Poker Party

Josh Rouse

The guards walk in with huge duffel bags in their arms. They unzip each and every bag, spilling the papery green contents onto the rough felt of the table. Across the huge stack of currency sits the challenger, greedily eyeing the dough with anticipation. He’s already made a mistake. He’s lost his focus.

To the lucky few who make it to the final event of a huge poker tournament like the World Series of Poker Main Event, such a scene can bring out the best or worst of a person. In the end, poker is a game of luck. However, a true card shark has the gravitas to turn that luck around.

To those who enjoy a leisurely game of Stud or Hold ‘Em with their buddies, the high stakes and high tension world of professional poker may be just a bit too tense. Yet strategy remains a key to victory in these simple games, whether for small wagers or just for bragging rights. Even strip poker, with all its extra nuances, has some strategy involved.

Sophomore Michael Huddleston enjoys the easygoing action of poker night. There was a time when such an event took place on a regular basis. Now, as he takes on the burdens and challenges of college, poker night has become a rare form of entertainment, making each and every opportunity to play more exciting.

“I think it’s a lot more popular now thanks to the publicity it’s getting,” said Huddleston. “Some people don’t like it because it’s taking away from the good old-fashioned game where it used to be like a group of five or six guys getting together and playing poker for fun.”


Unlike sports such as basketball or football, poker strategy depends a lot more on the personality of the individual than a manufactured style of play. Rather than designated plays in certain situations, many players combine instincts, betting patterns and hand odds to determine their next move. Poker is in many ways like chess, where thinking ahead pays off in dividends.

“I have a different type of style,” said Huddleston. “I can’t bluff worth a shit, and I let them know that. People get fidgety when they have a good hand, so I get fidgety when I don’t have a good hand. I can place a really high bet when I don’t have a hand and start fidgeting and they’re like, ‘Oh, Michael’s fidgeting, he must have a really good hand,’ and most of the time everybody folds. It’s really weird.”

Other players, like sophomore Laura Wywadis, have a different approach toward strategy when playing for fun. Wywadis said that women have an advantage when playing against a room full of guys, and the most successful ones know how to exploit that.

“We can play the dumb card,” said Wywadis. “Sometimes if guys think we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s easy to take them out for three times what they should have put in.”

There are several different ways that guys can be suckered into making bad moves during a card game.

“A lot of times women are the minority,” said Wywadis. “Some guys think we don’t know how to play or that we aren’t competition. However, there are women out there who will break your bank … and enjoy every minute of it.”

Brendan Handy, a sophomore at the University of Kansas and a resident of Topeka, is a student of the game and the infinite strategies that are employed. While studying the actions of the pros, he also experiments with different approaches to the game through both real and Internet games. He sees differences in how people play online for fake money and how they play when real money is on the line.

“You can’t really play bad cards on online poker,” said Handy. “Unless you’re playing in a real tournament for real money, bluffing is almost impossible to do, in my opinion.”

Hoping to someday be able to make it in the professional world of poker, he noticed different keys to the game that make winning consistently a reachable goal.

“A poker player has to be able to bluff, that’s number one,” said Handy. “You have to be able to play bad cards, because you’re not always going to get good cards. Pros find a way to do that, to win even when they don’t have good cards. Two, you can’t be afraid of anybody at the table. You have to play your own game. Play your own game and you’ll get farther than you can imagine.”


Poker gained massive amounts of national attention in 2003 after an Internet qualifier, who was ironically named Chris Moneymaker, won the World Series of Poker Main Event and earned $2.5 million. After his unprecedented victory Internet qualifiers multiplied, and the pot eventually grew to more than $12 million in 2006 before Internet gambling laws caused fewer participants to buy in to the tournament in 2007.

Both Handy and Huddleston said they initially gained interest in poker when Moneymaker won in 2003.

“I started watching it on TV when it got really popular,” said Handy. “Back when Chris Moneymaker won and they showed it all the time on ESPN. I thought it was a joke, because he bluffed his way to victory.”

Freshman Wrylie Guffey said that she got introduced to the game through a rather different source: her family. She said that poker has changed a lot from its backroom days. Now it is used more for entertainment than profit and can be played with plastic chips rather than currency.

“There’s not money involved … just meaningless, inedible chips,” said Guffey. “It has become family- and paycheck-friendly.”

She also said that the poker sensation is a less than welcome experience on her television screen. Although she enjoys the game, watching it is another thing altogether.

“They take up two of my five television channels during the wee hours of the morning and it’s really boring,” said Guffey. “I don’t know why people think that we want to watch them play poker, especially when you already know all the hands and you can’t really play along.”

While some find it meddlesome, others have adopted favorite players to root for during the televised events.

“I would say Phil Ivey would be my favorite pro,” said Handy. “He has this death stare and people can’t read what he has. I also like a man from the nation of Puerto Rico who plays on Pokerstars named Humberto Brenes. He has this toy shark and every time he wins a hand, he likes to exclaim, ‘Ohh, the shark’s gonna getcha!'”