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Opinions: Poker on campus: a royal flush

Illustration by Jennifer Kearney
By Ella Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 2, 2005
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Up until about a year ago, if anyone had asked me what "flop" or "river" meant, I would have answered with straightforward definitions of the words and possibly with examples (see "From Justin to Kelly," and a dry, sandy wash, respectively).

Then I was reluctantly inducted into the world of Texas hold 'em poker by a determined roommate. Turns out I liked it, and I'm not the only one. However, poker has always been more than chips and cards, and the dangers of addiction are something to be aware of.

Recent months have seen an explosion in poker's popularity, locally and nationally. It's on the big-screen televisions in sports bars, plastered across T-shirts and billboards; we watch celebrities anguish over whether to fold or go all in, and a new batch of sports heroes is playing in the World Series of Poker.

The UA campus is no exception to the poker fever; mere mention of Texas hold 'em will make half the people in any given room lean forward with undisguised interest and excitement.

People are playing everywhere: on Web sites, in the residence halls, in Wilbur's Underground, in study rooms at the UA Main Library, at parties. The game takes a moment to learn, but as a skill, it requires much more time and dedication to fully comprehend and master.

Such a surge in student appeal, however, raises questions regarding the line between the strictly regulated activity of gambling and an innocuous but lively game of strategic camaraderie.

Traditionally, poker has associations to casinos, to seedy dealers and smoky rooms, to environments rife with tension and money. But while this historical perception will always lend a certain aura to the game, the new face of poker is affable, accessible and communal. As both a student pastime and campus activity, it has put on a new suit and shed many of its negative connotations.

Ella Peterson

In twice-weekly tournaments in both the Student Union Memorial Center and Park Student Union, like-minded people meet around felt-covered tables, try their poker faces and strategies of play, with nothing at stake but a little pride.

There is no betting permitted, and this removal of monetary risk-and-reward puts poker on a social level, allows it to be what it is: an exciting night of conversation and competition, free of the pressures, friction and legal questions brought into play by fiscal interests.

Tournament players generally partake for the love of poker and time with friends, but the points given out in each of these highly structured and well-organized events are another objective. These points are used in a ranking system of the top participating players. At the end of the year, the best players are invited to the Champions Tournament, where points can turn into prizes.

These tournaments, put on by the Games Room, and other opportunities for the poker aficionado address a rapidly growing interest in the student population, and the programs have sprung up within a few short years. They provide a safe and fun service to their customers, and many are taking full advantage of these new activities.

People should be aware of their own tendencies, however. Players, especially those who participate in frequent for-cash games elsewhere, should self-monitor for signs of a particular tendency toward addiction. As with all activities with potential to alter mood excessively, much of the concern surrounding the concept of gambling on campus stems from the possibility of negative impact on one's education and life.

While this is something every player should keep in mind, removing the aspect of reward or penalty from the game of poker likewise removes much of the emotional high-stakes feel. This leaves, ideally, only the pleasure and adrenaline rush that comes with playing any game of skill and strategy.

Poker should be, and is, an activity of enjoyment and friendly competition, not an unhealthy addiction or obsession, and programs such as the Games Room tournaments remove the source that continues to associate poker with gambling: money, something students don't have much of to begin with.

As a hitherto untapped area of interest within the student population, poker has enjoyed a recent boom of publicity and popularity. The line between gambling and gaming is necessarily questioned, but as a student activity on campus, poker has become a social event.

It is common ground, a personal test of strategy and risk-assessment skills, and - for some dedicated players - an applicable metaphor for most aspects of life.

Ella Peterson is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at

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