Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
Poker playing is an honorable profession. I believe that it always has been, but it’s only been recently that most people see it that way. Often it can be a long, dreary, bumpy road making a living at poker. But that doesn’t mean every player expects to make a living from the game. Some don’t even try.
I sometimes relate the story about a surgeon at a poker game. He’d been scoffed at by an opponent for making weak calls. When that same player suffered chest pain later in the same game, the conversation was quite different. It turned out to only be indigestion, but the player was frightened and kept asking the doctor about it. He wanted details and reassurance. That doctor answered calmly and professionally. He decidedly did not say, “You’re stupid not knowing the difference between indigestion and a heart attack.”
Why is that story important to poker? Because professional poker players don’t always understand that their chosen field of expertise isn’t taken as seriously by everyone else. I don’t like the word “sucker,” and I don’t like any other disparaging remarks made about recreational poker players by pros.
Everyone plays poker for a different reason. Winning is just one. Socializing is another. Short-term challenge is, too. There are hundreds of recreational players for every full-time pro. Isn’t it the same with golf.? There are millions of casual players and only a small number of pros. That doesn’t stop the casual players from enjoying their putts and their pitch shots. They love the game. They don’t play it to make money.
When pros criticize non-pros for poor play, it makes little sense to me. First, the non-pros are often highly regarded experts in other fields who earn much more than the serious poker players who belittle them. Second, pros must learn to realize that without the recreational players, who make mistakes, there would be few good opportunities to earn money. Without players who lose, there would be no players who win. Without poor players, there would be no poker pros.
Can you think of another high-profit endeavor where amateurs with limited skills willingly compete against the world’s top professionals? It’s weird, but true, that weak players often prefer to challenge the best players in the world. Would they do that at chess, risking huge sums of money? Of course not! It’s the luck element that makes it happen. Even though these weak opponents have no chance in the long run, they can easily win for a while. And that possibility is what makes poker rewarding for them – and rewarding for pros at the same time.
It’s that perspective that has always made me non-judgmental about how others choose to play. It’s nobody’s business why someone else plays poker – and it’s also nobody’s business how someone else plays poker. A man brings his money to a poker table and it’s his to spend however he pleases. Hopefully he’ll spend it liberally, because otherwise I’ll make a lot less money. I’m grateful for every casual, unsophisticated player who ever sat in my game. I feel the same way even if they have a lucky night and get to spend my money. It’s the only philosophy that makes sense. It’s the only one that acknowledges where the profit comes from, too. — DB