BE ADVISED that a poker craze is sweeping the nation. Almost every night there are poker tournaments on television. And if you think that watching people play cards on television would be boring, I have three words for you: correct-o-mundo.
The problem is that there's not a lot of action in televised poker, where the most strenuous thing the players do is push small plastic chips a distance of about 15 inches. (Granted, this is more action than you see in televised golf.) To make matters worse, poker players do not betray any feelings, so most of the time what you have, visually, is a bunch of grim-faced guys sitting around a table, looking like a hemorrhoid support group. Most of the emotion is supplied by the TV commentators, who, in hushed, dramatic tones, say things like:
* "He's thinking about what to do here, Bob."
* "You just know that, inside, he is churning with emotions, Bob."
* "I'm sure glad I took powerful methamphetamines before this broadcast, Bob."
The guys on TV are usually playing Texas Hold 'Em, which is the hottest poker game at the moment, although there are many other popular variations of poker, including Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw, Alabama Grope 'Em, Omaha High Low, Iowa Bore 'Em, Six Card High Low Medium Jacks Wild Stud Draw Go Fish, Cincinnati Lawn Flamingo, Florida Recount 'Em, Kansas City Clam Enhancer, Arkansas Geld 'Em, New Jersey Whack 'Em, New York Kvetch 'Em, Red Rover and Whist.
All of these games are essentially the same: A person (or, in poker slang, "dealer") gives you some cards ("cards"), which you look at in a furtive manner ("sneaking a gander") to see if you have a good hand ("bling bling") after which you bet (or "kiss the eel") by placing money ("cheese") into the pot ("marijuana"). This goes on until somebody ("not you") wins, at which point all the losers express heartfelt congratulations in colorful slang terms.
Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Not to me, either. But as I say, poker is sweeping the nation, and so recently I decided to experience it firsthand by going to the poker room at the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming casino, located west of Miami right next to the Everglades, which makes it one of the few casinos in the world where not only can you gamble -- excuse me, I mean "game" -- but also you can experience the excitement of knowing that you could be attacked by an alligator in the parking lot.
I've never played serious poker, so I took along a friend, Philippe Boets, who is an expert. Unfortunately, he's not an expert on poker: He is an expert on petanque, an extremely French sport where you toss steel balls around, the object being to eventually stop and have lunch. Philippe is president of Petanque America, which consists largely of Philippe. When I thought about a possible companion for my poker expedition, his name came immediately to mind because of a certain indefinable quality he has, which I would define as not having a real job.
On the way to the casino, Philippe told me that the only poker game he has played is Indian poker, in which each player sticks a card onto his forehead, so that he can't see it, but all the other players can.
"Then what?" I asked.
"I don't remember," Philippe said. "There was a lot of rum."
Things were much more serious in the casino poker room, where the tables were fully occupied by grim chip-pushing hemorrhoid-support groupers. There was a nice lady there, and Philippe and I asked her how we could get into a game. She asked if we knew how to play, and we said sure, we knew the basics, in the sense of being able to recognize most of the cards on sight. This did not satisfy her: She wanted to know if we knew the winning hands, and we had to admit that we did not. She told us, apologetically, that we would not be welcome in the games, because the groupers get upset when, in the midst of all the rapid-fire dealing and bluffing and betting, a novice player (or "moron") says something like: "OK, does a flush beat a trump?"
So Philippe and I did not get to participate in the national poker craze. Instead, we went to the bar and participated in the national beer craze, after which we spent a couple of hours losing money at the slot machines. This is an unbelievably mindless activity. It's only a matter of time before it's huge on TV. ("She's pulling the handle again, Bob.")