Usually it comes following the description of an unlikely sequence of events or improbable outcome to a hand such as often characterizes a bad beat story. It can appear at the conclusions of other types of poker stories as well, though, as a terse, trite termination.
It’s the verbal equivalent of a fate-accepting shrug, usually indicating having reached a kind of narrative threshold beyond which there are no further plot twists or salient details left to share. It also marks the speaker having exhausted his or her supply of insight, having no more commentary left to help explain what has been related to that point.
You’ve heard the phrase yourself many times, I’m sure. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably been guilty of occasionally using it, too, as a way to signal you’ve got nothing more to add to your poker parable.
It’s so common, a few of my friends and I have started using the phrase ironically with each other, as a joking reference to the lack of imagination that sometimes possesses we flawed storytellers. Or as a parodic way of punctuating a hand report.
“So after four-betting pre he led both the flop and the turn, then check-called a river bet and, well... that’s poker.”
It reminds me a little of student compositions. Conclusions are often especially challenging for fledgling writers of academic essays, although in my experience many of my students were at least able to summarize everything that had already been said, which functioned as one kind of unexciting though appropriate enough way to fill out a word count requirement.
I’d often recommend all sorts of maneuvers to prevent the conclusion from being redundant, including “stepping back” from whatever point the paper had made and discussing it in a broader context, if possible. But for many that was easier said than done.
“That’s poker” actually makes me think more of those struggled-over introductions, where there wasn’t an option simply to repeat oneself in order to hide a lack of inspiration. I’m thinking of all those essays starting with either a quoted entry from Webster’s dictionary or a request of the reader to think back to the Garden of Eden -- basically the writing student’s version of “Once upon a time.”
I would always respond by suggesting that better openers existed -- in fact, that anything else would be better -- more or less prohibiting such generic starters that often had little to do with the actual subject at hand. But again, it was easier for me to point that out than for some to come up with anything better.
But “that’s poker” actually does say more than simply “I have nothing else to say.” It’s a statement of acceptance, perhaps even a kind of surrender, reaffirming the game’s ability to bewilder.
It’s an easy line to ridicule. But I guess at its root it’s pointing out (again) how ridiculous the game can make us.