1. Mosasaurus rex says

    Question for PZ: of all the cephalopod cartoons that get sent your way, which one’s your favorite?

  2. garth says

    i can understand not liking gambling, i’m no fan myself. but poker is more than that…it’s gladiatorial combat for your brain. you basically pit your brain against the rest of the table. i’m a huge fan, and player…any reason why you don’t care for poker?

  3. theophylact says

    As W.C. Fields said when asked whether poker was a game of chance, “Not the way I play it, no.”

  4. says

    Hmm, I’m not a big fan of gambling…
    However, I worked my way through college and a sizable amount of my tuition, books, food, etc. was paid for with poker winnings =p I did very, very well in my statistics and combinatorics studies — poker allowed me apply it in a practical way to finance my education.

  5. garth says

    legend has it that none other than tricky dick nixon used poker winnings to finance his first run for congress. maybe that’s not exactly an endorsement…

  6. Stogoe says

    Poker isn’t about being smart. It’s about being good at cold reading.

    That said, I do enjoy playing the various card games.

  7. Chris Bell says

    Yes PZ, why the dislike of gambling, especially poker? I can understand disliking gambling at a Casino because you are doing an irrational thing, but Poker? Poker at least requires a combination of skill and luck. Do you hate bridge? (Or is it the money somehow? If people played bridge for money, would you hate that?)

  8. says

    Oh, please. Feel free to enjoy poker, but don’t pretend it’s some sort of elevated pursuit. “Gladiatorial combat for your brain”? Sorry, not really.

    It’s a game, people. So are Magic and Pokemon, but at least nobody pretends those are anything other than a way to separate suckers from their money.

  9. says

    Games are good, but poker really isn’t much of a game. Take away the risk of gaining and losing money, and poof, it collapses into a disinteresting exercise in accounting and probability.

  10. says

    > I refuse to believe that cephalopods would be stupid enough to indulge in it.

    I’m deeply surprised that you’d make this sort of judgment about those who enjoy a particular form of entertainment, particularly poker.

    I know some people don’t like games where the score is kept in dollars instead of points, but that hardly makes it stupid. It just make it contrary to your personal economic values.

  11. says

    > Take away the risk of gaining and losing money, and poof, it collapses into a disinteresting exercise in accounting and probability.

    Nobody would watch it on television, but it would still be played as seriously as Bridge, Scrabble and Chess.

    Perhaps you go around saying that all such people are stupid, but I’m guessing you do not.

  12. bernarda says

    Sorry PZ, but “Take away the risk of gaining and losing money, and poof, it collapses into a disinteresting exercise in accounting and probability.” that doesn’t hold up.

    What about the stock market? What about getting a college education?

    In any case, poker is not “gambling” in the sense of roulette or craps where over the long run you are sure to lose.

    Betting on horse races is not gambling either. It is, also like the stock market, you use the information available to try to judge the outcome. Of course the ordinary punter is at a disadvantage in face of insider trading, i.e. “boat” races.

    But in poker or in horse racing or in Wall Street you are betting the odds against other bettors, not against a house percentage fixed against you. Unless of course you count the high tax the government fixes on such betting–except in the case of Wall Street.

  13. One Eyed Jack says

    “Games are good, but poker really isn’t much of a game. Take away the risk of gaining and losing money, and poof, it collapses into a disinteresting exercise in accounting and probability.”

    Got to call you on this one (yes, a bad poker pun). That is the statement of someone that doesn’t understand the game. Probability is a part of poker, but it is much more of a mental excercise than that. The added element of chips for wagering changes everything. The chips don’t have to represent money. It could be a free game where the chips are only there to determine the winner.

    Because you must risk and win chips to win the game, it is much more about what you think your opponent is holding and what you can make them think you are holding than it is about the actual cards. Put a professional poker player at a table of average players and the cards he/she holds are almost irrelevent.


  14. says

    I used to know guys at Carnegie Mellon University who devised poker playing programs. Unlike chess, where a sufficiently powerful program could, in principle, come up with the objectively best move by looking at all the options, the best strategy for a poker program depends upon the strategy of its opponents. Knowing the odds is a very small part of the problem. Indeed, most human players can easily calculate the chances. No poker player thinks the math part of the game is the interesting part, though I used to routinely make money at graduate school, not because I was a good gambler but because I did understand the probabilities. (There’s small glory in outstripping donkeys, but it’s a living.”

  15. jbark says

    I do love me some Pharyngula, but man you do sound like an old fuddy duddy sometimes PZ :)

  16. garth says

    after the initial posts on this i felt an urge to play, and took down a small tournament on Full Tilt just a couple minutes ago…heh
    and, for the record, i play poker for no money all the time with my friends. there’s a ton of factors that go into the game. i love almost all games, for money or not. things like blackjack and roulette are boring to me…poker’s the only game in a given casino, for instance, that the house has no interest at all in what the outcome is. they make their money on the drop and you play for what’s left. some top-level players are top-level nerds as well. howard lederer, for instance, is the son of richard lederer, former host of NPR’s A Way with Words (which I was on, btw, with a sweet neologism). Chris Ferguson, world champ, is a PhD. there’s a lot to the game, and the people who love it!

  17. Bechamel says

    As a semi-professional poker player, I was fully planning to come in here and offer a smackdown for the hate. But, looking at those who preceded me…

    …yeah, what they said.

  18. garth says

    you know what’s funny? this is the first thing PZs ever said that I disagree with…=b

    also, i’d totally pwn a squid. they have too many tells. they’d change color when they had a good hand! but they may ruin the game squirting ink on me.

  19. Chet says

    What’s amazing to me is that while it’s completely legal for the house to change the rules and structure the game to favor their interests, if you walk in and try to do the exact same thing (by, say, introducing a loaded die), you go to jail for cheating.

    I wouldn’t even play poker at a casino. You really think a casino wouldn’t sit someone there at the table just to win a few hands? If you want to play a game, grab your polyhedrals and a character sheet. If you want to take chances with your money, I’ll give you my paypal address. The outcome will be just about the same.

  20. Christian Burnham says

    The cartoon wouldn’t be that funny even if you thought poker was the best game in the world.

    Larson, Schultz and Waterson have departed and the funny-pages aren’t funny anymore.

  21. says

    So, it would be a waste of time to ask who you had in your final four, eh, PZ?

    Posted by: Will | March 31, 2007 11:27 PM

    Wow – that thing has gone pretty wild over the last 20 years, hasn’t it? I am surround by four sports guys at work, and I get to listen to them discuss their “brackets” and how they are doing way too much for my taste. I like sports for watching the game but don’t get too interested in all the hype surrounding tournaments and playoffs like I used to.

    Except the Baseball Playoffs and World Series. All baseball is good.

    Poker is all right, I taught my kids to play it so that I could win back their allowances. It’s the only way that I can afford to give them one.

  22. Scott Hatfield says

    PZ: “….I refuse to believe that cephalopods would be stupid enough to indulge in it.”

    (playfully) This belief of yours, is it justified?

  23. Scott Hatfield says

    On a more serious note, gambling bores me as well. Poker represents a vanishingly small part of the annual gaming take in this country, though, precisely because it is not entirely a game of chance. Over time, the player best able to not only know the probabilities but to read their opponent’s ‘tells’ will, in fact, win more often than not. I freely admit I don’t have those skills!

    Now, baseball? I’m with you, Mike Haubrich…that’s my passion, even if I’m a ‘never-was’ rather than a ‘has-been’. My ‘fantasy’ team, in fact, is the Darwin Finches (we’re the only major-league team in the Northern Territories). For the record, no one in my league has a cephalopod-theme squad. Perhaps this is an idea whose time has not yet come.

    Play ball!

  24. Paula Helm Murray says

    Since I am an individual who would be hopeless at poker, I kind of understand.

    I have a somewhat uncontrollable set of facial expressions, I can maintain within a certain amount of time but a poker game is wayyy too long. Total opposite of poker face.

    I imagine squiddies, in the boat of having photophores that express emotion, would be in the same boat.

    I like playing the game, but I’m only good at it on computers. In person I know I would stink, so I don’t try.

  25. says

    Good god, man, you can’t be harshing on the poker players for being dumb when you pervert the fine word “disinterested” so badly. Oh, for shame!

  26. NBarnes says

    except that I can’t stand poker or gambling of any kind, and I refuse to believe that cephalopods would be stupid enough to indulge in it.

    The true source of your feud with Ed Brayton is revealed!

  27. Matt Penfold says

    “The true source of your feud with Ed Brayton is revealed!”

    You may have this slightly arse about tit. In my experience people who play poker seriously tend to take themselves seriously as well and lack a sense of self-deprication. Now of course that horse’s arse Brayton has that hubris and lack of self-deprication and maybe that is what PZ takes issue with ?

  28. jimmiraybob says

    Final four what? – Posted by: PZ Myers

    Horsemen of the Apocolypse? Or maybe it’s a reference to that sporting competition in which very tall mammals bounce and throw big orange spheres through circular hoop-like targets in an effort to accumulate a greater point tally than the opposing tall mammals. I believe that they hold some major contests around this time of orbital interaction with our solar overlord.

    It was once thought that the nascent form of the contest began to radiate following the demise of the dinosaur. This view has recently been challenged.

  29. Jeff says

    Has anyone noticed how horribly deformed those squid are? Their mouths are in the completely wrong place! Disgusting!

  30. says


    First, poker’s not just chance. It’s chance plus a selective environment. :)

    Second, you need to find the right game of poker. You haven’t really played the game until you’ve played Baseball-Dimestore Maria or our patented Reverse Indicator Maria. The wild cards have gotta change during the hand! (Ideally under player influence.)

  31. says

    Need icons for these. When the “I [heart] NY” bumper stickers were new, a Caltech friend of mine printed and sold 4 bumper stickers of his own, including:

    I [spade] My Dog

    I [club] Baby Seals

    Regarding Poker, the crucial paper of recent years is summarized at:

    Ivars Peterson’s MathLand

    September 9, 1996

    Trouble with Wild-Card Poker

    “… Many people, however, play a livelier version of poker. They salt the deck with wild cards — deuces, jokers, one-eyed jacks, or whatever. The presence of wild cards brings a new element into the game, allowing a player to use such a card to stand for any card of the player’s choosing. It increases the chances of drawing more valuable hands.”

    “It also potentially alters the ranking of different hands. One can even draw a five of a kind, which typically goes to the top of the rankings.”

    “Just how much wild cards alter the game is recounted in an article in the current issue of Chance, written by mathematician John Emert and statistician Dale Umbach of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. They analyze wild-card poker and conclude, ‘When wild cards are allowed, there is no ranking of the hands that can be formed for which more valuable hands occur less frequently.'” …

  32. Josh says

    Oh, and don’t get the wrong idea…it is far from being a “Bible Fellowship.”

  33. choo choo says

    If PZ knew anything at all about poker he wouldn’t have characterized it as he did. I suspect it was just a dumb swipe at Ed Brayton.

  34. Kagehi says

    until you’ve played Baseball-Dimestore Maria or our patented Reverse Indicator Maria. The wild cards have gotta change during the hand! (Ideally under player influence.

    Reminds me of Robert Asprin’s concept of dragon poker. Lets just say that things could get complicated when the wild card changes based on which direction you are facing while at the table, but only if its a Monday and you are wearing a green shirt. lol

  35. mothworm says

    Disregarding the poker controversy, I’d just like to point out that the “one-eyed squid morph” is likely because the squid has its eyes on the opposite sides of it’s “head”, so you can’t draw them both at once and still have them look like eyes.

    Of course, the actual location of a squid’s mouth didn’t slow the cartoonist down any, so I don’t know why they feel the need to remain true to eye placement.

  36. beccarii says

    I’ll detach myself from my epiphytic perch (being that I’m a tree-hugger and all), having skimmed past most of the commentary, to say this:
    I’ve never had the slightest interest in playing poker. I realize that such a statement is, to some, anathema, sacrelige, apostasy, and who knows what else, all rolled into one. If that makes me a bad person, so be it.

  37. Slippery Pete says

    I love ya PZ (I’m here every day), but you can be a humorless one. I think that’s an understatement.

    Poker is for me immensely enjoyable. It’s competition, outwitting your friends. Calculating odds is important, but easy and not at all interesting itself (in fact, it is tedious). Attributing the playing of any competitive game (like poker) to stupidity is, well, stupid.

    Playing for money encourages people to play seriously and not goof off (poker is a total waste of time if you’re forced to play against bad players or players who don’t care if they win or lose). Money helps enforce discipline. But when you play other good players, money’s just a way to keep score.

    Just because you don’t understand or enjoy something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stupid.

  38. Slippery Pete says

    Hey Yawn – I would put the education, professional attainment, and overall intelligence of my poker-playing friends up against you any day. This is my first foray into poker victimology, so I’ll keep this brief, but you’re engaging in lazy stereotyping. You’re an anti-pokerite. A raging anti-pokerite.

  39. Slippery Pete says

    PZ – A disinteresting game? I think you mean uninteresting. Games played for money are, by definition, the opposite of disinteresting.

  40. OhioBrian says

    I think I can explain why the cartoonist drew such odd “squid.” He was unduly influenced by the aliens Kang and Kodos from “The Simpsons.” The mouth, the one eye . . . slap glass domes over their heads and they’re dead ringers.

  41. says

    magista: Indeed. As I recall, in most poker variants suit is fairly insignificant …

    Jonathan Vos Post: Hm, that IS an interesting result. I had read somewhere that even without them there is an error in the rankings, but I forget details.

  42. Yawn says

    I love ya PZ (I’m here every day), but you can be a humorless one. I think that’s an understatement.

    Concern troll much?