The Importance of Learning Poker

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By Drew Coulter

Recently I have been playing a computerized card simulation called “Poker Night at the Inventory.” It is a video game where you compete against animated characters using virtual currency. (I feel compelled to mention that beyond the fifteen dollars you pay to purchase the game, you need never put up any real money, very similar to the way one plays ‘Monopoly’).

The game uses Texas Hold’em rules, a variant made slightly more popular by the poker craze of ’05. There is an initial ante, then the cards are dealt and there are three rounds of betting. As I have played this simulation, I cannot help but to compare the wagering of money to the human interactions I have struggled to comprehend most of my life.

The first time I played, I received a pair of aces. After the ante three eights were dealt to the center, meaning I had a full house. I made an “all in” bet in the first round. Then, to my disappointment, all of my opponents folded. By going in too hard and too fast I had scared everyone off. If I had made smaller bets through out the rounds I would have won a much larger pot.

I could not help but to compare this to my attempts to make friends as a child. Imagine that our wagers are aspects of your personality. As you spend more time in the conversation you reveal more about yourself. Staying on safe topics, like the weather or your aunt’s health, are small wagers. A radical political view or an insight into your sex life would be a large wager.

When one is a child in school, everyone just projects their emotions every which way with little understanding of the consequences, very much like everyone making all or nothing bets before the cards are dealt. What’s more, children tend to have little concept for the dangers of escalation. You know how it is, one kid says he has been on a boat, the next kid claims he has been on three boats, the next kid claims that the one boat he has been on is larger than all other boats combined. By the end of it, the children are mobilizing fictitious fleets against each other. As I got older, my bolder and bolder pronouncements and promises ceased to impress as they once did. The time had come to stop wildly spreading around my feelings. Instead, I needed to gauge the people around me and wager what the situation demanded.

This brings me to one of the hardest and most important parts of poker, which also happens to be one of the hardest parts of human interaction: bluffing. Deception is a critical part of human interaction. From not discussing how horrible her hat looks to the application of deodorant, presenting an acceptable face to one’s peer group is essential.

It was difficult for me to understand this, because it was hard for me to move away from the mentality of sharing I acquired when I was a child. Raised as I was on a steady diet of public television and cartoons rated TV-Y, I was informed that sharing with all my friends was important, honesty is morality, and it was important to be yourself. These three ideals merged themselves into the idea that I had to honestly share all of my emotions with everyone equally. This philosophy turnout out to be a dangerous extreme, since not quite so many people found my Star Wars/Sailor Moon genre mix fan fiction as fascinating as I did. Rather than be my honest self with everyone, I had to adopt the emotional qualities that people wanted to see, then work in my own personality as time went on.

Poker is not just about calculating the odds of whether your hand is better than your opponents’ hands. A much larger aspect is reading the subtle hints in everyone’s behavior, and adjusting your strategy accordingly. And there is no easy way to teach this skill. Everyone’s tells for when they are bluffing and when they are playing a strong hand are different.

This brings us to the most important aspect of social interaction: the reveal. You cannot win at poker by bluffing all the time and you cannot build a proper group of friends by pretending to be something that you are not. Eventually you must put your cards on the table and risk losing some face for the sake of moving forward. Social interaction is always a risk, but there are almost always rewards that come with practice.

Nothing wagered, nothing gained.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Drew Coulter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 1997. He has a B.A. degree in creative writing and an A.A. degree in accounting, works, and lives independently.

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Copyright Drew Coulter 2013 Used by Permission All Rights Reserved

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