Poker and Philosophy: “Is it Bluffing when No One Sees you Blink?”

Is online poker really poker?

This question is one that David R. Koepsell considers and gives an answer to in his essay “Is it Bluffing when No One Sees you Blink”, one of the essays in the collection of essays called “Poker and Philosophy: Pocket Rockets and Philosopher Kings”, edited by Eric Bronson.  To see my comments about another essay in this collection read this.

Koepsell writes, “Online poker is not poker – it is a subset of the game, lacking features we necessarily consider to be part of the game.  These are the social features which we most frequently associate with poker’s portrayal in novels and movies.”  Koepsell goes on to say that these social features, which are “moot” with respect to online poker, involve “rules of etiquette”, such as “not acting out of turn, not splashing the pot, not touching other people’s cards or chips, not raking the pot, and so on.”

I don’t agree with Koepsell.

First of all, if Koepsell is saying that these etiquette rules must be relevant in order for some game to be considered poker, then I see no reason for why one should believe this.

Second, while it is true that the etiquette rules that Koepsell mentions are moot when it comes to online poker.  I am not clear on why he thinks that they they are less moot when it comes to poker played in a poker room in a casino.   Can one really act out of turn in a poker room in a casino?

Finally, isn’t it false that there is an etiquette rule against raking the pot in poker roooms in casinos?

So if Koepsell’s argument is that online poker is not really poker because the rules of poker etiquette are moot with respect to it, but are not moot with respect to non-online poker, and that these rules of etiquette must not be moot in order to play a real game of poker, then I think his argument is not sound.

Koepsell doesn’t just talk about rules of poker etiquette in the essay.  He also talks about bluffing, and he is correct to point out that there is one important difference between online poker and non-online poker played around a real table, namely the latter game involves more sophisticated forms of bluffing than the former type of game.   If there were no bluffing in online poker, then I would be inclined to say that it doesn’t qualify as poker.  However, as Koepsell recognizes, there is bluffing in online poker, primarily consisting in the bet, and so bluffing cannot be the reason that online poker is not poker.

I don’t think that Koepsell is saying that online poker is not poker because of the limitations of bluffing online.  But if he is suggesting this, then he needs further argument.   For indoor tennis is still considered tennis, even though you don’t deal with the wind and sun, which are part of the outdoor tennis game.  Similarly, online poker should be considered poker, even though you don’t deal with the physical gestures and mannerisms of real people, which are part of the game of poker that is played around a real table.

2 thoughts on “Poker and Philosophy: “Is it Bluffing when No One Sees you Blink?”

  1. I basically agree with you. It seems like this is a question of whether “poker” is defined by a set of necessary and sufficient rules, or whether it’s a family resemblance concept. It *does* seem that you could define some necessary rules for “poker”–the use of cards, wagering involved–but many other features are optional. Saying that you have to have face-to-face interactions seems like too much of a purist view for me.

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