Author Archives: Joan Destino

My Love Affair With Poker – Part 3 (Why I Continue to Play the Game)

I’ve been sitting down at a poker table for more than twenty-five years, playing an average of four days a week, six to fifteen hours at a time. I’m into my seventh decade, and still as enthralled with the game as I was many years ago. I still enjoy the small elements, the card playing, the chip handling, the social moments, and, of course, the winning. But there are other aspects of the game that have gained great value for me. Poker is my mental aerobics, and the benefitsgo much further than my card playing. I can use what happens to me at a poker session to deal with many other parts of my life. So I continue to study the game, to try my best to absorb the mathematical elements, but also to apply the discipline and the fortitude to take the calculated risks. On my way to becoming a poker player, I’ve had to come to terms with several personal demons that pop up out of my personality and wage war with my card playing skills. I’ve learned to appreciate the highs and thrills of winning, knowing that they are often mitigated by the frustrations, disappointments and aggravations of losing. Stress management, for me, is a huge challenge, and the older I get the harder it is to control. But I’m not giving up. Getting a “bad beat” (losing with the best cards and odds to a player who either makes an erroneous call because he doesn’t understand the game or is willing to gamble without the right odds) can be,at the least,disappointing; but when it happens often, or it determines the difference between a winning and losing session, it can be depressing and exceedingly stressful. Continuing to regulate these highs and lows is what motivates me to get back to the game, time after time, bad beats and all.

So I’m grateful every day that I continue to have the mental capacity as well as the physical energy and spiritual motivation to sit down at a game. John Updike said it best: “Poker’s charm for me…lies in its rapid renewal of opportunity.” There is always the next hand. That’s why l love to play poker.

My Love Affair With Poker – Part 2 (Why I fell in love with the game)

Exactly what is it about playing poker that is so appealing to me? Obviously, there is the basic card playing which has always been a big component of my life. I love handling the cards, peeling the corners up for a peek between my cuffed hands so no one else can see them, snapping them back to the table and even giving them a practiced toss into the muck when necessary. All those actions are fun, (although too much repetitious mucking of cards gets old fast when I’m running cold). I also got a kick out of stacking chips, and riffling them with one hand, cutting a column into two and then sliding them back together into one stack.

I’ve always been the gregarious type, and there is no place like a casino poker table to be sociable, although the opportunity for interaction varies with the number of other players who want to chat, who are not taking the game too seriously, or at least have the ability to split their attention between the focus needed to play the game and the chit chat. I’ve met people from all walks of life, celebrities as well as local poker bums, accomplished poker tournament champions and the beginner who still needs to be reminded of what beats what. (Although the number of complete poker novices has decreased exponentially with the rise and popularity of the game). So a casino poker session can include a fascinating discussion of politics, religion, history, sports, fashion or music with an occasional veer off course to anything from voodoo to oral hygiene.

And this same talent for chitchat has served me well as I’ve developed my ability to read other players, to understand their playing strategies and abilities, and to incorporate that information into my decisions about betting, checking or folding. The psychological aspect of playing poker fascinates me and is certainly one of the strongest components of my game. On the other hand, the mathematical facet of poker is probably my weakest link, and should hardly be mentioned in a discussion of why I love poker. I’ve tried for years to incorporate the statistical element of poker into my play with very disappointing results. I’m much better offpaying attention to how other players bet than trying to figure implied odds or expected value to name just two of dozens of statistical concepts, most of which are filed in my brain in another language written in an alien alphabet.

My Love Affair With Poker – Part 1 (How and when I fell in love with the game)

When I was a toddler, I ran into the kitchen one day, very excited to tell my mother that Daddy had taught me how to count from one to king! “One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-jack-queen-king!” The concept of playing cards has been a part of my consciousness all my life. My parents were card players, and decks of cards were always around. I remember sitting on my daddy’s lap when he was dealt thirteen cards for a game of bridge. “We want lots of picture cards,” he would say, “but it’s our secret.” And so I learned to sit still and keep to myselfmy pleasure at seeing lots of kings, queens and jacks, or my disappointment when they didn’t appear; the beginning of perfecting my poker face.

Early on, I was taught the basics of bridge, a complex but intriguing game which occupied most of my mother’s time. As an only child, at first I resented the game because it was what took my mommy away many afternoons and evenings, and sometimes for days at a time when she was off at an international bridge tournament. But at the same time, kitchen table poker was my true joy because it was played with both my parents and friends and family and often followed happy, delicious family meals. Nevertheless, by the time I left for college, I was a bridge player. I had been thoroughly inculcated into the world of dummies, finesses, trumps and grand slams. My early adult years, in college and on into early marriage and parenthood, were about finding time to play in bridge tournaments, and pursuing master points, the goal of serious bridge players.

Then, in the early eighties, I discovered casino poker. By then my husband and I had moved, with our new baby, from the East Coast to California where he became an associate in a Los Angeles law firm, and weekends in Las Vegas became our only chance for quick, inexpensive getaways. The first couple of trips (staying at Motel 6, wearing flip-flops in the slimy shower stalls, eating meals at ninety-nine cent buffets) were spent playing slot machines and dollar black jack, none of which I enjoyed, but my husband loved it. If I ran out of gambling money (which I invariably did) I’d just roam the casino, bored and restless. And then one day I discovered the poker room at the Tropicana. I stood outside the poker table area (on the rail) trying to watch the games. Then, after a few of those sessions, I gathered up my courage plus fifty dollars in cash and a few poker chips that I’d rescued from my last blackjack attempt, and sat down in a one-to-five stud game. I turned my $50.00 into $125.00 and was hooked. The next day, our last of that trip, I went back to the same table, lost $50.00 in an hour, and decided that if I was going to play this game with any regularity, I’d better have more than the luck of the clueless to count on. I bought a book on how to play seven card stud. I read it over and over and waited for our next trip to Vegas. Now I loved the place. I’d found something that I enjoyed playing, that took my focus and concentration, and that made the hours in an afternoon or evening fly by. And I was on my own! No bridge partner to be concerned about. When I won, I got it all, and when I goofed up, there was no one else to be worried about.

By the time my kids were both in college, I was checking into the Mirage every six weeks or so and staying for as many days as I could. My years of PTA meetings and philanthropic committees were behind me, and the poker table was my new center of operations.