As we all know, poker is booming everywhere, including on college campuses. I recently received a phone call from a young man who is a university student, asking me for an interview. He is the editorBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us
of his school’s poker club publication, which was just getting started. I said that he could interview me and publish the interview in his magazine if I could interview him and publish that interview in Card Player, and he happily agreed. Here are those two interviews, which shed light on what is happening on campuses and the types of questions on poker that college people would like answered. The initials BC, of course, stand for Bob Ciaffone
, and E is the editor of this university’s poker club publication.
My interview of the club’s publication editor
BC: What are you studying?
E: I am an economics major with a minor in math.
BC: How long has your educational institution had a poker club?
E: About a year.
BC: Do you need to be a minimum age to join the club?
E: No, not officially. But, you must be associated with our university, either as a student or a faculty member. I think all of our members are at least 18 years old. At present, all of our members are students; there are no faculty members.
BC: How many members do you have now?
BC: What percentage of them is female?
E: There are three females, so 15 percent.
BC: Does your club have a publication right now?
E: It is just getting started. My interview with you will be in our first issue.
BC: Does your poker club have regular meetings?
E: Yes, once a week. Our meetings last for about an hour.
BC: What about tournaments?
E: Yes, we have a tournament once a week — every Friday. This is held on a different day than our regular meeting.
BC: Do you have money games?
E: Yes, but there’s no formal schedule. Maybe half of our poker games are for money; they are low-stakes games. There is also a lot of poker played just for fun.
BC: What is the attitude of your university toward the poker club?
E: They know we exist, because every campus club has to be registered. But they are not involved in any way with how we operate. They do not show any interest in us. I guess you could say that they neither condone nor condemn poker.
BC: Has any poker entity such as an online gaming site tried to contact you?
E: No, they haven’t.
BC: Have you banded together with any poker clubs at other educational institutions?
E: Not so far, but I expect to see this happen, especially since my school has other campus locations besides the one where I attend.
BC: When you look into the future, what do you see developing with on-campus poker clubs?
E: I think it is just a matter of time before we have formal poker competitions between schools.
BC: Is there anything else you would like to say about poker at your educational institution?
E: There’s no question the poker club will grow. We are trying hard to get new members. Putting out a magazine should increase our membership.
The editor’s interview of me
As the "Poker Coach
," what do you normally teach?
BC: I have students who come from all different kinds of backgrounds, and I can coach any type of poker. A few years ago, about 75 percent of my students wanted help in limit hold’em. Now, almost 80 percent want to learn no-limit hold’em better, especially tournament play.
E: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that beginners have about the game of poker? What are the biggest mistakes players can make?
That’s an easy question to answer because I have been teaching poker
for a long time. One of my friends, only half jokingly, said, "Bob, if I were teaching poker, the first thing I would do is tell my student to look out the window for two hours and watch the grass grow. And for lesson two, I would have him look out the window for four hours and watch the grass grow." So, you understand the point I’m making. You have to have a lot of patience and you have to be able to fold most of your starting hands. The essence of poker is betting when your hand is better than the other guy’s. If you play half the hands you’re dealt while your opponent plays a quarter of the hands, what makes you think you have him beat? He must have an advantage. Another thing about poker is that the starting hand determines the ultimate outcome, so he who starts ahead tends to stay ahead. Of course, there are lots of exceptions, but the fact of the matter is, if I’m playing better hands, I will have the advantage.
E: Because of the recent popularity of poker, younger players are beginning to pick up the game. Do you think this is a good thing for poker?
Of course this is a good thing for poker, because you have so many more people playing. Back in the 1980s, Mike Sexton
[World Poker Tour
host] and I, and others, knew televised poker would be very good for the game. However, we did not foresee what the Internet would add when combined with television. Online poker has contributed greatly to poker’s explosive popularity. Anyone can now play anytime, anywhere.
E: How have online and televised poker changed the game?
Now, you see many new faces at tournament tables that you never would have seen before, because there is not enough talent to go around. At the final table of the 1987 World Series of Poker
, when I finished third, I was up against guys like Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington
, and the eventual winner, Johnny Chan. Now, there are a lot more unknown players at the final table. This means that fine technical players are doing better. Especially in online poker, you don’t even know whom you are up against. The graphic of a gentleman could really be someone’s grandmother. There is more of a premium on good technique.
You talk a lot about laws regarding poker
. What rules and laws would you like to see instituted in five years?
BC: Currently, we are debating whether you can show cards to your opponent during a hand. Many pro players have agreed that you can show one card if the rights of the other players are not violated. In a tournament, this would occur when players are heads up and the tournament is either winner-take-all or down to the last two players.
The rules governing the showdown
that control which hands must be shown and who may see folded hands cause a bad atmosphere at the table, and they must be improved. I recently wrote a series of columns for Card Player on this subject.
E: What about state laws?
BC: There is an enormous amount of work to be done. Few states protect players against prosecution for illegal gambling. If a game is not legal, only those running the game and deriving a profit from it should be open to prosecution under the law. You cannot expect a player who attends a poker tournament at a house, bar, or other location to know whether the game is legal or illegal. It is only natural for a player to assume everything is OK when a location has been operating for years, is written up in the local paper, advertises with signs outside the establishment, or is posted on a poker website. Yet, some of these places are not legal, and therefore can technically be raided by the police. Why should an upstanding citizen have a gambling arrest on his record? Heck, I study the law very closely, and even I don’t always know whether a lot of these activities are legal in a particular location. I also would like to see state laws that treat poker differently from other gambling games. There is a big difference between a game in which the players are competing against the house and a game in which they are competing only against each other and the house is simply providing the playing environment. In the former case, the house has a strong incentive to cheat. In the latter case, the house has a strong incentive to be honest. The law should recognize this fundamental distinction in the character of a gambling situation. Other games besides poker contend with this issue — for example, backgammon and gin tournaments.