Poker: new sport of the annoying masses

I absolutely have to tell you about how I won our poker game.

Jon Marthaler

Several months ago, I wrote : “Anybody who says poker is a sport is an idiot.” At the time, I might have been on top, or perhaps even ahead, of the curve with my condemnation. After all, with the exception of weekday afternoons on ESPN2, you could toss the figurative brick through both the television schedule and pop culture as a whole without hitting poker. I figured the phenomenon would peter out, like swing-dancing and Kurt Warner’s deal with the devil.

How naive I was. How naive we all were, really. Poker is apparently the game of the people. Now, you can’t flip through your TV channels without hitting a poker broadcast. It’s now the flagship ESPN, not ESPN2, that’s flooded with episodes (and reruns and re-reruns ad infinitum) of this year’s World Series of Poker, and the network’s Web site regularly runs columns regarding the game.

Even Bravo has managed to make space between its 43 daily hours of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to regularly show installments of “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” Where can we go from here? Tim Russert discussing straight draws on “Meet the Press”? Move over NASCAR, there’s a new cultural trend in town, and it’s apparently got pocket aces and the chip lead.

You might note in that last sentence my bear-trap-like grasp of poker terms. Nobody’s going to accuse me of being behind the curve. Besides, it turns out I might actually be decent at this particular fad. I base this on one fact: Last weekend, I played in my first-ever poker game. Somehow, I managed to beat six friends in a not-so-friendly game of Texas Hold ’em (for those not up to speed, this is the version of the game played by big-stakes poker players), in the process winning $30. I am now a total poker fanatic.

In the same piece that I mentioned earlier, I wrote about my deep-seated belief golf is not a sport. Some readers pointed out they thought my logic was flawed. “You’re an idiot,” is how most of them put it. I’m not ready to concede their point yet, but I can say this: If golf is a sport, then poker definitely is. I can tell because both of them turn otherwise socially-skilled people into blithering idiots.

Golf has always caused perfectly normal people to regale you for hours with tales of their latest round on the links. They can’t help it, and I’m as guilty as anyone of this trend. If we don’t tell you about the five iron we hit on 13, we may burst. Modern medicine has yet to grasp that the upward trend in heart disease might not be linked to obesity, but instead to pent-up frustrations about hitting carelessly-placed bunker rakes with perfect pitch shots.

Poker is no different. No red-blooded poker player can let you mention the game even peripherally without launching into his or her own tales of blood, guts and crushing losses to surprise flushes. Most of these recitations are done with such excitement that the result is part war story, part murder mystery and part daily bridge column. (“I had two pair, but West flopped a full house, meaning I had to kill North with a sharpened 10-dollar chip.”)

I thought the poker fad would die. I was wrong. It may not be a fad at all. It’s quickly taking a place in the Pseudo-Sports Pantheon, along with bowling and billiards. Thanks to last weekend’s poker game, cynical old me is along for the ride.

Why do I tell you all this? I absolutely have to tell you how I won our poker game. See, I drew 4-2 off-suit, and I would have thrown it in, but my opponent checked instead of raising ├ľ Hey! Come back here!

Jon Marthaler welcomes comments at [email protected]