These days, we are living longer and more active lives. Statistics show that in 2018 about 16 percent of those living in the United States were 65 or older – that’s over 50 million people! More seniors retire each year and seek ways to spend their leisure time. Most do not want to become “couch potatoes,” depending on television to occupy their spare time. Many are no longer physically able to participate in sports. With that said, many seek recreational activities that will stimulate their minds.

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I personally believe that stimulating our brains by playing poker on a regular basis will prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (Reference: Play Poker; Stay Young by Dr. Alan Schoonmaker.)

As a result, more and more seniors turn to poker for recreation. Facilities to accommodate senior poker players are readily available, as casinos and card rooms throughout the world have multiplied in number and size. (Hopefully, they will all soon be back in action after the coronavirus pandemic passes.) There is even a Seniors Poker Hall of Fame and a Seniors World Championship of Poker – created by Oklahoma Johnny Hale who died last December at the age of 92. Using the Internet, seniors can play poker in the comfort of their own homes. There are many senior centers that offer poker as a regular activity. At the Claude Pepper Senior Center in Los Angeles, our poker group has been meeting weekly for about 20 years; at one time it had over 200 members! And, of course, home games abound among family and friends. Today, millions of senior citizens use their leisure time to enjoy the challenge and social interaction the game offers.

While there are professional players (pros) who depend on the game for their livelihoods, the vast majority of seniors are recreational players. Many of them play several times a week. They may divide their time between casinos and home games. Few are winners when playing in casinos because of the rake – chips the casino takes from every hand. Nevertheless, the seniors return, often on a regular basis. Some have the self-discipline to quit while they are ahead. But most go home losers. The occasional winning session bolsters their morale and egos and encourages continued participation. Poker is one of the greatest leisure activities readily available to seniors.

Learning to play poker

Many seniors played poker to some extent long before they retired. For the last 20+ years of my own retirement, poker has been a major hobby of mine, Even so, I recall playing poker in the radar shack on our ship as it plowed the Atlantic Ocean way back during World War II, as well as in our college dorms. We played for nickels and dimes. Through those experiences, we learned how to play the game, even developing key skills.

Reading poker books and magazines helps quite a bit. Many poker classes have long been available in casinos and senior centers. I recall, years back, attending noon-time poker meetings in Las Vegas where members shared their experiences and thoughts. It was not so many years ago that I taught poker classes at several senior centers, a yacht club, a golf course, a local university, and a city library. Today’s seniors have numerous opportunities to learn the skills of poker. And, of course, experience is the best teacher. Through the years, seniors – some more so than others – have learned the key skills and have become quite crafty poker players.

Today’s seniors grew up during a time when there were many opportunities to learn how to play poker and opportunities to develop the essential skills. What does the future hold for those who will become our seniors in the years to come?

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