Poker is Meritocracy

August 17, 2005

Barge 2005
Meritocracy is rare!

  • Short people routinely get passed over for jobs.
  • Handicapped customers are considered a hassle by most restaurants.
  • Ugly girls get smaller tips even if they are better waitresses.
  • Blacks pay more for mortgages.

One of the joys of poker is that it is a meritocracy. You can be short, fat, and old with bad teeth and an eye patch. You may roll up to the table in your wheel chair speaking broken English but it just doesn’t matter. Not that you won’t get some looks, but at the end of the day, everybody gets 2 cards. How you play them is all that matters. Cash and respect flows to the winners and just as pity takes the place of a loser’s bankroll.

As I walked in to the poker room, the crowd was overwhelmingly male. Most people looked like they spent too much time at a computer (or a card table). They had big bellies, wore sweat pants and needed haircuts. They didn’t look even a little like Matt Damon or Ed Norton. No sir, these were the not the jet set high rollers and hotties you might image rolling in to Vegas. This was B.A.R.G.E.

For more than a dozen years I have been meaning to go to Las Vegas in August for BARGE, the big August Rec.Gambling Excursion. Long before the web became a synonym, for the Internet, I played in an annual poker tournament by email with a bunch of people from the Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling. Once a year these folks get together in Vegas to play cards, drink and meet face to face. I finally made it this year thanks to Dan, a friend of mine from my local poker game.

The seen was just what I expected, paunchy middle-aged nerds who love cards as much as I do. It was awesome! In fairness, not everybody was a paunchy nerd, but there were a lot of information technology folks that had been using the Internet before the web existed and it showed. The contingent from Alt.Drunken.Bastards (another newsgroup) proudly wore ADB baseball caps, but it would not have been hard to pick them out. They were the loud drunk ones making lots of noise at the tables. Go figure. Normally people play badly when they are drunk, but the ADB crowd had clearly never played sober. Hard drinking and hard thinking, they were on top of their game even as the cocktail waitress brought round after round of Rumplemintz shots.

Despite the nerdish tendencies in the group most people had well developed social skills and I felt at home right away. I met all sorts of nice people that I won’t embarrass by name. There was constant analysis of hands well played and misplayed. Dan was still obsessing over the hand that busted him out of the tournament the year before! While endless poker chat is the norm here, and I had to sit through the usually “bad beat” stories, the level of discourse was very high and I was immediately aware of how much I still have to learn about poker. I am told that the average level of play in the annual BARGE tournament is higher than in the world series of poker.

I met some poker celebs too, like Lee Jones (author of Winning Low Limit Hold ‘em.) and I had a really nice lunch with Andy Bloch and his fiance Jen, who runs Later Jen and I played at the same table in the BARGE NL Hold’em tournament, but after Andy busted out, she dumped her chips in a hurry and I didn’t get a shot at the WPT “play like the pros on your TV game” that she had brought to give to whomever busted her out of the tournament.

I finished 7th in the tournament which made me embarrassingly proud (but dubious that I could repeat the performance in the WSOP, average level of play not withstanding). I played a ton of poker and it wasn’t enough and I had a great time! Even more surprisingly I did something I never thought I’d do in Vegas. I went for a hike (more on that shortly)! I’m sorry that I’ll be traveling when next year’s BARGE rolls around, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.

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