Poker vs. bridge

In college I started playing poker, often staying up until 3 AM in the dorm playing all kinds of weird variations of 7-card stud. About 5 years ago I played Texas Hold’em for the first time and immediately got into it. At first I played at friendly games held in people’s apartments and condos Downtown. Then I started playing Buzztime poker at Sleep Out Louie’s, and later Calhoun’s. Earlier this year I created a paid account with PokerStars and started playing for real money online. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty good and can usually walk away from the table with a profit. I stayed home last night, determined not to go to Pint Nite until I made $20. By 8:15 I had my $20 and off to the Saucer I went. I kinda like the idea of poker paying my bar tabs.

It’s been a culture shock, being a poker player working for an organization that sanctions the card game bridge. They are two entirely different worlds.

When you play bridge, you fill out a “convention card.” This spells out how you play common situations in bridge – your overall strategy. Stuff like, “if my partner bids 4 notrump, when I raise him in response, I’m not actually bidding, I’m telling him how many aces I have, and here’s how I tell him.”

Guess who gets to see your convention card? Your opponents. Can you imagine something like that in poker? Imagine if I wrote down, “Pre-flop, I raise 3 times the big blind when I have a pocket pair. If the flop indicates a flush or open-ended straight possibility, I raise 2/3 of the pot to scare speculators away.” And then show that to my opponents? In poker, I might as well just start passing out the contents of my wallet to the other people at the table.  In bridge, though, that’s considered part of the ethics and fairness of the game.

Bridge players enjoy playing against opponents who are better than they are. As a poker player, the last thing I want to see when I sit down at a table are good players. I keep a list of bad players I’ve previously encountered on PokerStars, and make it a point to search for them when I get online. If I find any of them and there’s an open seat at their table, I sit down.

After the hand is over, bridge players will often discuss the hand – this is the advantage of playing with more experienced players, so you can learn from them. On the other hand, in poker, the last thing I’d ever do is tell bad players what they did wrong – I want them to continue to play badly and fork over more of their money. “Dude, that was a sharp move, going all in with your unsuited J4 after AKK came down in the flop. Yeah, it didn’t work out this time, but hey, maybe next time Lady Luck will smile on you instead of me. Maybe you’ll get an even better hand to go all in with, like a suited J4 or maybe even a J5. Hey, I enjoy playing with you, let me add you to my buddy list so I can find you and play with you again.” That would be the only kind of hand analysis I’d offer an opponent.

If you get good at bridge, you get “masterpoints.” Accumulate lots of masterpoints and you become kind of a big deal in the bridge world. In poker, if you get good, you get “money.” To me, money is kind of a bigger deal than masterpoints.

Different strokes for different folks. They’re both great games, fun to play and fantastic mental exercise. Still, though, when I get home tonight and get in front of my laptop, I’ll be firing up PokerStars, not BridgeBase. Actually, it will be a short session, because tonight is trivia night. Hmmm and it’s also $5 34 oz. drink night at Kooky Canuck… perhaps there’s a maple flank steak and a Flying Moose in my future after trivia.