Thursday, May 23

Poker takes hold as newest pastime


There’s no greater exhilaration in No-Limit Texas Hold
‘em than hearing a poker player declare, “All
in.”

Even when the fateful words are uttered by a dirt-poor college
student in sweatpants, playing in a game where “no
limit” hardly amounts to a triple-digit pot, “all
in” is still “all in.”

From red, white and blue poker chips to Hold ‘em lingo
like flop, turn, river and kicker, the sights and sounds of the
increasingly popular poker game are becoming ubiquitous throughout
the dorms and apartments around campus. Lately, it seems a poker
game can break out on any given night. Tonight Delta Delta Delta
sorority is hosting a Texas Hold ‘em tournament at the
Student Activities Center to benefit UCLA’s Children’s
Oncology Ward, a telltale sign of the game’s mainstream
crossover.

“We chose Texas Hold ‘em because it’s become
very popular, and it isn’t limited to students with Greek
affiliation. It’s something every student can participate in
since it’s so popular,” said third-year sociology
student and Tri Delta chapter president Katy Norlander. “A
lot of us have learned the rules of the game and how to deal from
the girls who play with their boyfriends, so we’re ready to
go.”

In No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em, each player tries to form the
best poker hand from any combination of two down (hole or pocket)
cards and the five community cards turned face up ““ three
coming at once (the flop), followed by the turn (fourth street) and
the river (fifth street). Any player can go all in with his chips
at any time.

“It’s a rush,” said James An, a fourth-year
sociology student. “The fact that it’s no-limit and you
can make the pot as high as you want is really exciting.”

An and his roommates hold a poker night at their Westholme
apartment every Thursday, and they’re not alone; poker nights
are sprouting up almost anywhere there’s a deck of cards and
some poker chips. They might soon rival televised sporting events
as the ultimate apartment activity for male college students.

“Don’t you have to study tonight?” An asked a
fellow player as he dealt out the cards during the latest poker
outing.

“I think I do,” said alumnus Johnny Chang,
who’s not to be confused with poker legend Johnny Chan,
immortalized as the perfect player in 1998′s
“Rounders,” a film that some players crammed in
An’s apartment credited as their first exposure to Texas Hold
‘em.

In 1987 and 1988, Chan won the World Series of Poker, played
annually at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. ESPN had
been broadcasting the tournament’s final table for over a
decade with less-than-modest success.

But in March 2003, when the Travel Channel’s “World
Poker Tour” started using tiny cameras on the table to show
the players’ hole cards, televised poker matches became more
interactive and thrilling for TV audiences. With color commentators
dispensing sage advice and pop-up graphics showing the
players’ odds, the innovative program continues to be the
network’s biggest ratings winner.

ESPN answered back, adopting the card cam for its broadcast of
the 2003 World Series of Poker, which was televised from beginning
to end. Bravo took the hint and rounded up celebrities like Ben
Affleck and David Schwimmer to take part in “Celebrity Poker
Showdown,” further demonstrating the mass appeal of the
game.

“TV exposure is the big reason for (the game’s)
popularity,” said An as he showed me his pocket aces.
“I spent last fall watching reruns of the World Series of
Poker. One night the power in our apartment went out. So a bunch of
us were bored and decided to play poker like the games on TV. Then,
it turned into a regular poker night for us.”

Word of mouth, according to An, turned a simple get-together
among five or six friends into a 10- to 12-man main event. Chang,
whose flush was about to trump An’s pair of aces, is the
prototypical friend of a friend, participating for the second time.
But he knows what he’s doing, goading An into a betting war
as the room hushed in anticipation. The hole cards revealed
themselves, and loud curse words followed. The $54-pot went to
Chang, and An was down to $5. The latter didn’t expect a
bluff, but he also didn’t expect a flush.

An would go on to lose the rest of his chips, then fork over
another $10, the standard buy-in, to stay in the game, which went
from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.”“ though marathon nights to five in
the morning are not unusual. It’s surprising that not a
single neighbor complained about the noisy trash talking and
rattling of chips.

There was no discernible winner on this night, meaning there
won’t be any names added to the apartment’s makeshift
Wall of Fame, which posts certificates that read,
“Westholme’s (week number) Weekly Texas Hold ‘em
Tournament, (name of winner), Champion on the Night of
(date).”

“Yes, we document and honor our victors,” said
Chang.

Not a single female was spotted on this night, but most of the
players agree that female students are gradually learning the
game.

“Girls are not as aggressive. They’re not mean and
pushy, so when guys start throwing all this money down and raising,
they get a little intimidated and fold. Most girls lose their money
real fast, even though they have good hands,” said Steve
Shin, a fourth-year physics student who came out of the night even
and unscathed.

“That’s why we usually deter the girls not to come,
unless it’s a slow night and we want their money,”
added An. “No shame.”

Third-year English and Italian student Ariel Gordon, who has
only played poker for two years, feels no shame in taking money
from her male counterparts.

“I play games with six or seven of my guy friends, and I
win just as much as the rest of them. It works to your advantage
being a girl, since the guys don’t expect you to win,”
said Gordon. “And then you take all their money.”

An and company take their poker seriously, as evident by their
amazing recall of every meaningful hand they’ve ever won or
lost.

“I remember one time my roommate had a three of a kind,
and I didn’t have anything ““ just a flush draw that
meant nothing after they revealed the river card. But I played it
off like I had a flush and went all in. I dared him to put his
money in. I knew he had something good, but I really wanted that
pot. He ended up folding, and when I showed him my cards at the
end, he got really pissed off.”

This kind of trash talking, reverse psychology and analysis of
opponents’ mannerisms is nonexistent in online poker, which
limits a player to staring at nothing but his computer screen.
Despite its inadequacies, online poker is as much a phenomenon as
live games.

“Obviously you can’t bluff as much online,”
said Joshua Holman, a second-year business economics student who
plays Texas Hold ‘em at Royalvegaspoker.com for 35 to 40
hours a week. “But online poker is easier to set up; you can
play anytime.”

Holman once woke up at 6 a.m. to sign up for an online poker
tournament. He has even missed morning classes to compete in
tournament games.

The stakes are also much higher in online poker, since players
compete against strangers rather than roommates and friends. Holman
has won $230 in a two-hour span and has lost $130 in one
sitting.

“It’s a lot of money, so I do get angry and start
throwing things when I lose,” said Holman. “But
I’ve won enough that it’s almost a part-time
job.”

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