This is an archive of a past course's class materials from 2011. Present "Games & Society" students should look elsewhere to find their coursework; consult your current syllabus for more information.

The designer and intstructor of this lab course, Jason McIntosh, has written notes and commentary about this course which may be of interest to other teachers. You can contact the author at

GAME1111 week 3: Poker and friends

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GAME1111 week 3: Poker and friends

This week we study Poker, the only traditional game – that is, the only game without a nameable designer – that we’ll examine during this semester. Poker has a lot to teach us about the relationship between skill and luck, providing an interesting counterpoint to the dice-heavy games we played in Week 2. It also features a very interesting structure, where the experience of playing a single hand is somehow very different from playing many hands in one sitting. We’ll examine these and other facets of Poker during our class discussion.

In-class schedule


We’ll drop one of the games after Hold ’Em if we start to run over.

Playing Poker in class

Our setup

At the start of each game, each player will receive stacks of chips totaling 100 Games & Society Funbux™ in value. We will be playing tournament-style Poker: your goal will be to make your own chip-pile as tall and valuable as you can before time runs out.

(I say “Funbux” instead of “dollars” just so everyone’s clear on the stakes. Funbux are redeemable only for the enlightenment and wisdom that comes from playing and discussing this game with your classmates. Good luck trying to buy beer with them.)

Going Bust

There are no re-buys. If you lose all of your chips, you’re eliminated from play until the clock runs out, or until one player at your table has all the chips (see next section).

Play accordingly.

If you find yourself eliminated, become an engaged spectator. Watch how the rest of the game at your table plays out, and see if you can learn anything from their playing patterns. (They did just make you go broke, after all…)

Sweeping the table

If one player winds up with all their table’s chips before time runs out, that player chalks up a win. They then redistribute the chips so that everyone at the table has 100 funbux again, and a new game starts.


This is a friendly game. Do your best, and try to get those chips. However, this is not the World Series of Poker, and there are no real-world stakes involved. Keep it light-hearted. I encourage table talk, especially where it helps each other learn about this game.

If you’re less experienced at Poker: Play conservatively. For the most part, fold on weak hands (which is most of them), and bet only when you hold something worth betting on. As you play, you’ll get a feeling both for the rhythm of the game and the styles of the other players at your table, and then you can start changing this up a little.

Feel free to get the hang of the game’s basics by practicing against computer opponents (see below for a link to a free online game), and learn the value of folding often. Staying in a hand too long is a common error for new players.

If you happen to be good at Poker: I invite you to not hold back while playing. That said, I also encourage you to help your less skilled table-mates learn the game. Don’t play their hand for them, but if they seem to be struggling and making obvious errors – folding when they could be checking, for example, or not realizing that they held a flush – feel free to give them some neighborly advice.

Given the chips’ cash value (approximately $0.00), you might find this style of play more interesting than just pasting your Poker-newbie classmates over and over. (And heck, for all you know, that’s them learning to bluff. You might discover a shark or two this way…)

Preparing for class

Before class, you should know the basics of Poker. This includes the ability to identify and rank the different types of Poker hands (from High Card all the way up to Royal Flush), and the basic rules to the two Poker variants we’ll play in class: Texas Hold ’Em and Five-Card Draw.

You should also have read and understood the rules to James Ernest’s Lamarckian Poker.

Poker (Traditional)

Poker is an exceedingly well-documented game, and students should have no trouble finding all manner of tutorials and resources, online and offline, to learn the basics of play. There’s no shortage of Poker computer and videogames you can practice with, too. (I link to one such free one below.)

Lamarckian Poker (James Ernest)

I could not find any computer versions of Lamarckian Poker. However, since all you need to play it is an ordinary deck of cards and a few willing friends or family, I encourage you to practice this game at home before class.