Edinburgh Poker Tournament

Pub Poker at starbar

As the weather gets (even) worse and the Scottish summer transitions (unnoticeably) into Autumn, Starbar – Edinburgh’s quintessential dive bar – is launching a weekly poker tournament, as part of The Nuts Poker League.

Pub Poker in Edinburgh and the whole concept of poker and a pint is becoming more and more popular with professionals and poker novices alike.  The winnings might not be huge (sub £100) but the fun is easily accessible to everyone.

You may have seen the episode of Dragons Den where The Nuts Poker League was first brought to our attention by Steve Ellis.  The poker league complies fully with UK legislation and brings poker into pubs, elbowing the existing quizzes and karaoke nights out of the way and giving these more traditional forms of pub entertainment a run for their money.

During the tournament players compete for points and at the end of a predefined period all of the players in the top 10 of each pub play each other in the regional finals where the winner can walk away with £10,000 and an opportunity to represent Great Britain at the World League Poker Championships in Las Vegas.

“The Nuts” incidentally, for those of you who are wondering, refers to the best possible hand you can have in a poker game, rendering the player holding “The Nuts” virtually unbeatable.  So that’s a bit about the league but, if you’ve never played poker before, what is it and why should you get into this increasingly popular game?

First things first, poker is not pure gambling.  It is a game of chance, yes, but strategy, psychology and a whole host of other skills are required to keep you in the game as long as possible.

Sound complicated?  Not at all.  In fact, as an experiment, I managed to teach my 80 year grandmother how to play Texas Hold’em (the most popular version of the game and the version that is played in the league) within half an hour.  She may not have been at pro standard after that 30 minutes but she learned enough to really enjoy the game and let me tell you, it wasn’t as easy to beat her as I was expecting it to be.

Ease of picking it up aside, poker – and especially pub poker – has many benefits, some entirely unexpected.

It Builds a Sense of Community

We live behind screens – phone, laptop, ipad, TV – and without realising it we insulate ourselves in isolation and miss out on meeting new people and getting to know those who live in your local area.  Community is becoming an increasingly fragile construct – think about it, do you even have a vague idea who lives in your building, on your street, in your postcode?  Humans are dependent on group living and social interactions are absolutely essential to human survival and continued evolution.  Poker brings people to the table who may otherwise have never even noticed each other and the game itself calls on closely observing the people around you to understand how they play, react, interact.  And at the end of the game, having bonded over the hands that have been dealt over the last hour and that cold pint, everyone leaves knowing someone from their community a bit better.  And, you know, maybe a bit richer.

It trains the brain

Deep breath here, poker improves the following; maths skills, planning, money management, logical thinking, concentration, patience, flexibility (mental that is), realism, powers of observation, managing conflict, applying the probability theory, applying the risk to reward ratio, strategic thinking, managing your own reactions / emotions, problem solving… among many other things.  As we’re frequently advised to apply the use it or lose it theory to our brains and treat the brain as a muscle, exercising it with mentally stimulating activity is essential.  In this case, playing poker is like going to the gym without the lycra, sweating or time watching; after a few hours of playing poker, your brain will feel like it’s done a marathon.  So, you can almost guarantee and good night’s sleep.  Bonus!

It helps you to be mindful

The idea of mindfulness has become very popular in the last couple of years.  Patience and concentration are crucial to poker and – as someone who lacks these particular attributes – I assumed that poker and I would not get along.  How wrong I was.  Sitting at the table in the middle of this fast-paced game, you have to be fully present and concentrate on everything that’s going on around you; is that guy’s sneeze his tell?  Is she scowling at her cards or is that just her resting face? Are you acting nonchalant enough about those pocket aces you’re holding?  How many blinds have you got left and how can you make the most of them to stay in the game longer?  You can’t think about work.  You can’t think about the chores stacking up at home.  You can’t think about any wee, daily problems.  There’s only the hand you’ve been dealt and what the other players are doing about theirs.  It’s brilliant in that it allows you to switch off from life’s daily stresses whilst leaving your brain fully switched on.

You can win money

So this is an obvious one but if you compare sitting on the couch, watching yet another box set to spending an evening in a good crowd, harnessing your competitive nature to outplay everyone else and potentially coming home with a few more quid than when you left…well, I know which option sounds better.  The winnings may not be much but the sense of achievement as you stay in whilst others go out is outstanding.  The fact that you can walk away victorious, with all of the other players’ buy ins and – if you’re really good – win £10,000 and a chance to compete in Las Vegas, well, that’s a pretty exciting way to spend the dreich Monday nights ahead.

It Supports Your Local Pub

Pubs up and down the country are closing their doors, unable to compete with supermarket prices on alcohol.  More alcohol is now sold in shops than in bars and pubs meaning your local boozer, and that sense of community we talk about, may soon be a thing of the past.  That is, unless we all make a conscious and deliberate attempt to support these local businesses and ventures such as the pub poker league.  At the end of the day, no pint bought at a supermarket can compete with the atmosphere created by locals sharing a space with tourists, students, or simply beer enthusiasts.  The pub was, is and will be difficult to beat.

So, does this sound like something you want to get into?  Come to Starbar, New Town, on Mondays at 7.30pm and give pub poker (with optional pint) a try.

We promise your couch won’t miss you for a night, but we will.

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