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Bowling, poker have striking similarities

October 2, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

A couple of things got me thinking about how my longtime passion, bowling, is similar to my newfound interest in poker. But first, I want to get the word out to league secretaries that The Mining Journal Bowler of the Week awards start next week.

I'll follow the same format as last year, honoring men's and women's winners each week, usually two or more depending on what seems justified.

Everything is based on pins over average, the key being the average used - it's this season's for a bowler with nine games or more, otherwise last year's average.

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To not create a lot of extra work for league secretaries, I've waited till now as league regulars should have nine games in.

Feel free to e-mail me nominations at the address at the end of this column, which includes not only bowlers at Country Lanes in Ishpeming and Superior Lanes in Marquette, but also in Alger, Baraga and Schoolcraft counties.

I need the bowler's name, average and three-game series, and if available, a hometown, the three individual games and other facts that make their feat interesting.

With more men bowlers around than women, a good guideline has been 100 pins over average for men and 75 over for women.

Now on to my bowling-poker connection:

Two things got me thinking about this. One is the reactions I saw from players at poker tournaments at the Island Casino in Harris over the summer, when I started going there for the first time.

I've noticed similarities to the reactions from bowlers, who I've been around for nearly 40 years. Those who get the most upset - which includes me - are the ones bewildered at not succeeding with a "guaranteed" winning poker hand or a "perfect" bowling shot.

It got me to thinking that the two activities have a similar aspect, that of having only inexact information at your disposal.

Poker seems obvious, since you know your cards, but not what anyone else has, even if you think you can "read" them.

Poker experts apparently reason out what someone is holding based on betting patterns and body language, but really, a good bluffer can throw a monkey wrench into all that.

Bowling is like that for many of us, with the lane and its protective conditioner - commonly known as "oil" - doing the bluffing.

That's because you can't see that oil until you throw a ball on it. Even then, you only have an idea of what's along the thin, 60-foot-long line created by where the ball contacts the lane.

And then it all changes anyway.

Differences in the amount of oil as you work from left to right across a lane, and also from the foul line to the pins, determines what strategies to take in attacking the lane.

But it's unlike a golfer who throws a blade of grass in the air to see how the wind's blowing, or a swimmer who dips his or her toe in the water to see how warm it is.

You can only guess. And then when you have it figured out, the oil changes, especially in this day and age of oil-gobbling reactive resin balls.

Oil gets picked up from the near the foul line and dumped much farther toward the pins, and it gets removed from areas about 10 to 15 inches in from the right-side gutter where the largest proportion of bowlers feel most comfortable throwing.

The second thing getting me thinking about the bowling-poker connection is the argument the poker community made that their game isn't a form of gambling to federal regulators banning activities like these on the Internet.

It didn't work, and I guess I understand why poker looks an awful lot like gambling to the feds, with monetary wagers made about each hand. But look at tournament poker, the only kind I feel comfortable playing as a newbie because of its lesser financial risk.

I pay $30 or $40 and get a set amount of chips. I get to keep playing until I run out of them, and if I last until near the end, I win a cash prize.

You could apply that to any game, Monopoly, Scrabble or the card game bridge, if you held a tournament with cash prizes.

Those who hang around and manage to put up hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, who know how to get triple-word scores with a bunch of Qs and Zs, or can make their crazy seven-spade bid for a contract, will always do best.

The same for poker, and for that matter, bowling. Those who perform best will in the long run overcome the luck factor and end up at the top of the heap most often.

Even if you leave a pocket 7-10 split or get your full house blown up by a straight flush once in awhile.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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