Nick Wealthall on Muggles

Nick Wealthall on Muggles

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I recently started watching the Harry Potter films in reverse order. I didn’t plan it; I went to see the most recent film when it came out because it seemed like the kind of thing that might come up at dinner parties. I realised that, having missed seven films and about 9,000 pages of stories, I might struggle to keep up. But I figured everyone who looked 12 years too old for their part must be a goodie and took it from there. Turns out it’s a pretty good system.

In Harry Potter, the term ‘muggle’ refers to a person lacking any magical ability. While watching the fifth Harry Potter, in between trying to piece together the entire plot in reverse, it occurred to me we need something similar in poker.

Because in this world there are poker people and non-poker people.
I’m pretty confident you’re in the first group and I’d also bet you understand the frustration of trying to talk to a poker muggle. It’s like talking to someone from another planet.

Someone very wise once pointed out that some people struggle in school because teachers teach stuff in a way they themselves understand it. And everything they teach relates to everything else, so if you didn’t understand the first bit, you’re kinda screwed. That’s the problem you face when you try to explain anything to do with poker to a non-poker person. (By the way I’m working on a name – so far I’m on ‘puggles’ … needs work). They have no frame of reference for understanding anything you’re saying to them. They may have seen poker in a movie scene or while channel-hopping late at night, but ultimately you might as well be talking Spanish.

This would be funny if it didn’t have a real life impact for all of us. From explaining to our ‘other halves’, to telling our parents what we do in our free time, to explaining to our bosses why there are red rings round our eyes and we’re late... again – this is a key life skill in your poker career.

It’s a two-way street, of course, which is made easier if the puggle in question is at least trying to understand us, but poker presents such otherworldly challenges to most people that the onus will always be on us to explain things.

So, with that in mind, here is your cut-out-and-keep guide to countering the biggest problems you’ll have explaining poker to a puggle.

Amount of time

Poker takes a lot of normal-person time. It doesn’t take a lot of poker-person-time because, when we play, we effortlessly slip into a zone where time becomes a negotiable and flowing concept – there is no difference between an hour-long session and an eight-hour-long session. Of course, in the puggle world, there really is. If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard the plaintive phrase “are you still doing that?” from a frustrated partner/parent/medical health professional trying to intervene, I’d have a bankroll ready for the nosebleeds.

The key is to gauge their expectations in advance and tell the person in question tonight is poker night, and yes it will last all night, and see you tomorrow, and you could also point out that they’ll be asleep for most of it and it’s probably about the same amount of time they’ve spent watching minor celebrities cooking dinners and/or house renovation programmes this week.

It’s not gambling

Poker isn’t gambling. This is the most obvious thing in the world. It just isn’t. Stop calling it gambling. Stop not understanding why it’s not. Stop staring at me with vacant eyes when I explain that gambling is when you have the worst of it and in poker the object is to have the best of it against the other players. Despite the fact it has cards and money and late nights, it’s not gambling. And if you keep staring at me, you dumb puggle, I’ll start telling you what expected value is and how I’m looking for opportunities to use my chips to make plus-EV investments just to irritate you by further confounding your expectations.

Don’t talk to me I just bust

Every poker person knows the correct thing to say to a fellow poker person who has just busted out of a big tournament. Absolutely frickin’ nothing. Not a word. They get to talk first and they get to say whatever they want and whine and complain and cry as much as they want. And for the first 30 minutes of that, the correct thing to say is absolutely frickin’ nothing.
This means the worst thing to say is everything that would pop into the average puggle’s head, including, but not limited to: ‘It’s not the end of the world’; ‘Better luck next time’; ‘There was nothing you could have done’, ‘Ah, well, I’m still proud of you. You did really well.’

The tip is to either brief your non-poker playing friends in advance that busting out of a tournament is the equivalent, in their world, of having their car stolen or their puppy die. Or alternatively, avoid them altogether.

It seems to me that this problem has existed for tens of years and fixing it in one column is beyond me, but at least I’m starting the conversation. I can only wish you luck in dealing with your own puggles, because you’ll need it. Now I’m off to watch Harry Potter 3 and try to figure out exactly what Voldermort’s problem is – something about Horlicks and being immortal?!

Tags: Nick Wealthall, Columnist