It was just a flight of whimsy really. I wasn't in the mood for a serious poker discussion. So I posted a silly little question on the online poker Usenet discussion group known as RGP (recreational gambling. poker). It generated an enormous about of talk that ended up, in my opinion, with important and profound points being made about our great game. I'd like to share the substance of that multi-way conversation with you - and with my resulting conclusions.
What's your idea of poker heaven? Put more concretely, if you die and actually go to heaven and they have the perfect setting for your favorite game, what would it be like?
At first the answer seems obvious. At least it seemed obvious to me. There would be no bad beats, I'd have the best hand every hand, I'd never get outrun or chase someone who started out ahead of me and stayed ahead. I wouldn't ever go broke. I'd bust other people but with a smile on my face. I'd be the champion of the heavenly poker world and win every time.
But on more careful consideration it seemed equally clear that winning every time would surely not be fun for very long - not for eternity certainly. If there were no lows then eventually the highs would grow predictable and, gradually boring and meaningless. What began as poker heaven would probably, after a few weeks, turn into poker Hell - knowing before the hand was dealt who would win. There'd be no suspense, no improvement, and no real insight - since winning was assured. Who'd want to play a game like that?
OK. Maybe I wouldn't win every hand in poker heaven. But at the very least I'd suffer no bad beats, right? If heaven is a perfect place then there'd be no room for that awful feeling of having the best starting hand, playing it perfectly, and then getting outdrawn by some moron who is making the mistake of calling. Who'd want that?
But as the discussion progressed, we all agreed that without bad beats poker would eventually become too tedious - too much like games we don't like as much as poker. If I wanted to play a game of complete skill in heaven I'd have gone to chess heaven or dart heaven or arm wrestling heaven. I chose poker heaven because of the unique blend of luck and skill in this game. If there are no bad beats, well then I'd always know that if I started with the best hand, and did everything correctly, that I'd always win. That too would get tedious.
We batted these ideas around for a couple of days. Someone said that he'd want an infinite bankroll so he'd never run dry. We countered that an infinite bankroll would make the joy of winning meaningless - since he'd already have an infinite amount of money. What good would it do to have more? He responded that at least he'd like to know that he'd never go broke. We agreed that going broke in heaven, with no ability to earn additional money and then forever having to be a heavenly railbird would be awful - poker Hell in fact. He opined that poker heaven would always include the ability to get a fresh bankroll and start again.
At first we agreed. But as we debated it we weren't so sure. It is, after all, the threat of going broke that makes NOT going broke satisfying. If every game were really meaningless because we all could get a fresh bankroll and start again. then what would be the point? It would be like those play money games - where everyone can play wildly and loosely knowing that there's another bankroll around the corner if they go bust.
We concluded that while none of us wanted to include permanent "brokeness" in heaven, we would want to retain the possibility of it as fuel for the joy and thrill of winning. When some pointed out the inherent contradiction of those two concepts, we rallied around the possibility that contradictions, logical fallacies, and even illogic could exist in our version of heaven.
As the conversation concluded, some ingredients of poker heaven were gradually distilled.
1. There would be many different games, going all of the time.
2. Stakes would matter - no infinite bankrolls
3. Losing would still be a part of the game.
4. You couldn't go broke forever - but you still had to be careful not to go broke.
5. You were not necessarily the best poker player in heaven. You could still learn and grow from others as you progressed.
6. Players would generally be friendly and happy, though a few characters who were sometimes loud and obnoxious we be allowed to break up occasional monotony and give us all stories.
7. There would be the occasional bad beat - but in the long run they wouldn't matter as our play would be good enough to survive them.
We didn't get much further, as other topics distracted us all (some guy started posting stuff about the Iraqi war while another tried to get us to use his sign up code for playing in BUCKY'S ROOM. COM, a new poker site). We all eventually moved on and the thread petered out gradually.
But as I look back over the ingredients we did agree on, something powerful occurs to me. See if you agree.
None of us have to wait for death to live in poker heaven. It's available right now, here on earth. As long as we practice a little self restraint, keep learning, and don't play completely over our heads, we have access to poker heaven right now.
It's a heavenly time to be a poker player, no?
Ed note: Play in Poker Heaven at....well...Poker Heaven