing more than a couple of bucks a week. However, my high school was full of spoiled rich kids - to give you some idea, there were 14 BMWs, 23 Mercedes and 3 Corvettes in the school's parking lot and not one belonged to a teacher. When word started to get out that we were playing poker, some of the rich kids wanted to play and we were more than happy to let them join. Over the course of the next year, the number of regular players swelled to more than sixty high school kids, from freshmen all the way up through seniors, and the game continued throughout the day with the cast of characters changing each period as some went to class while others used their free periods or skipped class to play.

I certainly didn't win every day, but I won far more often than I lost. By the end of junior year, I was using my winnings to cover all the costs of owning a car - insurance, inspections, service appointments and gas. By the end of senior year, hundreds of dollars were changing hands on a weekly basis and there were weeks I made more money playing poker than I made working 15 hours a week as a waiter at the local family restaurant.
Very early on I noticed a rather remarkable trend in the flow of money. The (relatively) poor but (relatively) capable players like myself regularly relieved the ignorant rich kids of their oversized allowances. Even more remarkable was the fact that none of the rich kids seemed to care that they lost. They just kept on playing horribly and losing money as though it didn't matter. To them, it truly didn't matter. The game was nothing more than a fun and interesting way to pass time while in school and the money they lost was simply the cost of entertainment. To the less-wealthy kids like myself, the outcome of the game mattered quite a bit as we could not afford to blow money on a regular basis. We took the game seriously, paying close attention both the to cards and to what our opponents were doing. Since they seemed so comfortable losing their money, we were happy to slowly but steadily increse the stakes as our confidence and bankrolls grew.

I didn't realize it at the time, but this was (or should have been) a rather important poker lesson. When you sit down at the table, you should try and figure out your opponents' motivation for sitting at the table. Are they simply there to have fun and gamble it up, willing to bleed off their chips as long as they are entertained? Or are they paying close attention to the action at the table as they strategically try to relieve their opponents of each and every chip on the table?

As much as I enjoyed playing in the high school game, my time in it had to come to an end. However, it continued long after I graduated as the underclassmen took over and kept it alive. One of my best friends had a younger brother that graduated six years after I did and he says the game was still going strong throughout his four years of high school.


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