Table Talk: Poker is the Great International Game

country flags

The non-poker news over the past week in the United States has been nonstop and exhausting. People around the world heard about the bombing at the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts, as well as the subsequent crimes, manhunt, and legal proceedings. Any part of it would drive a person to drink. Of course, I’ve had a few rum/cola glasses throughout the news coverage.

One of the most interesting – and sometimes disturbing – parts of the story is the focus on the ethnicity and religion of the suspects. For some Americans, it’s of the utmost importance to know where they were born, the nature of their citizenship, and their religious beliefs. As such, it’s been a major part of the news coverage, leading to assumptions and generalizations.

There is a stark contrast to that reality in the poker world. Poker players often think of themselves as a unique group of people, and that they are. In this case, the international nature of any poker tournament, whether live or online, is something that sets poker apart from many other parts of life in that most players embrace it. It’s often said that poker is a non-discriminatory game, as race, ethnicity, gender, and even physical ability have little to do with actual game skills. This is true and one of the things that makes poker such a great game.

Poker tournaments wouldn’t be the lucrative events that they are without the participation of players from around the world. Live tournaments, whether part of the European Poker Tour, World Poker Tour, or World Series of Poker, include participants from many countries. The EPT, in particular, is very proud of the statistics that show how many players attend each event from various countries and territories around the world. For example, the Berlin Cup that opened the most recent festival of events for the EPT had 911 players from 53 countries. As for the Main Event, the EPTLive webcast of the tournament offered a live stream in various languages – English, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, Romanian, Belgian French, Flemish, Latin American Spanish, Slovenian, and Italian. It’s quite the international event.

Online poker tournaments are much the same, though there is no live broadcast, and there are no published statistics about where the players are based. These tend to be even more international because players in so many countries can log on and play, no matter the language differences.

In live events, players also tend to be more talkative, inquiring as to the travels of other players. There is often talk at the tables about where a person lives and a true interest in the poker- playing habits in that country, as well as the language, cultural habits, and cuisine. While some players keep to themselves, others use the opportunity in live tournaments to become better acquainted with other ethnicities and cultures.

When a player from Israel sits at the table, there is more talk of poker and rarely a mention of the politics of the day. If current news does creep into a conversation, it’s usually due to a general curiosity of that player’s point of view. An American and an Iranian player can play poker at the same table for hours and not once discuss nuclear weaponry or political tension.

This is one of the things that made me fall in love with poker nearly a decade ago. I’m personally drawn to multi-cultural and diverse environments, and there are few situations that boast of them more than poker games. People are more likely to get upset at the turn of a card than the accent or look of another player.

The poker environment isn’t perfect, obviously. There is some stereotyping amongst poker players regarding their style of dress or antics at the table, though it is usually limited to the style of play. Some think that Europeans are slower to act in tournaments, Italians are more boisterous upon winning a hand, or Russians are quiet and mysterious. I’ve heard it all, but the generalizations are usually flimsy and can be squashed by the next meeting of two players who break the stereotypes.

Poker is the great international game. It’s one of the reasons I continue to write about it. Live tournaments bring players together from all corners of the world, and it is refreshing to see that few people care about the ethnicity or religion of their opponents; only the way they play their cards.

In today’s world of damning news and the desire to place blame, poker is a refreshing break.