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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Poker Stories: No Lessons

Another in my occasional series of true poker stories.

A couple of years ago, I was playing in a cash game at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana (about a half-hour outside of Chicago), where a WSOP Circuit Event was taking place. While there, I encountered a phenomenon that's become more common in the last few years.

I was sitting next to a young guy, mid-20's, who was playing fairly well, but on one hand he was beaten by another player who made a very bad play and got lucky. The guy next to me started berating him, turning to another player he knew and loudly excoriating the bad player. His friend agreed with him, which made the young guy complain and demean his opponent even more. Meanwhile, the guy who had made the bad play wasn't saying a word; just stacking up the chips he'd won.

After almost three full minutes of this young guy mouthing off, I turned to him and said quietly, "This is none of my business, but I'm curious. Are you trying to make a living playing poker?" The young guy turned to me and said he was. "Then you really have to learn not to do this," I said. He looked confused, but not angry with me, so I continued: "The last thing you want is for the guy who beat you to leave the table because you're yelling at him. You want him to stay here and keep making bad plays, because in the long run, you'll get his money."

I could see the light bulb slowly going on over his head. This was obviously something he had never considered -- that any player can win a hand, but over time, the better players end up ahead.

I ran into exactly the same situation in a Las Vegas poker room. Another young pro was beaten by a loud, drunken Englishman at the other end of the table. After the hand, the pro went after him verbally, so much so that the surprised Englishman -- who was clearly there to just have a good time -- looked hurt and began to slump back in his chair. I asked the young pro if he had noticed that the Brit had a very large wad of cash behind his chips, and which he threw around with little abandon. "That money," I said to the kid, "is going to be mine, unless you make him leave this table, at which point neither of us will be happy. So cool it. Stop yelling at your opponents and never give them lessons."

He got the message, calmed down, bought some more chips, and went back to playing good poker. Over the course of the next two hours, as the Englishman reverted to drinking, playing almost every hand, and having a good time, the young pro and I both got a good share of his chips.

There's a scene in the movie "Rounders," where Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) recounts to Joey Knish (John Turturro) how he sat down in a big game at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and bluffed two-time WSOP champion and ten-time bracelet winner Johnny Chan out of a hand. To end the story, Mike says, "I played with the best, and I beat him."

It's a good scene, but it's not realistic. Sure, Mike bluffed Johnny out of one pot, but what happened over the course of several hours? At the end of the session, who made the most money? The longer they played, the better chance Chan had.

And I guarantee that Chan never yelled at his opponents when they made a bad play.