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Poker Can Build Character
by Fred Renzey

Poker can be an addiction - or a character builder

I'm over 60 years old. Three years ago when I walked into a local poker room, I knew most of the players. Their average age was probably fortysomething and three or four kinds of poker were being played throughout the room.

Today when I walk into the room I don't recognize anybody. Most of the faces are younger than my own kids and only one game is usually being played - Texas Hold'em.

I'm mentioning this because of a recent feature article in this newspaper about young people who have become harmfully addicted to poker. Thanks to the immense popularity of Texas Hold'em on TV, poker has become the latest overindulgence craze, sometimes outranking booze or pot smoking among the younger set.

Poker addiction starts out very subtly. You see somebody on TV going "all in" on a bluff with a worthless hand, and his opponent eventually folds, giving the bluffer a big pot. It looks very cool - like something you'd like to try.

So you get together with some friends and play a little no limit Texas Hold'em - just like on TV. It gives you a rush and you want to play it again - only next time for more money. Pretty soon you're playing all the time, and not for the purpose of learning how to win - but just for the thrill of the gamble!

All the wrong reasons: Well, the same tendencies that can get you addicted to drugs and alcohol have gotten you hooked on poker. The right reason to take up poker is to learn how to win at it - not to experience the thrill of playing. These two reasons require vastly different playing styles.

Oh, there is a side benefit to playing poker the right way, but it's not the thrill of the gamble. It's the development of your character.

You see, to win at poker you must use extreme self-discipline. Rationalization is your most dangerous weakness. You must remain objective enough to see what is, not what you want to be - and then act on it accordingly.

You know what that means? It means you must throw away 75 percent of your hands without even calling that first bet. And as for the other 25 percent that you call the first bet with - you'll fold more than half of those before the hand is over. After all is said and done, you'll play maybe one hand out of 10 to the showdown. There's not much of a gambling thrill in that. But if you want to win - even survive - that's what you've got to do.

I'd like to give the following stern piece of advice to all the new poker players out there. If saying "no" to yourself three times out of four isn't your cup of tea, then poker is not going to be your friend. You'd be better off having a beer or two. But if you've got the patience to sift through all the garbage while waiting for a good hand, then can exercise the self-discipline to throw that good hand away when your clear vision says you've been beat, poker can be a satisfying and rewarding character builder.

All good poker players have this quality. Most weren't born with it - they developed it. They learned how to tell themselves the truth, even when the truth was disappointing - and they can use that virtue to their advantage in all aspects of their lives.

I read my first poker book almost 30 years ago, "Poker, A Guaranteed Income" by Frank Wallace. It contained a one-page epilogue that I believe described true poker most eloquently. I'll summarize that inspiring epilogue here:

"Poker is a character catalyst that forces players to reality. Those who evade thinking cannot escape the penalties. The winning poker player views all situations realistically. He pits the use of his mind against the unwillingness of his opponents to think. The loser makes himself a loser. The winner makes himself a winner. Poker is sheer justice."

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