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How I Discovered Poker by Vera Capilla

From its mythical beginnings in the southern New Orleans, poker has grown to become one of the most popular games on the planet: thousands of spectators following its international championships on television and connected to play online. This is the brief story of how I met this great game, officially recognized in 2010 as a “Mental Sport”.

Pure Truco

As a child in Buenos Aires, my native city, when we talked about playing cards, the game was Truco. In the countryside, in homes, in schools, even on street corners, that was what was played. Truco is a distant cousin of poker, but uses a deck of traditional Spanish playing cards. Even the writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote about it: “Drunk with an almost impersonal pity, I wandered through the streets. On the corner of Chile and Tacuarí I spotted an open bar-and-general-store. In that establishment, to my misfortune, three men were playing truco”.

Whether I was put off by its intricate rules, which I never managed to master, or its overly traditional nature, I grew up instead playing games for children: la Escoba de 15 , la Casita Robada or el Chinchón .

But as I got older, I was losing playmates because the games were too simple and everyone got bored fast. They did not have any of the attributes that a game should have to be really interesting in the adult world – mischief, intelligence, dynamism and unexpected endings.

New symbols, new colours

Once in a while I came across a French deck and asked about it, fascinated. “It’s a poker deck,” they answered me, and I fantasised about those spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, about what would be the similarities and differences between both games. But it was very difficult at that time, more than two decades ago, to find someone who could teach me to play.

My first chance came in the most unexpected way. It was a PDA which included a handy and compact digital version of poker among its functions. Amazing! I was able to learn the basic rules and in a short time I was playing fluently and could beat the machine. My family and friends were surprised, and asked me to lend them the device or to teach them how to play.Slowly I formed my own players’ group of flesh and blood, and what started as a hobby became an excuse for family bonding and to get together with friends.

Then Maverick was released – the unforgettable film which shows the adventures and misadventures of Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster as professional players trying to reach a tournament. Thus, little by little, the game was becoming increasingly popular and more Argentineans were feeling attracted to and gaining interest in poker, which at some point had been relegated to exclusive casinos or most elegant poker rooms.

A new tradition

Nowadays we no longer speak of poker but Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Badugi, 7 Card Stud, Razz… new variants of the game continue to proliferate. Whether because of the lure of monetary reward playing from the comfort of a personal computer, the stimulation to keep me active, or as a hobby to relax from stress and routine, poker opens doors and offers me much more than a simple game.

Its rules are simple. Anyone can learn to play quickly and, with dedication and consistent practice, maybe someday turn into a great player, not limited by language, land or age.

i) Jorge Luis Borges, El Zahir.
ii) Escoba is a variant of the Italian fishing card game Scopa, which means “broom”, a name that refers to the situation in the game where you “sweep” all of the cards from the board in one turn.
iii) A very similar game of Stealing bundles which is played by children in Argentina.
iv) Chinchón is a matching card game played in Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, Cape Verde and other places. It is a close variant of Gin Rummy.

Image ‘Barajaespañola-26. As de espadas’ by Raúl Hernández González

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