Great holiday gifts for your favorite poker player

Holiday festivals at this time of year are as varied as the countries and cultures that celebrate them.

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In some cultures, it's all about traditional foods and rituals; in others, the focus of the celebration is totally on the sacraments of religion. In the United States, celebrations often resemble one I remember from the year when we got our kids a puppy for Christmas and wrapped him in a giant red box for them to open. We were hiding behind the couch in anticipation, of course, on pins and needles waiting for the big surprise when they opened it. When the boys wandered in a few minutes later to see what Santa had left under the tree, the first thing they saw was a huge red box that was jiggling and making ominous sounds. It scared our youngest, only six at the time, so he started crying. The sound of tears wasn't what we were hoping for, so as we tried to get up off the floor, the scratching started and the black claw appeared (a small claw, but a claw nevertheless) tearing through one corner. That was the moment of truth as they both ran screaming from the room.

When we finally got them calmed down and pulled that beautiful black bundle of fur (whom we later called Elvis) from the box, they were bowled over. But they couldn't get rid of that red box fast enough. We had to explain to them that we had gotten a little carried away and that the puppy was what it was all about--not the box with that huge red ribbon--that was a little over the top, and scary, too, when you think about it.

As I started compiling a list for this article the red box story kept coming back to me. For many of us in the U.S., Christmas has become a two-month tirade of overspending, over-shopping, and overdoing that ends up in five minutes of chaos, while we're left with the torn wrappings and trash wondering, "Where did it all go?"

"Why not trim back on the over-the-top fantasy items and think about those little things that mean a lot but don't necessarily take a huge investment of cash," I thought. So in that vein, here are three simple but treasured items that every poker player would enjoy this time of year, and none of them will break the bank.

1. Time with their favorite people

Poker players travel a lot to tournaments, and their schedules don't often mesh well with those folks who have "regular" jobs, school, and other commitments. A digital organizer or app would help even the most time-challenged players carve out a few hours to spend with the people most important to them. An added bonus would be that they might be able to do it while both parties are awake!

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2. A great home cooked meal with a bottle of wine

It's true that poker players (especially PokerStars players) get to eat at some fabulous restaurants and come home with tales about the amazing sushi they had or the fabulous drinks at that bar in San Remo. But what really warms the hearts of many travel stressed players is a meal cooked at home, which means they don't have to get dressed up (change their hoodie). And instead of having to flag down a busy server or bartender, they can take their time to enjoy that special bottle of wine they've been saving.

Even you're not a good cook you can swing this, I promise you. Make a simple pork roast or a pan of lasagna along with a salad, and you're set. Pop it in the oven for an hour or two while you enjoy that bottle of wine and catch up. They will appreciate it more than a fancy dinner at that five-star restaurant, and they can be comfortable doing it. If your lucky recipient is so inclined she or he can even tip the server by loading the dishwasher.

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3. A home game with friends and family

Sure, it's exciting to compete against the best players from around the world and battle it out for thousands, if not millions, of dollars. But there is a lot to be said for a low-pressure game with friends and family where it's more about having fun than about winning. Play for nickels and quarters, or maybe candy canes if that's your thing, but make it about having fun and catching up rather than winning.

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We all hate players who hold up the game at a tournament or casino, but at a home game, slowing down the game with tall tales and stories is part of what it's all about. Host the game at your house for your favorite poker-playing friends, and come up with silly prizes for the winners. And of course, you need the requisite refreshments--beer and pretzels are traditional--but don't be afraid to whip up some Christmas cookies, if you're so inclined. But fancy food is not encouraged here. Simplicity is the key word; the only requirements are that they must be manageable with one hand and not too messy.

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Now, for some of you, I know that may not seem like enough bells and whistles and bling, so for the simplicity-challenged, here are a couple more of the more traditional stripe.

A trip to the PCA next month in the Bahamas with paid entry fee

Simple pleasures or not, who can turn a blind eye to poker in the Bahamas in January? Certainly not me or any other poker player I know. Any rich uncles or aunts listening out there? Gratitude and happiness guaranteed for that special someone. And if they win big and were raised right, you may get a very special bonus as a way to start the new year. Just an FYI--the PokerStars Women Live event at the PCA runs Jan 12 & 13. That one is at the top of the Christmas list for every poker playing woman I know.

A massage

There's not a poker player on the planet who wouldn't benefit from a good massage to get the kinks out, but not one of those given at the poker table while the game goes on. Sign them up at a spa, and take them there yourself. They will come out a nicer person.

And finally, on a purely practical note, there are more basic gift ideas.

A basket with hand sanitizer, tissues, and hand lotion

It's that time of year, and who wants to pass around all those germs at the table? And who ever has time to shop for things like that at a tournament? The hand sanitizer may keep them from getting the flu, and the lotion will put back some of the moisture the sanitizer strips away. They can hand out the tissues to the folks who keep sneezing all over the chips. Maybe they'll get the hint.

A gratitude journal

As poker players, most of us have more than most to be thankful for. We get to enjoy a game we love surrounded by friends we've met from travels around the world. Well, some of us anyway. The rest of us just get to play a game we love.

Vanessa Rousso summed it up best in a quote she gave me for this story:

"Sometimes, as poker players, we get so zoomed into the moment and focused on poker-related stress that we forget to be thankful that bad beats are the worst thing most of us have to complain about."

For her, the holidays are a time to focus on "remembering the ways that I'm blessed instead of harping on the ways that life has challenged me."

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So back to that gratitude journal mentioned above. Fill it up this year as you stop every day to be grateful for family, friends, good food, and of course, poker--not to mention all the other daily little miracles that we see around us every day.

Happy Holidays to all of you, and may the flop be with you!

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women