I get this a lot. Some guy I knew centuries ago sees me playing forty-eighty hold’em and says to me, “what are you doing here?” I sigh.
Stuff like this has gone on most of my life. When you’re a hustler, you end up losing most of the time for the big win at the end. You play the fool. You can never show how good you are. There’s no applause here. You do your job and end up counting money in some hotel room, splitting it with your backers if you have any. Then, you wait for the girls, or the drugs, or the liquor to kick in. Most of the time I would watch TV thinking about all the mistakes I had made. There were always mistakes.
There were dreams too. Hustlers have their personal very unconventional nirvana. Mostly they want to make enough to never have to do it again. Mostly they hate the game they played. Like me. I hated that fact that I could never shine. Never show my stuff.
Heres how it goes. You play bad. Lesson number one. Your backer, who is a former hustler or money guy who likes action shows you. He picks up a few dollars and says this is what you get if you always play good; then he takes out the c-notes wrapped in a rubber band and says this is what you get if you play bad right up until the end. Okay chief. You get the message.
The hustlers are the little wizards of the world. They have the gift. They do something in one particular thing better that almost anyone else and the money rolls in. Still it is never enough. It is too easy. That is the trap.
Of course, the little wizards almost always fail in the end. Their window of opportunity is narrow and short. They never see until its way too late. It’s a peculiar sadness I’ve witnessed many times. The little wizards are in their own universe and this universe is alien and foreign to them and equally scared of them. So the good people of this universe set out to destroy them. They usually succeed.
UFA Poker takes its share. Poker attracts the gifted and destroys them. Luck destroys them. Their arrogance destroys them. To lose to the inferior is beyond unacceptable. And yet it happens all the time.
My first days playing poker I thought, “what an incredibly ridiculous thing have I fallen into.” That thought stayed with me for a while. Between the bad beats, bad players, bad luck, you have to find something inside yourself to get over the hump. Unlike other things that your skill can get you past, poker exerts an incredible force to open your nose, throw you on tilt; to destroy you. We all have gifts that can get us through. I’ll tell you about mine.
I was good at chess. To this day if I mention it, someone will want to play with me. Sometimes for money. If they mention money, then I know they think they are pretty good. Of course for a normal person they are, but not when they are up against a wizard. At some point, once I put the hammer down, they get this look in their eyes. Thanks. You have just come face to face with the gift. I moved on. At the time, I had no idea that the great equalizer was in the future and that mere mortals would and could roast me over the coals of the feast called poker.
Of course chess has no luck, though it has become fashionable to say it has a little. Whatever. The point is, that if you are better than the next guy, then you are going to win and that’s it. Some of these wizards hardly ever lose a game. Still chess has a lot of the blessed, so there is a hierarchy and only the best of the best move on. I started playing the no limit hold’em of chess; speed chess. Now we’re gambling.
Imagine a game of chess and now imagine that you have just two minutes to play. As does your opponent. The game will be over in minutes. No old men smoking pipes on a park bench taking eternities to sort out their next move. No, this is Washington Square where crack pipes intermingle with peppermint incense and a man with the gift is usually tortured, because this is a street game and it has its own rules. Bad news if you come from the Manhattan school of intellectual chess, passed down for generations from the frozen regions of Russia. Few adapt. This is gambling with many desperate to win, and motivated by an overwhelming need for drugs or food. This need can make you good.
This was my introduction to gambling. No more confinement, my game was given the freedom to fly and to be awed at by the less talented. It was heaven to be fated and to win money at the same time. I would never have both together again. Still I learned lessons that would not be used for years. How need dictated actions that may not be optimal for winning. Tilt. The crushed look on a face that was playing in a game he could not afford. Scared money. Between games, I unknowingly studied the body language that would help me later. Things change, I was too good, couldn’t get enough opponents, and the world was fast embracing backgammon as the acceptable form of society gambling.
Speed chess had wet my appetite for money, and there promised to be much more in backgammon, a game I had played all my life. It was also my first encounters with mister luck. Dice have their own peculiar logic. Many a time that fickleness cost me money. Still it was more lessons. I was able to study close up the human animal in stress mode. And myself. Of course my study of stress was a little more intense and personal. That stress would eventually take its toll.
Peter lynch, the legendary mutual fund manager always tells people to invest in things they know and ones they understand, and never invest in something they could not easily explain to someone. This is good advice for the world of poker also. Meditate. Think about times in your life when you read a situation correctly, or accurately predicted the actions of another. Visualize pain, want, need, envy, jealously and the myriad other emotions that are inherent in our character. These things we have all seen. Why would we want to forget them at the poker table? Know your enemy. Read his face; see where he is at and the rest become almost mechanical. Recognize emotion and you have a weapon against mister luck when he comes calling. Know yourself. Become the sphinx and solve your own riddle.
The title of this essay should easily be accepted. Calling instead of raising comes from fear or weakness or greed. All three will cost you money. Think about it. Forget the one time in a hundred that calling is right, for the aim is to win money, not lose less. It still is the biggest mistake people make. If you hear different, investigate the source and take all future advice with a shaker of salt. Poker is not played in theory, but at a table for real money where the impossible happens five times a night. If someone tells you something cannot happen, then they have never been at a poker table.
The following is my top ten list of reasons many people give me to explain why they lost at poker.
“I didn’t want to lose anybody.”
“They were suited.”
“Sevens have flopped all night.”
“That dealer kills me.”
“I had to call.”
“The pot was too big.”
“With all the raising, I figured little cards would flop.”
“I had aces.”
“I couldn’t raise” or “The board paired”, “Straightened out”, “Flushed out.”
and my favorite… “How could I put him on that?”
Use your strengths. Recognize your weaknesses and fix them or the holes will get bigger and the luckier at the moment will take all your money and you will need to leave the arena.
Less abstract advice. Play big cards, play less hands, raise more, call less, leave when you’re tired or distracted. In reading books on strategy remember that your mileage may vary. Raising to get a free card is now recognized by everyone, suited connectors like small pairs could put you in the grave. Like garlic, use a little not a lot. Be thankful, grateful, that poker is the great equalizer. Here not only can you slay the dragons, but the wizards as well.