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Playing poker with and without money is very different. With money bets, people can get scared off when the bets get big and that is when a 'poker face' matters. Without money bets, there is little emotion involved.

In the Star Trek world, money does not exist, taking the fun and excitement away from poker. So why is poker still a favourite game among Star Trek TNG crew despite the lack of monetary stakes?

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    Skill? Socializing? Learning their companions quirks and tells? – Radhil Mar 18 '17 at 16:11
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    "money does not exist. This takes the fun and excitement away from poker." - citation needed. – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '17 at 16:13
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    @user486818 I downvoted because I think the question is based on a false premise. It's perfectly possible to enjoy card games without gambling. Personally, I've never gambled but have still enjoyed playing various card games which are often played with money stakes. – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '17 at 16:26
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    I don't think this is a dupe. The other question focuses purely on the stakes at stake, this question is more about why they'd choose that game in particular (e.g. over tiddlywinks, for example). – Valorum Mar 18 '17 at 17:09
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    Poker without money is still extremely interesting. For example, most of the poker you see on television is not for money, in the sense that the chips have a value. You can't save your money by betting low in a poker tournament. – DJClayworth Mar 18 '17 at 19:02
5

It would appear that the crew primarily enjoy the tactical elements of the game, especially bluff, counterbluff and confrontation.

Riker uses the game to hone his negotiation skills.

PICARD: Well, I'm the designated host. It would be a most awkward transition. You're the next likely choice. And Mister Mendoza will certainly agree. He's quite impressed by your natural instincts.

RIKER: Excuse me, sir, but those weren't natural instincts. Those were poker instincts. A card game doesn't exactly prepare me for this.

PICARD: Yes, the stakes are higher. But then, isn't that when the game gets interesting, Commander?

TNG: The Price

Riker uses the game to interact with (and to assess) his junior officers.

SHELBY: I've only got two pair, Commander. But I've got to see that blind card. I'll call.

[She puts in her chips. Riker blinks... looks down at his card... turns it over. It busts his straight flush. He's bluffing. Reactions. Wesley groans, hangs his head.]

GEORDI: (delighted) You got him!

[Riker and Shelby's eyes meet. She collects the winnings.]

TNG: The Best of Both Worlds, Part I - Original Script

Data, in particular gets a lot from the game, learning about how humans interact in social situations

DATA: When I play poker with my shipmates, it often appears to be a useful forum for exploring the different facets of humanity. I was curious to see how three of history's greatest minds would interact in this setting. So far, it has proved most illuminating.

TNG: Legacy

As well as helping him to assess aspects of humanity in relation to how humans calculate risk and exposure, which in turn has improved his tactical skills

DATA: In the game of poker, there is a moment when a player must decide if an opponent is being deceptive or actually holds a winning hand. This decision is based not only on the odds, but also on an appraisal of the man. Is he bluffing or does he have the cards?

TNG: Data's Day


Interestingly, on at least one occasion the ability to play poker proves advantageous when the crew is sent back in time with limited resources. Data's gambling skills allow him to earn sufficient money to build a scanner out of contemporary parts in TNG: Time's Arrow.

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    +1 Tactical element. The only stakes I recall was Riker shaving his beard vs Beverly dying her hair. But the game was interupted by a red alert or whatever. – n00dles Mar 18 '17 at 16:46

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