Poker, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

Life in the USA is a complete guide to American life for immigrants and Americans. All materials on this site Copyright © Elliot Essman 2014. All rights reserved.    Home    Back    Next

Life in the USA
Everyday Life
Games of Chance

Poker: An American Tradition
The card game called poker has its place both in American legend and as a current, and extremely popular, American pastime. In draw poker, all the cards are visible only to the players who hold them; players are allowed to exchange several cards for new ones in the hope that their hands will improve. In stud poker, several of a player’s cards may be visible, the others hidden, as cards are dealt one at a time, with betting rounds in between. In community card poker, a number of cards are dealt face up and may be used by all players; Texas hold ‘em and Omaha are popular varieties.

No Limit Texas Holdem is a popular version of poker because you have the option to bet as much as you want to in each betting round. You can go "all-in" by putting all of your money or chips in at once. All poker sites in the USA offer no limit holdem now and it adds a level of excitement that you don't get with the other variations of poker.

The game became popular on Mississippi riverboats during the first half of the nineteenth century and moved west to be associated with cowboys, saloons, and life on the western frontier during the second half of the century. American films have frequently drawn a picture of both these settings as being rough and tumble. The slick professional gambler in these images is often adept at cheating and sleight of hand maneuvers. Gunplay and violence is often a result.

Poker language and lore is an important part of the American language, generating such widely used terms as having an “ace in the hole” (meaning a major hidden advantage), showing a “poker face” (a facial expression that does not reveal emotion, say in negotiations), or suffering from a situation in which “the chips are down” (things are not going well).

Another image of poker, perhaps more true to life than that of the western movies, involves the home poker game. Although women certainly do participate in these games, it is largely seen as a men’s activity. A group of men in a neighborhood would take turns hosting a game in their homes once a week or once every other week; simple refreshments (beer and pretzels) might be served. Stakes may well remain relatively low, since these games are meant to be friendly social activities.

At another level, tournament poker since the 1970s has attracted major professional players. More recently, new developments in camera techniques have allowed these tournaments to be televised, with commentary, turning poker into a spectator as well as participant sport. As a result, stakes and prizes have ballooned past the million dollar point. The widespread popularity of casino and Internet poker tends to increase interest in and involvement in these tournaments.

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