“Read ‘em and weep” ranks right up there with the best of ‘em. It is what may have been said to you in your home game as your four kings just lost to four aces (also known as a “bad beat).” Read ‘em and Weep is also the title of a great book of great poker stories with many great poker quotes, edited by John Stravinsky (2004).

My favorite quote of all time is by the British biographer of the Royals, Anthony Holden. “Poker may be only a game, but it is not a matter of life and death. It’s a lot more serious than that.” This appears in his account of his year as a poker pro, Big Deal (1990). 

A close second comes from another Brit, Al Alvarez: “Poker is generally reckoned to be America’s second most popular after dark activity. Sex is good, they say, but poker lasts longer.”

Poker legend Jack Straus was down to his last $500 chip in the 1982 World Series of Poker. In fact he overlooked it. It was up against the rail and he thought he had gone broke. He bet the $500, won, bet it again, won, and ultimately went on to win that year’s World Series of Poker. The quote from Jack: “All you need to win is a chip and a chair.”

This one goes way back. True then, true now: “Cards are war, in disguise of a sport.” Charles Lamb in “Essays of Elia” (1832)

“If, after the first twenty minutes, you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.” Many have claimed this quote but it goes back so far the author is unknown.

“Is it a reasonable thing, I ask you, for a grown man to run about and hit a ball? Poker’s the only game fit for a grown man. Then, your hand is against every man’s, and every man’s is against yours. Teamwork? Who ever made a fortune by teamwork? There’s only one way to make a fortune, and that’s to down the fellow who’s up against you.” Author Somerset Maughan in a Cosmopolitan piece.

From Richard Lederer, Co-host of NPR’s “A Way with Words,” and father of poker pros Howard Lederer and Annie Duke: “”The cleverest application of poker terminology that I have ever encountered appears on the truck of a New Hampshire plumbing company: ‘A Flush Is Better Than a Full House.’ In poker that isn’t true, but a homeowner would recognize its wisdom.”

Mark Twain chimes in with this one: “There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker. The upper class knows very little about it. Now and then you find ambassadors who have sort of a general knowledge of the game, but the ignorance of the people is fearful. Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a “flush”. It is enough to make one ashamed of the species.”

From the movies. A quote from Matt Damon in “Rounders”: “I’ve lost money so fast in these clubs it’s left me reeling. I’ve read every poker book ever written, but the only way to get better at the game is to go out and play with people who are really good. The problem is, you stand to lose a lot of money doing it.”

Actor Walter Matthau: “Poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great.”

You’ll recognize these words from Kenny’s Rogers’ great hit, “The Gambler”: “”He said, ‘Son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces, and knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.'”

From three-time World Series of Poker champ Stuey Ungar who blew $30 million dollars and died broke and alone in a sleazy porn hotel between the Vegas Strip and Downtown: “See, in my world – the world of high-stakes gin and poker – we play for cold, hard cash. It’s all business, pure and simple. Anyone who thinks card playing is a ‘game’ – I’ll show you a loser. Money. M-O-N-E-Y. That’s how you measure success. One dollar at a time. One chip at a time. That’s how you keep score.”

And finally, the words that poker players love to hear, the equivalent of baseball’s “Play Ball” or the Olympics’ “Let the games begin”: “Shuffle up and deal.”


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