Life lessons from poker

Poker has taken the country by storm. Americans of all ages are gathering around kitchen tables to pass cards and money back and forth, just as they see the professionals do on TV.

Whoever thought poker would become a spectator sport? But it's caught on, big-time. TV ratings are so good, a dozen cable channels now feature poker tournaments as regular programming. Most anytime, day or night, you can watch the pros playing in the World Series of Poker or famous idiots playing Celebrity Poker.

I watched for a while, until I realized that the only thing lazier than sitting around and playing cards was sitting around, watching other people play cards. At least, when you're in a game yourself, there's a chance you can get your heart rate up with a winning hand.

I've played poker for years and find that it’s a fine hobby for those of us who work at home. Poker gets us out of house, forces us to interact with others, and gives us a chance to lose our paltry "incomes" in pulse-pounding ways.

I'm at best a mediocre player, so I wouldn't dream of giving advice on how to play winning poker. But I have learned some lessons I'd like to share with you amateurs.

(Even if you don't play poker, you might learn from what follows. Most of these lessons apply to everyday life in the business world.)

--There's no such thing as a "friendly" poker game. Sure, you can play with your friends. You can be friends before the game and friends again after the game. But during the game? Not so much. In fact, your very best friend is the one who'll most enjoy taking your money.

--Avoid drinking alcohol while playing poker. It makes you stupid and reckless. Plus, you'll have a hangover the next morning, so your head will pound while you try to remember where all your money went.

--Any beverage at the poker table is ill-advised. Knock over your drink and get the cards wet and you'll hear about it for weeks to come.

--Beware of players with nicknames. I've played with many Richards over the years, and have lost to all the ones known as "Dick." If you run into a player named Ace or Tiny or Curly, look out. And if you face one named Red, you might as well just give him all your money and go home early.

--No children should be allowed on the premises during a kitchen game. Not only are kids noisy distractions, but they're likely to overhear many "bad words."

--Know when to fold 'em. If you don't have the "lock" hand, the one that's unbeatable given the cards on the table, then you should fold. More than a vowel separates "lock" and "luck."

--Be careful about "tells" that tip your fellow players to whether you're holding good cards or just bluffing. Sweating, twitching, snorting, tapping, smiling, frowning, whooping or bending the cards in the Death Grip of Imminent Defeat all can reveal your intentions. Watch the pros. They show as much emotion as your average lizard.

--Never gamble with more than you can afford to lose. If you find yourself going out to the car to get the title out of the glove compartment, it's time to get behind the wheel and drive home.

--Finally, avoid playing poker in casinos. You're not ready. No, you're not. Go look at the guys who play casino poker. They're a serious bunch of lizards. They're gambling with their Social Security money. They play for keeps.

Better to give all your money to your friends. That way, you at least can go visit it later.

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