Poker and Israel
At the same time the game gained its momentum around the world in recent years,
Israelis took the game out of basements and old-folks' homes as a larger and younger audience discovered the game.
Here are some of the places where Israel and Poker meet.
The most famous Israeli Poker player in the world is Eli Elezra. Elezra (b. 1960) moved to the United States after his military service and eventually settled in Las Vegas and started playing poker as an amateur.
Elezra became a successful Las Vegas business man and by the mid 1990s he had a suitable bankroll to try to play Poker more seriously and at higher stakes.
In 1999 he played in the WSOP for the first time, and during the new Poker craze, he can be seen on TV in many Poker shows, playing with such Poker celebrities such as Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu.
As of 2009, his total winnings exceed US$1,900,000.
Recently, an Israeli TV channel made a documentary about him, entitled "The Cards of Eli Elezra."
Around the world, Poker is considered a sport that requires practice and skill. Popular TV shows that showcase famous players are broadcasted in various sport channels, along with other games of skill.
In Israel this is not yet the case. It is true that the game of poker is mostly associated with male players, and that is probably why In Israel most Poker shows are broadcasted in the various "Mens' interests" channels, along with shows about cars, alcohol, etc.
Oded Manasseh hosts a show called "Stars Poker" which features well-known persons from various fields in entertainment playing the game. It is based on the American series "Celebrity Poker Showdown," and makes use of pocketcams.
In each episode there are five players around the table, and the winner of each episode gets to attend the season finale, the winner of which donates his winning to a charity of his\her choice.
The level of play in the show is not very high, and it is evident the players are not professionals.
Manasseh's wife, Eden Harel appeared as a contestant in the show.
The third season of "Stars Poker" is scheduled to begin soon.
Israeli law dictates that Poker is a "forbidden game," because it "depends more on fate than on understanding and skill."
Because of this there can be no public tournaments like in the United States and Europe, where people turn their small entrance fee to a lot of money.
The Israeli Poker Association tried to organize an open and public annual Poker Tournament but was shut down by the Police. The Association claims that Poker should not be treated as a game of chance, and have taken their case to the court.
To help prove their claim, the Association introduced the testimony of Ehud Lehrer, head of the statistics faculty in Tel-Aviv University, which they hoped would prove it is more about skill than luck.
Poker enthusiasts say that luck does play a part in the game, but only as variance and that over the long run (not just one or two rounds) the player with more skill will triumph.
It is true that you cannot control the cards you are dealt, but you can control the amount you bet, and if you master that skill you can come up on top in the long run.
So far the Israeli courts have declined the Poker Association appeals, and betting on Poker is still illegal.
The Israeli media usually reports on these legal matters when they come up.