I had two unpleasant poker experiences yesterday. I lost all my free money ($10 – no deposit required), plus about $12 in winnings, at Crazy Poker, and I placed somewhere around 2500 out of 9000 entrants in a freeroll tournament at Poker Stars. Perhaps I can attribute both of these performances to Gambler’s Ruin. Thanks QuietStorm for this possible explanation.
Since I believe I’ve tried all the poker rooms that give free money with no deposit, I’ve decided to take the Quaker approach to poker and stop playing, at least for a little while. This will no doubt make my wife happy, as she is both a Quaker and someone who thinks that I may have a problem with my constant poker playing.
Trying to please my wife is a good reason to stop playing poker, at least for a little while. However, when I think about the Quaker reasons for not playing poker, or more specifically the Quaker reasons that my wife has given, I don’t immediately see any clear-cut justification for such an action.
It can’t be because poker is gambling that Quakers are opposed to it. After all, it is impossible, to go through life without gambling. As the philosopher Tom Morris once wrote,”We are always wagering our time and energy on one strategy or another in pursuit of our own hopes and dreams.” If what Morris says is true, and I certainly believe it is, then we are also constantly wagering money, as time/energy = money.
If you are a rational person, then when you make a decision about something, whether it is calling a hand in poker, placing a bet on a horse at the races, choosing a new car, or changing your line of work, you take into consideration three things: the payoff, the chance of success, and the cost of making it. If this isn’t gambling, then I don’t know what is.
You may even apply this decision making process in the realm of religion, as the French Philosopher Blaise Pascal famously did. He thought that the evidence for God’s existence was not at all compelling, but he argued that you should try to become a believer in God because it is more in your self-interest to believe that God exists than not to believe. This prudential argument has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager.
Poker is not like the lottery, where, as my wife put it, the idea is to get something for nothing. In no-limit Hold’em, for example, players frequently go all-in, which means that they risk all their money to win the pot, and they do this often in an attempt to win less than the amount of money they are wagering. Perhaps trying to get something for nothing is a principle that one should not adopt, and perhaps this is a good reason not to play the lottery. But I don’t see how this principle has any relevance to poker.
My wife is obviously correct that players use deception in poker to try to win others’ money. In fact, that’s in large part what makes the game so much fun. But obviously the problem can’t be with the deception by itself. Not all deception is bad. There is, as QuietStorm has pointed out, nothing morally problematic with deception in sports, when, for example, a player tries to fake another player out. And if a person has to lie to another person to protect that person’s feeling (No, honey, you’re not playing too much Free Cell), then, arguably that person should do so. Sorry Kant.
I know that my wife’s reply to this would be that it is not the deception by itself that makes poker morally problematic, but rather it is the fact that when you play poker you may try to deceive someone in order to win their money. Of course, if I were to deceive some unsuspecting person in order to get his or her money, then I would be a morally unscrupulous person. However, in poker there are no unsuspecting people. If you play poker you implicitly accept the fact that all the players may try to deceive you to get your money. So I think that there is a relevant disanalogy between poker and the real world, and thus a further argument is needed to show why the “combo of being deceptive while trying to separate your opponents from their $$” is not kosher.
The final point that my wife made concerning the problems with gambling is, in my opinion, the best. My wife points out that gambling is ‘thought to take focus away from the spiritual life”. While I do believe that there is something to this objection, I think I need some more clarification about the meaning of “spiritual life” before I can give a final ruling on its merits. As I said above, I think that what in large part makes poker fun is the deception aspect, and I think that fun and spirituality are closely connected. Now, this is probably not what my wife has in mind when she talks about the spiritual life. But if it is not, then why not?
I’ll admit that if you want to live a good life there are probably more worthwhile activities than playing poker, or tennis, or chess, or reading most novels, although I doubt that praying is one of them. If this is the main reason why Quakers believe that one should not play poker, then I feel the force of their reasoning. It is after all the wisdom given to us by Aristotle. And so in the spirit of eudaimonea I commit to stop playing poker, at least for a little while.