Webcomics Review: Life's A Bluff

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Life's A Bluff calls itself a comic by poker players, for poker players.

And that's certainly true.

Your average reader might know the basics of poker, but will be thrown for a loop by the terms used by the pros, and won't pick up on the people and scenes the strip references.

But I heard good things about the comic. Casino Royale had just hit theaters, and while that movie didn't go too far into details about poker, it showed that I could enjoy the game without being an expert. So I decided to take a look, and see just how well the comic stood up to someone who wasn't a regular at the dealer's table.

I ran into the language barrier in quite a few strips, and would occasionally find myself reading a list of names that had no meaning for me. Sure, the Internet was ready to step in and fill in the blanks, but if you have to sit down and explain a joke, it loses a lot of its punch.

But I'd expected that. The question at hand wasn't whether the comic would be about poker, but what else it was about, and how well it presented that. And that question had a more surprising answer.

It isn't really about poker. It is about a guy who plays poker. Specifically Charlie Blanks, would-be poker genius who, despite his enthusiasm for the field and self-professed know-how, ends up losing time after time, hand after hand.

Small victories seem enough to keep him playing, but not enough to stop him from ending up broke.

I don't need to be a poker player to read about a guy like that. It helps: you get a lot more out of the strip if you know the ins and outs of the game. But anyone who has a hobby can empathize with the underdog who obsesses over a game, but just doesn't seem destined for greatness. From the first strip we've got an idea everyone can follow. For each strip that is for the die-hard player, there's another one that anyone can see the humor in.

Which is the key to a successful niche comic. Operating within the niche will get you attention from your target audience, but being accessible to other readers -- and beyond that, being a quality strip once one looks past the in-jokes and fancy lingo -- means you have staying power. Getting publicity from the poker field is good for the comics medium in general, while helping new readers become interested in poker is good for the game - so all in all, Life's a Bluff gives us a situation where everyone wins.

Everyone but Charlie, that is.

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