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25/08/2006 No. 61
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Aug 25th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

A few weeks ago, before we were interrupted by the world's largest live poker tournament, I set you a riddle. Why is it unwise to shout abuse (or type it into the online chat-box) when you lose at poker? That is, apart from the obvious reason of your victim tracking you down and attacking you with a pitchfork.

Before giving the answer, let me stress that we would all be happier if our poker was conducted in a pleasant spirit anyway. There is potential comradeship in going online at night, when you're feeling bored or simply lonely, and playing a game with real people who are feeling similar all over the world. And there is something very depressing about the image of these bored or lonely or insomniac people just insulting each other and getting more depressed.
Having said that, friendliness can go too far. I have been sent a press release announcing the wedding of two people who met playing internet poker. I know the game has grown more sociable thanks to the influx of younger players, and that more women have discovered its joys (online play being so much less intimidating than a live game in a smoky, snarling casino), but I never thought I'd see the day when a poker website actually doubled as a marriage bureau.

Let's be honest: poker is about money and deceit. Some might say that's the perfect basis for marriage. Yet, while it's healthy to feel suspicious and combative towards card-table opponents, I suspect it is not ideal to feel that way about your potential life partner.

In marriage, it is kinder to keep your abuse to yourself; in poker, it's actually more lucrative. So: why? Think about the situations where people lose their rag at the gaming table. It is invariably to do with being "outdrawn" (losing to a worse hand than your own, after an unexpected turn of the cards), especially if the lucky fish has called a series of bets with a hand he should really have folded. ("HOW COULD U CALL, U *****??!!")

But if you think your opponents are making bad calls, why berate and discourage them? It is these very players - the ones who rely entirely on luck - that you want to play against! If somebody wants to gamble with the worst hand, don't shame them into becoming a better player. Don't enlighten them as to general mistakes. Just remember their face, or screen name. Swallow your loss, seek out that same opponent in future, and the long-term results should show up satisfyingly in your account balance.

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