Gambling across borders

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Posts Tagged ‘animal behaviour

All poker players are animals

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‘In poker, you don’t play the game; you play the player’,


said a friend of mine, a passionate poker player.We often use gambling language in everyday day communication. By using metaphors such as The odds are against us or We`ll have to take our chances, we actually perceive and experience our situation as structured like a game.

The language shapes our experience. And it goes both ways: life experienced as a game and a game inhabited by creatures from everyday life – animals!

A conceptual metaphor that people are animals is stretched in the game of poker: all poker players are animals. And if what my friend told me is true, a good player must know their way through the animal wilderness. They also must know which animal species they belong to; this orientates their actions, especially in terms of whether they imagine themselves to either be a prey or a predator.

The similarities between human and animal behaviour reflect fossilised, stereotyped beliefs, usually about undesirable traits in animals that serve to conceptualise people’s actions. So, which animals can be found at the poker table?

And what does that tell us about their play?

The most frequently used metaphor is the one of a fish playing against a shark. A fish is a beginner or ‘weak’ player: a food for the experienced predator player, a shark. A whale is as much food as a fish but  known to play with more money and easier to ‘catch’.

Lions and eagles, because they are predators with natural killer instincts, are considered successful players. Eagles even more so because they can spot their prey from further away. Elephants are mostly feared because of their size and strength: they have a lot of chips to play with and can crush a fixed amount a player is willing to invest. Jackals are known as loose players: they call, bet and raise in almost any hand. In nature, a jackal is a predator that hunts a variety of species, but never specialises in one particular. Contrary to them, a mouse does not play many hands and is very cautious: a reflection of their small size, fragility and short lifespan in the animal kingdom. Donkey describes a ‘weak’, almost unintelligent, player who calls, bets and raises a lot, even when the odds of winning are small.

I am wondering: is the poker wilderness neatly pre-set between predators and their preys? Or does perhaps ‘playing the player’ involve taking a gamble on the very nature of the opponent?


Written by Andrea Pisac

May 30, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Posted in News

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