With the fall semester under way, college students all across
the country are quickly approaching their first measure of academic
rigor: midterms. Hoping to perform well on the tests, students
prepare by turning stereos down low, flipping textbooks open and,
for some students, playing a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em.
How are some students using rounds of poker to prepare for midterms?
Simple: They're part of a group of math students who are learning
how mathematical concepts are applied in games of skill such as
poker. At Emory University in Atlanta, students learn about
probability, game theory and combinatorial design theory in a
seminar course called, "Mathematics in Sports, Games and Gambling."
While post-graduate poker players may lament the fact that they
never received such an enjoyable math assignment during their
college years, the teaching of mathematic principles and theories by
some of American's top universities underscores what we have long
been saying - that part of poker's uniqueness is that skill is
needed to win, not simply pure luck.
Even folks who are now debating over whether to call poker a "game"
or a "sport" have little disagreement with the fact that it takes
talent to play poker correctly and winningly.
Strategy, observation, cleverness, memory, tactics and acting are
all the unique demands of poker, and Americans seem to be in high
pursuit of these talents. Bookstore tables and shelves are groaning
under the weight of poker manuals, guides and brochures, as more
than 70 million Americans play poker today.
All across the country, grandfathers are being rejuvenated with
spirited challenges from grandchildren.
Folks stream to play for charities. They play in tournaments with
television cameras, klieg lights, boom mikes, $10,000 entry fees and
$7.5 million payouts.
And there are players in basements, barnyards and backyards. There
are even celebrities, complete with the lights, cameras and action
to make the game hot and in the spotlight.
But the requirement of skill is important not just in deciding
whether it is a sport or a game. When governments recognize that
poker is a game of skill, then poker players can play their craft
without worrying about being the targets of confused law enforcement
officials or politicians who see the new interest in poker as a way
to boost the arrest tally or collect unexpected revenues.
Now, as public support and interest in poker grows through televised
celebrity matches and other events, several states and localities
are making changes to laws that encroach on poker players' abilities
to play online, at home, in bars, taverns and even at charity events
across the country.
Also, some at the federal level have dedicated themselves to putting
an end to interactive poker, while at the same time portraying all
poker games in a negative light. Opponents have seen the growing
popularity of poker and have tried to obscure the commonly accepted
notion that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance - a word
change aimed at stripping longtime legal protections for poker.
These changes would mock the long-standing historical significance
of the game. From presidents to generals, Americans have looked to
poker and the skills they have acquired from the game to help think
clearly and make tough decisions.
For example, after several defeats at the hands of aggressive
Southern generals, President Abraham Lincoln put the hard-drinking
poker player Ulysses S. Grant in command of the Union Army. Using
his well-honed poker skills, Grant succeeded in the ultimate bluff
by misrepresenting his troops' position and strength, divining his
opponents' intentions and countering with devastating effectiveness.
President Dwight Eisenhower is said to have courted his future wife,
Mamie Doud, with his poker winnings. And his future running mate,
Richard Nixon, won enough pots playing stud in the Navy that he was
able to finance his first congressional campaign.
As a game of skill, poker is designed so anyone can win. In this
match of intellect, the true underdog can prevail, causing average
poker-playing women and men everywhere to dream of being the next
poker superstar. And they all learn a crucial variation of knowing
when to hold them and when to fold them: It is better to be skillful
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