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Geeks Playing Poker? 431

Ben Collins writes "I recently won a satellite tournament at Full Tilt Poker for entry into the World Poker Tour Final at Foxwoods Casino. I picked up poker as a hobby about 4 months ago, and consider myself a decent player, maybe due to programming experience (analytical thinking). Any other programmers/computer people find that they can play poker better than the average person because of their computer experience?"
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Geeks Playing Poker?

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  • Online vs. Offline (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:49PM (#10615955)
    In online play, it can really come down to your abilities to play the odds. Your geek skills are good for this. In offline play, though, tells can be a huge factor, and for some geeks, the social aspect of this may be much harder.
  • by nate nice ( 672391 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:51PM (#10615970) Journal
    I'm not sure if Poker is a fad right now or something that may last. My instinct tells me it is a fad and will die in a year or so. Has it had resurgence before anyone know of?

    I will play from time to time, but I find it best in moderation. Anyways, lets start the flame war.

    Is poker a fad or is it here to stay, and why?
  • Sure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cloudkj ( 685320 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:51PM (#10615974)
    I think many people with a background in an engineering/technical discipline is, in general, more mathematically inclined than the average person. Thus, since so much of poker is statistics, probabilities, odds, and what not, I think many computer people already have an edge. But just having that quantitative mindset doesn't make you an instant poker superstar, since many other factors play into it. A lot of it also has to do with intuition, confidence, and of course, luck.
  • Nope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pheonix5000 ( 661842 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:53PM (#10615983) Homepage
    I've been dealing with computers for a long time and it hasn't helped me one bit at poker. Sure, maybe you can do the math a bit better but that only helps for online games. IRL, strategies are much different as you're playing with people and have to read the player. And besides, how many geeks have had any real experience with people (and no Virtual Girl doesn't count!)
  • IMO (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Soporific ( 595477 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:53PM (#10615985)
    Being geeky might help with keeping track of cards, but I think the real skill in poker is the ability to read your opponents body language. That skill doesn't sound like it's a skill that most nerds posess, or they'd get laid more.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:55PM (#10616007)
    picked up poker as a hobby about 4 months ago, and consider myself a decent player, maybe due to programming experience (analytical thinking)>

    Programming has little to do with analysis and a lot to do with gut feelings when you code, and more importantly, when you debug. What I mean is, you "feel" it when the code is right (or whatever solution you're working on is right) and you know long before the end of the project whether it'll be great, so-so or crappy.

    Well, same thing for poker: you play by "feeling" the opponents, and your hands, and just "knowing" when the stars are aligned and when you should go. So yes, your programming experience may have something to do with your playing poker well, but not for the reasons you think.
  • We aren't smarter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 3770 ( 560838 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:56PM (#10616010) Homepage

    And this isn't a troll.

    But I think that programmers tend to think that they are smarter than the average person. People tend to want to be good at what they do. And for a programmer, being intelligent is one of the most important factors for that.

    And with the power of wishful thinking they think they are.

    And without even realizing it, they ask questions which imply that programmers are smarter than the average person. That bugs me.

    Oh, and I'm a programmer myself.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:56PM (#10616015)
    That's where being a nerd can make you a star.
  • by BadBlood ( 134525 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:04PM (#10616056)
    Be careful, short term success does not a good poker player make.

    Even the BEST in the world, Brunson, Chan, etc., go through long losing streaks due to the high variance of poker.

    You can make the correct decision each and every time based on the proper odds, yet lose money for weeks at a time.

    It's not how you handle winning that determines how good a player you are, it's how you handle losing.
  • by kryonD ( 163018 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:04PM (#10616057) Homepage Journal
    Poker, like coding, is a skill that is gained through research and experience. I'm sure most slashdotters have sat down at a table with friends, or hopped online for a little recreational play. And as long as you were sitting around with a bunch of people who have not studied the game, your analytical skills probably did lean the game in your favor. However, Poker is far more than just knowing the odds or keeping a stone solid expression on your face whether you just got a pair of Aces or 7-2o. Before everyone hops onto partypoker with their allowances, you should understand that if someone is sitting at the table who also knows how to play on button position and player identification (i.e. calling stations, recreational gambler, etc..), they could get dealt 7-2o all night long and still walk away with all of your money.

    Then again, what am I saying!! Everyone hop onto partypoker with all your money and find kryond at the NL single table touneys. I suck really bad...honest, I do!
  • by PK_ERTW ( 538588 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:05PM (#10616063)
    Being able to play poker on the internet has really caused this explosion in popularity. I have played poker all of my life, but in reality, it is usually hard to find a poker game. With the internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is a game playing at your budget and skill level.

    This has changed everything. You can practice for little or no money (I know sites that play 1c/2c games). There are sattelite games, so for only a couple dollars, you can have a chance to win a trip and entry in to a million dollar tournament. It has essentially made the game accessable to the masses.

    This is great for us geeks, because the masses arn't very good at math and logic. Online play is all a math game. Once you get pot odds and the probabilities down, you are better than the average player. If you can manage a little patience, it becomes very easy to be a positive player.

    And I'll be honest with you, It is rare that I find a video game that is as engaging as poker. It's multiplayer, and winning actually matters, so everyone is trying there best.


  • Opposite (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rangsk ( 681047 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:05PM (#10616064)
    I find that being a computer geek makes me worse at poker than the normal Joe Schmoe. Now, physicists, on the other hand, tend to be better than the average. The difference, I believe, is that although computer people would tend to have the necessary math and analytical skills to play poker, they tend to think algorithmically which really doesn't work in a poker setting.

    The only time I've felt I had an advantage was when the people I was playing against didn't know how to play poker.
  • Poker (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jack9 ( 11421 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:07PM (#10616072)
    My brother lost about $20k over 5 years learning to play poker. After awhile he started making money. 2 things are necessary to consistently make money playing poker. Patience and time. As of now he lives in Las Vegas as a part time ramp agent and part time gambler, he has paid me back as well as the rest of the $10k or so he had borrowed from everyone. People are drawn in to poker by the "thrill" when the money games are specifically not about that. After you play a couple hundred thousand hands, you get over the thrill and learn a grind that is reminiscent of MMORPGs but with a more lucrative outcome for the investment.
  • by 3770 ( 560838 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:07PM (#10616075) Homepage
    Being a nerd and doing "insider" jokes is different from thinking that I'm smarter than everyone else because I'm a programmer.

    But I'lll freely admit that I've been guilty of this myself. Assumed that I'm smarter because I'm a programmer, that is. That is why I've spent so much time thinking about it.

    And now I see it as a trend with programmers and it is rather obvious when reading slashdot.

    A question is asked, which begs for answers which reassuringly imply that programmers are smarter than the average person. It is our communitys little "feel good" ritual.
  • by trolluscressida ( 564353 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:22PM (#10616168)
    you'll have an advantange over your opponents is a great way to get yourself into trouble. yes, brains are definitely an asset but they're no match for experience - particularly against those who've read up on the theory of poker and what not. A PhD who thinks he's smart - rightly so - and who sits down at a 10/20 game believing his intelligence alone will make him a winning player will get educated very quickly. If ever there was an example of "street smarts" being better than "book smarts" existed, poker is it. Having said that, almost all top poker players are brilliant people - but intelligence alone won't cut it. Nice thing about poker is that to make money you don't have to be good. You can actually be pretty bad - just need to find players worse than yourself. And for anyone interested, PartyPoker offers a bonus of 20% up to $100 on your initial deposit if you use the promo code "23457"
  • by jbellis ( 142590 ) <jonathan@ca[ ]ge ... m ['rna' in gap]> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:28PM (#10616200) Homepage
    Nobody thinks he is below average.
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:29PM (#10616204) Journal
    Here's the conclusion I've drawn from the stories of friends, coworkers and relatives over the past two years:
    • Every single one of them has started playing poker.
    • Every single one of them does nothing but win!

    So, to answer the original question, it's not just programmers -- everyone is coming out ahead! Alan Greenspan clearly should take note, as there's something very wrong with the country's money supply.

  • by RevAaron ( 125240 ) <> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:36PM (#10616246) Homepage
    Does it irritate you because you don't like to play poker, or because you were playing it before it was "cool?"
  • Re:Texas Hold 'em (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AtomicDog ( 168155 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:39PM (#10616259) Homepage
    There is a Texas Hold'em game that is advertised to work in Linux and is written in Java: []

    I've never played it, so I can't vouch for its quality. I've seen it sold at a lot of retail outlets though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:39PM (#10616263)
    No of course. Programmers aren't smarter than other people.

    While we're at it, sports players aren't physically more adept or in better shape than other people.

    Wait a minute...
  • Re:IMO (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kurosawdust ( 654754 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:57PM (#10616383)
    Being geeky might help with keeping track of cards, but I think the real skill in poker is the ability to read your opponents body language. That skill doesn't sound like it's a skill that most nerds posess, or they'd get laid more.

    Tells are without a doubt the single most overrated aspect of poker. Beginners place so much significance on them and they are in actuality within epsilon of zero significance. If you are playing with absolutely terrible players, can you get a hint of whether or not they're strong or weak based on certain things they do, body language and mannerisms? Yes. Can you do this in the World Series of Poker where you imagine yourself playing at the Final Table and catching a tell off Doyle Brunson that isn't an intentional tell he used to separate you from your money? Probably not. Knowing that the pot is offering you 8-to-1 odds when you are 6-to-1 to make your ace-high flush and there's no pair on board (so there can't be a full house or four of a kind) is much more valuable then guessing and second-guessing what your opponent's scratching his nose three times means, versus his usual two.

    My guess is you haven't played much poker for real money, at least not against opponents who aren't god-awful. See? I called your bluff, and I can't even see you!
  • by johansalk ( 818687 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:09PM (#10616458)

    I'm a physician and I frequently sense that physicians consider themselves smarter than the common individual, programmers included. I am also aware that lawyers too, by virtue of their understanding of meticulous contracts and weighing of evidence, consider themselves *far* smarter than others. Then also come the management professionals, many of whom are happy to consider themselves transcendentally smarter than others they would like to see as personnel, resources and assets they can manipulate.

    I think it's a middle-class disease. If you're upper class with inherited property and investments, then the urge to prove yourself isn't all that pressing. But If you're a middle-class and falling into the ranks of lower-class isn't unthinkable, then kicking the lower-class man is a good way to relieve your tension.
  • by twiggy ( 104320 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:18PM (#10616508) Homepage
    Poker is not the same as typical casino gambling - especially if you're not playing it at a casino.

    Casino gambling involves games of chance where the "house" (the casino) has a statistical edge over the long term.

    In poker, you're playing other players - so you've all got an equal shot at the money. The only factor giving you an edge is your ability to play the game.

    To say that "Gambling is a tax on the stupid" in a thread like this is to imply that anyone who plays poker is stupid.

    Quite the contrary. But we who are decent or even good/great at poker definitely prefer to play against the stupid - because they're the ones who line our pockets.

    One might even argue that poker is really more a game of skill than it is "gambling" - though there is still luck involved in the short term, the skillful will win out in the long term regardless of luck.
  • Be careful (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nwbvt ( 768631 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:27PM (#10616542)
    Thinking you have some special skill in a game that mostly depends on luck is the first step in becoming a gambling addict. You were not doing well because of your engineering abilities, you were doing well because you were dealt good hands. Thats luck, not skill, and it doesn't carry over from one game to another. It won't be long before your luck turns on you and you are down quite a bit of money.
  • by EvlG ( 24576 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:35PM (#10616580)
    I read once (I think Sklansky wrote it?) that it is feasible for you to have a bad run of cards as long as 20 years (!)
  • by ezzzD55J ( 697465 ) <> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:48PM (#10616647) Homepage
    I think you and grandparent are right on the money. Not sure I agree with the middle-class-disease explanation, even though what the explanation is doesn't matter right now.

    I think it's because of the large amount of exposure professionals get to laymen in that profession; be it programming, lawyering, managaring, or what-have-you. They've all spent many years becoming what they are (university etc) and get much exposure to (a) laypeople in that profession (their customers), and (b) the clique of other professionals, with which they can chitchat about the clueless ones out there.

    Technical people thinking they're so much smarter than the rest, e.g. commercial people (managers, marketing, sales) who are needed every bit as much as the technical people, just because they understand a technical thing others don't, really annoy me. It's your job to understand these things, and it's others' job to understand their things!

    Thank you for listening. :)

  • by djhertz ( 322457 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:02PM (#10617101)
    ..there are 2 kinds of people that can be professional poker players. People with a freakish talent for poker (very very rare) and people that could make more money doing something else but choose not too. It takes a lot of skill to play poker, and playing for 4 months.. you don't have a clue. It's like when you first learn to code, your the man when you learn about a subroutine!

    If you don't know who David Sklansky is, you don't make money playing poker. I have been playing poker for years, and most of the players I know say the make money, or 'break even'. Yah? Do they keep records? If the answer is no, then you do not make money.

    About 10% of poker players are profitable. This does not mean, you won big one night, and forgot to write down those couple of loses. It means, play 40 hours a week for a year, and see where you are. Play 50,000 hands and see where you are. If you have 10 people playing.. the best player will eventually get all the money, it's just a matter of time. It may take years, but it will happen.

    I don't mean to troll at all with this. It's just when I keep reading, "I am an above average poker player and have been playing for 4 months and here is what I have to say..." it makes me think how every thinks they are "above average drivers."

    So am I an above average player with all my obnoxious 'insight'? Well, I am paying taxes from poker this year, so yeah.

    Now, let's shuffle up and deal!
  • by rograndom ( 112079 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:04PM (#10617113) Homepage
    I think poker is as much of a fad as professional wrestling. Some generation of college kids "discovers" this somewhat dark pasttime and thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, the industry is then flung into the mainstream but can't escape it's seedy roots and collapses under it's own weight. Remember, these businesses aren't exactly run by Mary Poppins. By that time, whoever hasn't moved on with their life either goes "Boy, this is pretty fucking stupid, what the hell have I been doing? Time for a new hobby." (majority) or they're hooked for life (minority). A few years later a generation who were too young to remember the previous wave "discovers" it and the cycle begins again.
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:13PM (#10617167) Journal
    Being a geek doesn't help you win at poker if all your friends are geeks too. It just evens out the mathematical-skill part of the game, leaving you with the psychological behaviour-prediction parts of the game that you're not so good at. After all, the game's not about manipulating cards, it's about manipulating people.

    On the other hand, back during the boom, the main instigator of our poker games also liked very good single-malts, so any money I lost was more than made up for by a cheerful evening with friends drinking his whisky.

  • by entropy42 ( 109731 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:44PM (#10617356) Homepage
    I (paul phillips) made three WPT final tables and three WSOP final tables in the last year but I was a programmer until I started playing cards full time a few years ago. Apparently I even still read slashdot from time to time. Finally, a thread where I feel completely qualified to post.

    Programmers have a better foundation for poker analysis than most but this is a very incomplete predictor of success. Much more valuable is the ability to play your A-game all the time, and I haven't seen that programmers are any better at this than anyone else.

    Poker is as much a test of self-discipline (and many other things) as it is of logic and knowledge. Being a brilliant analyst is of no use is you fail in other areas.

    I write a lot about the tournament poker life in my blog [].
  • by SuperRob ( 31516 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:46PM (#10617370) Homepage
    That's why I won't play online. The social engineering aspect of the game (which I'm very good at), is such a huge factor (at least, in Texas Hold 'Em) that I refuse to play online.

    That, and the fact that many of the popular online poker establishments have problems with bots and people working in collusion to grind out the pots.

    Anyway, one of the most important things I've learned while playing poker is that playing penny games online will get you to see enough pots where you can learn the odds pretty quickly. But I personally wouldn't take playing online any further than that. If you want to be a serious poker player, you have to get used to playing the people, and not just the odds.
  • poker success... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blakjack ( 670185 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @09:56PM (#10617430)

    Remember, it's not how good you play that makes you money - it's how bad "they" play. I've seen this concept stressed in a quite a few poker books.

    A poker player isn't successful because he plays well, he is successful because his opponents make mistakes.
  • by xero314 ( 722674 ) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @10:50PM (#10617731)
    Any time you want to play with the simple rule that you only ever get 72o let me know, I'm always looking for the better of a sucker bet. Heck I'd even take the bet if you'd play ever hand to the river, regardless of the cards.

    As a skilled player myself I can say that my mathmatical skills, used in programing if not gained from it, have helped alot. Though it is true that no amount of statistics knowledge will be the final word in a poker hand, it is usefull when determining betting for value, and dealing with those bad beats when they come along. So every time you win with that 72o hand be well aware that you are give the loser a large value bet, even a 73o is making a few penies on each dollar bet.

  • by swiggidy ( 311202 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @12:54AM (#10618293)
    Part of being a good programmer is a logical mindset. So most programmers are more logical and can memorize processes better than the average person.

    I'm an engineer and I know a lot of lawyers. They can't learn the formulas/processes. I can't read 500 pages in three days and remember everything. Which one is really smarter?

    It really bugs me that people have to be smarter than someone else instead of just accepting that everyone is different.
  • by jwdb ( 526327 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @03:46AM (#10618770)
    I've been playing almost every weekend for the last two years, and let me tell you, being able to read your opponents is one of the most important skills in poker. I can generally play the odds well enough to break even, but I have one cousin who can read me like a book, and if he plays I leave the table broke.

    The odds are extremely important, but so is knowing your opponent.

  • Re:IMO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @07:12AM (#10619383)
    Playing the players isn't about reading their tells.

    It's about knowing their betting history, and deducing their strategy from it. It's about information transmitted within the context of the game.

    Very hard to do, but not related to reading body language.
  • by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @07:46AM (#10619503) Homepage
    "I highly recommend it but be warned you WILL lose money at first, and you WILL be incredibly stressed out much of the time."

    I don't doubt you, really, but to me this sounds a little like an invitation to a pyramid scheme... Most people think they are smarter than average, so there should be a large pool of people to supply all the money you are winning, but nevertheless.
    I don't know if I'm smarter than average, and even if there was a reliable way to tell, I might not want to know. I think however, that the right thing to do is to stay out of gambling, and I don't hesitate to recommend that course of action for others as well, since it's more likely the smart thing to do also*

    (* poker is a zero-sum game, but only if you don't count the casino fees. It's also nice to reflect on whether the 10004th dollar is worth as much to you as the 104th in practice... and since you're much more likely to lose the 104 than to win the 10004th, perhaps the game isn't zero-sum even then. Payoff functions are tricky things to define.)

Remember to say hello to your bank teller.