Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Heretic's View Of The Holdem Hegemony

Every time I hear No-Limit Texas Holdem described as "The Cadillac of Poker," I reach for my water pistol [1]. I imagine the phrase is supposed to communicate the idea of sophistication, luxury, exquisite engineering, performance, and so on. The reality is that Holdem is a stripped-down, simplistic variant of the Holy Game. It has quite a bit of horsepower and torque, but very little finesse. Rather than a Cadillac, I have always thought of No-Limit Holdem as a pick-up truck. Something like a basic-package F-150.

[1] I am a pacifist, but own a small stockpile of water weapons in an attempt to maintain some order in the Kattery.

But for literally billions [2] of players, "poker" and "Holdem" are now synonymous. At poker forums and training sites, all other forms of poker get shuffled (*cough*) off to boards with titles such as "Other Games" and, even worse, "Variations." Indeed one forum where I make a nuisance of myself has a weekly "Variation Night" at which one of the weird games that isn't NLHE is played. It's as if everyone downs poker tools for an evening, so that instead of playing REAL POKER we all bugger about with way too many cards while following rules apparently designed to harsh everyone's mellow.

[2] Despite being born in England, I follow the American convention of using "literally" when I mean "figuratively."

So how did this sorry state of affairs come about? My thorough and totally unbiased research in this area has revealed that the villains are a bunch of fat Texans [3]. These unscrupulous tubbies realized that, in order to separate the average tourist from his (never her; see "Super System I") money in the fastest possible time, they would need to play a game that only took a minute to learn. It's the oldest rule in the book. The Shell Game, for example, would have been a total disaster had it involved twenty-five shells, several beads of varying colors, and rules derived in some cunning manner from the Fibonacci Sequence.

[3] The term "Texas rounder" is assumed by most to be derived from Texans "driving around" looking for sheep to fleece. In fact the etymology reflects the fact that all were corpulent.

I can even offer some anecdotal evidence that supports this hypothesis. Specifically, before the No-Limit Holdem Boot Boys took over card rooms in this and other countries [4], NLHE cash-games were almost unheard of. The limit version of Holdem was played for the eminently practical reason that weak players busted out far too rapidly when playing the no-limit form. A good LHE player could leave his victims standing in their underwear while sympathizing with them about their "rotten luck." The approach of the Fat Texans was to leave their victims naked in the parking lot, sometimes bleeding from head wounds. While the latter makes for better movies, it does very little to encourage customers to return to the felt.

[4] I include Canada in this category despite the ongoing debate, originating with Dave Barry, as to whether Canada is technically a country.

From a personal stand-point, the situation is not all bad. On the one hand, I am somewhat insulted that the Omaha-8 table at The Mirage is invariably the one in the drafty corner, as if it is being cordoned off from the "real poker." On the other hand, its location places it next to a large ashtray and the bathrooms, thereby making it ideal for someone who chain-smokes and drinks half a dozen club-sodas-two-limes-no-ice per hour.

But what does this say about our poker culture and the future of the Holy Game? Are the generations that follow us really going to be condemned to the simplistic, one-dimensional bullying of NLHE? Will the great poker tales of the years ahead be dominated by "I ran KK into AA! Can you believe it!? Talk about a bad beat!"

Orwell got it backwards. Two cards good, four cards better. 31Hz 'nuff said.

No comments:

Post a Comment