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Is Poker Good for You?

by Conrad Brunner |  Published: Apr 01, 2006


Is poker good for you? Of course it is. It keeps the mental muscle strong, stimulates the senses, heightens concentration, and demands both discipline and imagination in equal measure. Rather like red wine, it brings pleasure and excitement when consumed in sensible amounts. Isabelle Mercier says her mother plays one sit-and-go every evening, and that seems to me to be entirely healthy. Several medical surveys have demonstrated that people who keep their brains active by playing poker in later life tend to live longer – although if you have ever played the graveyard shift in a Las Vegas casino, you may believe living longer is not everything it's cracked up to be.

Here is another question: Can poker actually save your life? That surely would be stretching the point, except that I recently came across a story that proved that poker really could rescue a human life. A man, living in the American Midwest, was playing poker in his bed. He suffered from multiple sclerosis, and liked to play online on PokerStars (I swear this is a true story), clutching his mousepad to his chest. It was Christmas time and the temperature outside was minus 20 degrees centigrade. Suddenly, the door blew open and freezing air rushed in as a blizzard raged. Due to his illness, the poker player was unable to reach the door or even a telephone, and he faced the possibility of freezing to death in his bed before help could arrive. The only way he could communicate was via the online card game, so he typed into the chat box:





We've all seen some weird stuff written in chat boxes on poker sites, and you won't be surprised to learn that our unfortunate player was soundly ignored. As the temperature continued to drop, he wrote ever more desperate messages to his fellow poker players. Eventually, a kindhearted lady – also from the Midwest, and familiar with the dangers of a Wyoming winter – thought there may be something in this complaint, which unusually made no reference whatsoever to suckouts, bad beats, or "RiverStars." So, she picked up the phone and made the call that saved her poker rival from a chilly end. So, you see, it really is true: Poker could save your life.

I am presently rereading one of my favourite books, Confessions of a Poker Player, written by Jack King and published 66 years ago. One of the things it reveals is that the modern obsession with poker in the United States is nothing new, and that in the '30s and '40s, you could find barber shops, police stations, press rooms, and corporate offices across America humming with poker action. Legislative sessions in Washington, DC, were typically accompanied by epic games of five-card stud or draw, and no one thought it unusual that President Truman spent most of his spare time at the poker table. As King reveals, it was possible – long before the development of Las Vegas or Internet poker – to go from game to game across the nation, virtually without interruption.

They were loose and wild games, and King survived them by playing the odds, a method that was obviously frowned on by his fellow poker players, forcing him into this eloquent defense of his strategy: "Some may be of the opinion that systemizing play detracts from the interest and lessens the thrills, and if so, I'm willing to yield the point to some extent, but after all, the most interesting part of the game to me is when I'm a winner. I know of no better way to derive full and complete enjoyment from the game than the comforting feeling that is engendered by caressing a tall stack of chips acquired in play, over and above the original purchase."

There isn't anyone today who writes about poker with such an elegant turn of phrase. Frustratingly, I do not know the real name of the author, "Jack King" obviously being a pseudonym. Is there anybody out there who can reveal the writer's true identity? spade

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