A bit of musings in the mean time, with some general comments on Magic, Texas Hold 'Em, and the anime Saki (minor spoiler comments)
I've always been fascinated with card games in general, and have doted on Texas hold em since it came into fashion. Not for the glitz or the reward, but more the structure of the game, especially since chance seems to compound the closer one gets to the end of the table. I mean, think on it. When you have a full table of, say, 8 people, each with 2 cards, that's, what? 16 out of 52 cards? If 3 other cards are out on the table, two of them a pair, the odds on one of the eight having the third card is something like 8 out of 13? (Probably higher or lower than that, that's just my mind 'factoring' the odds. Please note, I've never read a game theory book in my life.) Two people in a showdown on the other hand... 1 in 24-ish? Which doesn't sound like much of a difference, but if I took the time to show it in percentages, probably a different story.
See, the above isn't very useful for playing the game in a 'beating the game' sense. It's not the fascination I have. If I wanted to, I probably could learn better the 'pot odds' math and other techniques. Thing is, it doesn't matter. The fascination isn't cerebral, at least in the classic sense. It's playing those feeling and intuitions, and watching that undercurrent play out. Multiple threads have to be engaged in a serious form of the game. One has to judge the cards one has, the odds others have cards better or worse, their actions... many many different forms of input. Watching the pros was as fascinating as you try to learn what balance each person personally sets for oneself as they play. Watching the 'old school' lament the death of the bluff even as he uses it in a completely different way to work over one of the 'internet generation' of players.
That kind of multithreading is something that has me hooked very easily into a game. My poison of choice was Magic the Gathering for the longest time. Still is to a degree, in the rare times I play with anyone. The sheer amount of combinations, balancing and 'can it do that?' factor kept me happy, win or lose for more than half a decade. Sure, there are and were 'recipe' lists for tournament play, which pushed the cards to the breaking point. I found that working my own way and losing (or winning, sometimes by flaunting conventional wisdom) was fine. I wasn't in to dominate or defeat. I wasn't a tournament player. It was placing things out into play and seeing what happened and balancing what all needed to be balanced (or on many occasions dropping it like a full platter) left me more satisfied than anything else I can describe.
(The day I took out two different speed deck players with a 300 card deck circa Ice Age still gives me a chuckle)
The only thing that harshed it badly was robodecks, even as I could watch one play in admiration. Largely because even as 'perpetual motion machines' can be fascinating, but not when looking at it as it rolls over you. That isn't game play, that's true breakage, and I don't regret Wizards' attempts to kill those. (And then try to bring back the same concept with a 'we've made it safe, really!')
Both of these games came to mind as I started watching Saki recently. I'll be blunt right now. The anime is a love/hate relation with me, more because I haven't seen this heavyhanded a fanservice action since Divergence Eve, and pretty much the same way I can't help think it's more distraction (though at least it is a plot point with one main character) than anything else. And yet I keep watching as the intricacies of mahjongg are hinted at, but more the interaction and the archetypical actions of the players, both main and supporting cast. Actually, almost mainly the supporting cast.
Don't get me wrong, Saki and Nodoka aren't uninteresting, but they're also meant to be players With The Edge. And I can enjoy that and also them dealing with some rather heavy personal flaws they're going to be fighting to deal with through the tale. But watching episode 6 helped gel what was fascinating me, aside from the mysteries of a game I don't know well. (I've played some Mahjongg on Live Arcade. Looking at what's going all on in series, I think the game I was playing was Goofy Golf to whatever version/scoring they're playing.)
You see, I've played with Yuuki, Mako, and even the (offscreened) play of Hisa. Not literally, obviously, but the type of player are kinds I used to play all the time in college with the game.
Yuuki, the sprinter. Strong on the start, but as the game(s) go on, energy and attention wane, and so does their game.
Mako, the aggressor. The kind who finds and siezes the initiative when she spots a weakness or strength and then follows it up before one can recover or reinforce if she unbalances.
Hisa... well, Hisa I'm going to play some guessing games at, but I think she's the reader. Her skill at the game may be the least of the bunch, I'm making a guess. On the other hand, her reading of her opponents counters the raw part of the skill. If you know enough about you opponent, you can cover and play to the player, not the board and change your chances. It's nice to actually see someone use this for a 'good' player. Most of the people I've played with that trait... well, are amazingly not aware of assisting others as much as themselves.
All of those kind of make my blood sing to play (I can be very much Mako in play, though I also 'retire' and experiment with non-optimal enough that it balances.)
I kind of miss that a lot.
See, the thing is, that kind of continual play isn't that easy in the 'real world' especially when I'm on an off schedule for 'prime time', putting aside depression issues I have. I've tried to recapture it with other things, Warhammer 40k for one, but even at 'best', going to GW to play is a 50 minute trip and there's no place truly local to play consistently. Online gaming of that kind works to a degree, but the old complaint of immediacy, even with the modern marvels of voice-chat added don't make it the same really.
So maybe, just maybe, I'm just enjoying it (if slightly guiltily) vicariously as I watch those who I played with play, well... in a different format.