"How much do I have to put in?"
True story: I recently taught a poker lesson for which the student paid an hourly rate that would make Phil Galfond jealous. And I'm pretty sure Phil Galfond's students never serve him champagne and canapés.
The rest of the story: as many of you know, PokerStars' pan-galactic headquarters is here on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea. We are one of the larger employers on the island and we take our membership in the community seriously. We are a key sponsor of the annual TT - a world-famous series of motorcycle races - and participate in charitable activities throughout the year.
For instance, we routinely auction off "poker teaching nights" at charity balls. Companies or people bid for an evening of poker instruction from "the experts at PokerStars" with the proceeds going to the charity of the evening. At most of these things, the donor has no particular need of (nor interest in) poker lessons - it's simply an excuse to give money to a good cause. And well done, I say.
But a few weeks ago, our "bluff" got called. At a Red Cross gala, we had donated a poker chipset and evening of poker instruction. The item was bid up to a beautifully large number and the cheque duly written to the Red Cross.
But then our charity coordinator got an email from the people who'd written the cheque. This small company was excited to get poker lessons; what would be a convenient evening for us to send our experts to the local hotel where they were going to hold the event?
Instead of a real expert, PokerStars sent me.
More accurately, my colleague Joan Hadley and I turned up, chips and cards in hand1, to find a group of about ten people sipping champagne, nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, and excitedly discussing the coming poker lessons.
We got to the hotel meeting room, where they'd set up a large round table. Not knowing exactly how one would play poker, they'd put a nice table cloth on the table, put out pads of paper and pens, with bottled water and glasses all arranged. "Okay," we said, "First thing - everything except the table cloth comes off the table. Then we're in a position to play some poker."2. Joan wisely realized that schwag was called for, and disappeared briefly.
We got everybody distributed around the table and started from the beginning. As in, "All poker hands consist of five cards. The lowest value hand is no pair..." But within a few minutes, the students were reminding each other to put up their blinds and most knew what their options were at any given time.
In the meantime, Joan had returned with a box full of stuff. Suddenly PokerStars hats appeared on most of the students and a couple put on their sunglasses to get more into the feel of the game.
Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions we got was one I always hear when I teach poker to newbies: "How much do I have to put in?"
As always, the answer is "Nothing." But the question is a powerful insight into why new poker players tend to lose a lot of money; the idea that they could simply fold (at the cost of sitting out the rest of the hand) seems anathema to them.
As the champagne took effect and people got more comfortable with the game, cries of "All in!" multiplied; Joan and I had to quickly cover topics such as "table stakes", "side pots", "rebuys" and other esoterica. But there was no doubt that the assembled multitude was enjoying themselves.
I had to leave after a couple of hours, but Joan told me that they lasted until near-midnight - five hours after the first glasses of champagne were poured. Dinner was served along the way, but the students chose to eat and play simultaneously; clearly they'd gotten the bug.
As long as the Manx community is willing to ante up for good causes, we'll continue to bring the flop-turn-river gospel to the island, no matter how many PokerStars hats it costs us or the number of evenings of champagne and chicken tenders we have to endure.
1 EPT founder John Duthie was famous for wandering around prior to events and saying "Right - do we have cards and chips? If we have those, we can get along without pretty much everything else."
2 I was put in mind of the famous scene from Ghostbusters in which Bill Murray yanks the tablecloth from a fine banquet setting, (unsuccessfully) attempting to leave the place settings unaffected.
Lee Jones is the head of Home Games at PokerStars and has been involved in the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.