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Texas Hold 'em gains popularity on campus

Oct. 28, 2005

by MANDY SMITH, reporter

Once inside Andy's apartment, the atmosphere changes. Cigar smoke penetrates and instantly clings to clothes. Coke bottles cover the floor, half smashed. It's eerily dark, and there is a feeling of anticipation. It's poker night.

And for Dayton senior Andy Conner, it's payday. A glorious $10 payday.

Later, Conner explains his hobby, known as Texas Hold 'em poker. This is serious business. He makes sure it's understood: Poker is a sport.

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Robyn Kenagy | Lariat staff

There are lots of types of poker. Some of the most widely known include Five-Card Stud and Omaha. The most popular type at Baylor is Texas Hold 'em.

But for Hewitt senior Joey McFarland, there's only one kind of poker.

"The one that takes my money and my self-esteem," he said.

And the best asset a poker player can have?

"A large bank account," McFarland said.

In Hold 'em, everyone is dealt two cards and does their first round of betting. Then a card is discarded, or "burned," and three community cards are laid face-up. This face-up card is called the "flop."

Another round of betting follows, and then another card is burned. The fourth card, which is labeled the "turn," is laid face up.

After the final burn card is laid down, the "river," or fifth card, is shown. Then the players go through one more round of bets before revealing their hands. The winner receives all the chips in the pot.

Main point? Bet, strategize and win.

It's important to be able to bluff. When dealt a bad hand, it's possible to win just by bluffing. This takes a good poker face, which is the reason many poker players wear glasses to hide their eyes.

"You must have a good 'poker face' and not show your emotions during the course of a game," Conner said. "The secret is to always keep the other guy guessing."

Conner also added that "if you sit down at a table and can't spot the sucker in five minutes, then chances are you're the sucker."

Like many sports, a little luck can always change the fate of a game.

"Once when I first started playing, I got dealt a straight flush and didn't even know it. If someone hadn't pointed it out, I would have thought I lost and given my money away," Conner said.

The royal flush is the best hand possible, which consists of having an ace, king, queen, jack and 10, all of the same suit. A straight flush is the next best hand, which is any five-card sequence in the same suit.

Next in line to win is four of a kind, then the full house - which is a three-of-a-kind and a pair. Next, a flush - any five cards of the same suit; a straight - five cards in sequence; three of a kind; two pair; one pair. And then, if all else fails, the high card wins.

Not everyone plays for just a few bucks. Some are hard core poker players, winning in the thousands.

"I know guys who play online regularly, and I've heard of them sitting in a game for five hours, winning and walking away with $7,500," Conner said.

The most Conner ever won is $40 in a $10 buy-in game.

And the most McFarland ever lost? His lunch.

But playing for money isn't necessary. A poker game can revolve around everything from candy to clothing.

"We've never played for money - it's a little too precious right now," The Woodlands senior Brittany Byrd said. "When we play, it's for M&M's. I've won quite a bit of those."

Byrd's favorite aspect of the game is the risk.

“Even playing for M&Ms, I love taking my chances and hopefully, seeing it pay off,” Byrd said. “ I think it's just my character to take a chance, and poker has plenty of chances.”

She went on to describe the needed characteristics of a winning poker player.

"Being a good poker player is all about reading people and staying focused. If you get distracted, you make mistakes that may cost you a lot. Literally," Byrd said. "Literally."

McFarland also added that it's mainly about reading opponents.

"Honestly, the best player I have seen was a magician, so I imagine it's the quality of reading your opponents and realizing when you can't read them at all," McFarland said.

Olympia, Wash., junior Stefanie Simonson feels no guilt winning other people's money.

"You sit there for hours, and if you win it, then you've earned it," Simonson said.

Poker brings about many tense moments: anticipation, thrill, the feeling of loss - and surprise.

"One time I went in heads-up with this guy, and we flipped our cards after the flop," Conner said. "He flopped two pair and I had pocket kings. I had gone all in at this point, and I was thinking it was pretty much over. The turn came, and it didn't help either one of us. Then on the river, another king came. That was exciting. I ended up doubling up instead of getting knocked out."

Simonson's favorite poker memory was being the only girl playing against 15 guys and making it to the six-person winners' table.

Winning is the main goal, and finally coming out on top can ultimately pay off in big bucks.

However, playing the game brings up issues of gambling and addiction. And since poker is seen as a form of gambling, information about how Baylor handles campus poker players is important.

After contacting student activities about their response to student organizations playing poker, they made clear any form of gambling is not endorsed and certainly looked down upon. Student organization involvement is not allowed.

“The long and short of it is that gambling or games of chance are not allowed – not even for charity,” said Tam Dunn, Associate Director of Student Activities for Greek Life and Administration. “Groups can play games, but they cannot gamble, and there cannot be any exchange of money. We abide by all laws of the state of Texas, and student organizations are expected to do the same.”

There is also the danger of addiction. College students are generally hard-pressed for money, so risking it in a game of poker may lead to a dangerous cycle of winning and losing. Few would disagree that playing a friendly game of poker can easily turn into a hard-to-beat habit.

"There is a danger there. I know a lot of people are hooked," Associate Pastor of Woodway First Baptist Church Jim Gray said. "It's similar to drinking. Not everyone who takes a drink will become an alcoholic. But it's a risk. This also applies to gambling and poker."

Gray also commented there has been a recent craze with Texas hold 'em.

"It's everywhere lately. On TV there are poker tournaments on ESPN, and it's in advertising," he said.

And this results in having to make daily choices in regard to playing or not playing.

"You have to prioritize in life," Gray said.

He said poker might be an OK hobby for the majority of people. But for others, it may create a problem.

Even when players are not betting for money but for something like M&Ms, Gray warns that eventually, that may not be enough.

"There is no thrill if nothing is at stake," Gray said. "We have competitive natures, and not playing for money will only last so long."

Nonetheless, Baylor students are enjoying the craze, with or without money.

So is poker addicting?

"Yes, I guess it is. And people get killed in westerns over a good hand all the time," McFarland said. Then he laughed a lucky laugh and walked away.