August 30, 2021
How do I describe poker? It's thrilling, exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking, but mostly fun. The game has garnered much attention and is often stigmatised through its reputation from the old days or popular culture. We've seen the films with cowboys battling it out over the card game, often applying shady tactics or cheating. Other films depict people murdered over money lost in a game. Some movies even show the lone protagonist receiving hostility at the poker table until they prove their skills. The poker narrative has been played out. In my experience, the poker community welcomes anyone and not just to take their money.
In my experiences, most poker players have welcomed me into a game. Many of the players even assist my support workers in understanding the rules, whether at a home game, pub game, or even a big casino tournament. I'm not an isolated case either. I've seen the poker community welcome all people with disabilities. I know a blind person from the local pub who plays poker using her deck of Braille cards. I know of another poker player (photo below) that has no arms but uses his legs to hold his cards and move the chips. Whether it is Crown Casino or the Australian Poker League (APL), I've always seen them go the extra mile to ensure a level playing field.
With that being said, each poker table is like a box of chocolates; you don't know what you're going to get. Although most people are happy for me to be involved, the occasional person makes it clear they don't want me to be in the game. The tournament directors usually step in if it gets hostile. However, those attitudes drive my desire to win.
The experience of playing poker has had a profound impact on me. I don't know where I would be right now without it. You can be disabled and/or the worst player and play on the same table as the world's best (as long as you've got the cash). In my opinion, poker is one of a few things that is genuinely inclusive. It has given me a sense of freedom, worth, and belonging.
From the tender age of 18 months old, I loved playing card games. I was 13 when I discovered poker, and it was love at first sight. I started watching the World Poker Tour after my mum came across it on TV and told me about it. I don't think she realised they were gambling, and neither did I at the time, but I loved it anyway. The next day I went online and made an account illegally, but I didn't play with real money until I was 18.
On my 18th birthday, I went to Crown Casino. I played poker for five hours and lost $20 for the whole night. It was the most thrilling fun and that night sparked my obsession with poker. An obsession that lead me to get a pair of black kings tattooed on my arm.
Many years on, and I can say I've met some of my closest friends through poker. My mate Jacko shares an anecdote of how we became friends through the game:
Hi, my name is Paul Jackson, and this is my story of how I became friends with Jono Bredin.
I talked to my sister-in-law Shelley as I was about to walk out of the door to go and play poker down the pub, and she mentioned that one of the kids she helps loves poker. So I told her that I would let her know of the next home game I have, and she can invite him.
She mentioned that he couldn't talk or walk, so it probably wouldn't work. So I asked her how he communicates and how he gets around, and she told me that he uses a tablet to communicate and is in a wheelchair. She also let me know that he had limited use of his hands, but I told her that we'd work something out and asked her to ask him if he'd be interested.
A few days later, she told me that he was extremely keen, so I invited him to my home game the following weekend. When he turned up with his mum, Vicki, I introduced myself and everyone else to them both, and we worked out a way for him to see his cards. Whoever was sitting next to him, usually myself or Vicki would show him his cards. He would either verbalise to Vicki or me how much he wanted to bet or whether he wanted to check, raise or fold. It didn't take long to know what he was trying to say.
It also didn't take us long to realise that the kid could play, and he's been coming to home games ever since, not as many as he used to, though. After a while, I told him that he should come to the pub and play, and we'd do exactly as we do at the home games. After a while, he decided to come, and I think he was surprised at how welcoming most people were. Eventually, Vicki decided to come to the pub and won on her first night, taking me out in the process.
Anyway, that's enough of me rambling on. Take care, and if you play your cards right, even you might take my chips!
I'm grateful to poker for giving me these friendships and being a companion in itself. It got me through my teenage and early adult years. In high school, I was bullied regularly. Those were some of the most challenging years of my life, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about suicide a few times. Playing poker saved me, even when I was playing by myself. It was a safe space, free from judgement - all the focus on the cards and the odds.
When I started playing home games and pubs, I began feeling like part of a community. When the other players first met me, they'd feel terrible when they knocked me out, but they learnt quickly that I had no trouble giving it back, so it became good fun.
Although it was never really about the money, it has helped improve my quality of life. I used my poker winnings to buy a 2008 Volkswagen Caddy with a built-in ramp a few years ago. Having this car means that my support workers can take me anywhere I want or need without relying on taxis. I was also able to buy myself a fully electronic adjustable bed. Doing this for myself is an incredible and liberating feeling, and part of that is thanks to poker.