Should We Teach Poker To Our Kids?

By David Sasseman | January 15, 2009

“Poker has done more than any other game, including baseball, to shape the American character”

A.D. Livingston from ‘Poker Wit & Wisdom’.

The first time I played poker I lost every penny. My allowance was gone. My spirit was broken. I decided right then and there to never be taken again – especially by my Grandmother. In the end it was actually Grandmother who taught me to put up a tough fight and never lose for lack of patiently trying.

Many years later I was playing a tournament in a Caribbean casino swarming with Brits. One of them asked me if it was true everyone in the US was trained in poker at childhood. I simply said “Yes.” What struck me at that moment was how we take such an American institution for granted. The question was not as funny as it sounded.

Our country has an age old love affair with poker. It was invented right here and is as American as wild turkeys or apple pie. Many of our past presidents, federal judges, and other distinguished figures have played the game. Poker is ingrained in our history and language. When Harry Truman said “The buck stops here,” he was referring to what we now call the dealer button.

Poker is now the third-most watched sport on cable TV behind auto racing and the NFL. Decks of cards are sold in convenience stores. Texas hold’em games, along with spades, bridge, Uno, Monopoly, backgammon, and chess are sold in groceries and department stores. Poker professionals are very popular, and some are even considered role models. With Texas hold’em inundating our lives, some of us are now asking ourselves whether or not it is a game we should teach our youth.

Texas hold’em will not only teach math but will influence a person’s development of good sportsmanship, confidence, discipline, and analytical thinking. Many learning skills and qualities are more tangible when explained through poker because it has some good jumping off points to teach what is required for life.

Summary of Poker’s Benefits:

  • Develops Math Skills
  • Develops Sportsmanship
  • Develops Confidence
  • Develops Analytical Thinking
  • Rewards Planning For The Future
  • Rewards Good Money Management
  • Teaches Psychology
  • Teaches You Patience
  • Teaches You Concentration
  • Teaches You Self-Knowledge

Poker demands hundreds of decisions a session. Because there is instant gratification, concentrating on intricate strategies and adjusting to different situations becomes just part of the game. Poker has immediate consequences rewarding desirable actions such as, being logical, understanding probability, a good memory, knowing statistics, body language, and psychology. Poker punishes undesirable actions such as ignoring the pot odds, ignoring rules, denying reality, and acting impulsively.

Difficult concepts can be made easier to grasp through poker. You can not only get kids to love math; but, they will even do it in their heads! Though just a game, poker helps develop social skills and good decision making that will be useful in business. The very stuff poker is made from- managing money, adjusting to changing situations, planning for the future, cooperation, depersonalizing conflicts, doing your best with incomplete information- is the very backbone of corporate decisions.

One must play a good solid, patient game while analyzing risk and reward, realizing some short-term losses are acceptable, learning to size up the competition quickly and reacting immediately. If a player is impatient, illogical, or refuses to analyze risks, they will lose at poker, and they will make many mistakes in business and personal relationships as well.

Poker’s psychological lessons are huge. A player learns to “walk in another person’s shoes,” how another person thinks, what they want, and perceive. It teaches one to relax and control one’s emotions. And, maybe, most importantly, a person learns about his or her own nature. You must have self-knowledge, and admit your flaws so that you can work on them. Otherwise you may never reach your full potential in poker or life. Poker develops realism in the cruellest, but most effective ways. If you deny reality about yourself, about the cards, odds, opposition, or almost anything else, you quickly pay for it. If you are realistic, you win. If you deny reality, you lose.

Children can be taught to play poker without gambling for money by just using chips, or even perhaps for small stakes, which we used to call ‘penny ante.’ The real question is not if we should teach our children how to play poker, but the question is whether or not we should continue to teach them to play. I think you know which way Nana and I would vote.

By David Sasseman

David lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has played over a million hands online and many thousands of hands in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, and Las Vegas casinos.


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