The dust-up between Dr. Patricia Cardner and Mason Malmuth looks dormant. Celebrity skirmishes are usually fun to watch- especially when destiny brings competitors uncomfortably close to reality. Abe Limon, High Priest of L.A. poker, attempted to act for Fate last month, but even he cannot release the statue’s tears or make the lame walk every time.
Unfortunately, this fight was never on par with the great ones. Ken Starr versus Bill Clinton. Milo Yiannopoulos versus Twitter. Snoopy versus the Red Baron. In fact, what is noticeable about this flare-up over “poker psychology” is that, like most disagreements (unfortunately) the two parties actually agree on most points. The real issue (again, unfortunately) is public decorum and a certain lack of imagination in proportioning where the truth lies.
Dr. Patricia Cardner, with at least one doctorate, the relevant one I think from Sam Houston State University (dissertation on high performance in competition), and now extensively connected mental game author and podcaster, first posted in December of 2008 on Twoplustwo.com, the preeminent poker forum, looking for insight into what poker players would want in a psychology workshop. This inquiry set the tone for her intermittent involvement in that forum: a perspective of looking from the outside of the strategic game in.
Three years after her first post, this comment:
|05-09-2011, 05:31 PM||#13|
Join Date: Dec 2008
|Re: Philisophical/Psychological Poker Books?
Working through Jared’s book myself. It is written by a guy who really understands psychology, so it is a different spin from most of the “mindset” books that are written by players who have little knowledge of psychology (from a theoretical as well as a practical view)
So, very early in the set of her publicly available post on Twoplustwo, she dismisses, probably necessarily, the practical knowledge one might have of one’s own mind, and wants to focus on institutionally approved study. Thus is a collision course set with the ruminating gambling autodidact Mr. Malmuth, curmudgeonly mathematician, noted poker author, and, not incidentally, owner of Twoplustwo itself. A man, it would seem, who does like winning and has flouted an apology letter from Dutch Boyd like a captured flag on the front page of his site for a superfluous number of months.
Both seem to have come from Florida, but they share little else besides a certain hot temperature. That Dr. Cardner, who had chosen the romance language handle, and thus attitude, of The Professor, a position which was not going to sit well with a man who actually uses the image of a relaxed, reclining, and about to pontificate Milton Friedman himself as his avatar, should be obvious. The narcissorometer, therefore, was registering for these two even before the race light turned green, and it did in September of 2013, in the “Books and Publications” thread positive poker vs. mental game of poker:
|12-05-2013, 09:01 PM||#5|
Join Date: Aug 2002
|Re: positive poker vs mental game of poker
Let me ask you a somewhat different question. Suppose you were a video poker player and was playing a machine where the expectation was positive, and you have memorized the optimal strategy for that machine. Do you need to be mentally tough to always make the correct plays?
From here on (NB: Mr. Malmuth has co-authored a book on video poker, no less), everything in their now two year plus feud has been series of variations on this single theme, but it is this post from Dr. Cardner which in fact made the war explicit:
|09-13-2015, 04:58 PM||#17|
Join Date: Dec 2008
|Re: Book Announcement: Real Poker Psychology by Mason Malmuth
I’m just back from my tennis lesson and find myself so refreshed and energized from the 2 hours of court time. Of course, it could just be the wheat grass juice shot that has contributed to my clear thinking today, but be that as it may, I have been contemplating your upcoming, sure to be the first of its kind, poker psychology book. I have a few suggestions that I believe can help you take it over the top!
I admire your willingness to attempt writing a comprehensive book on poker psychology. It is difficult to imagine how someone without a scintilla of experience or knowledge in the field would even know where to start, but once I saw your table of contents, I was truly astounded.
Upon further reflection, I feel I must point out that you’ve missed a few keystone topics. As this is to be the book of real poker psychology, I don’t want you to miss a thing. So in no particular order, let me fire off a few suggestions for you to consider.
P.S. I will be looking forward to reading this in it’s entirety and I’ll be looking closely at your fully annotated and correctly cited bibliography that I am sure will adhere to current APA standards.
This is, behind the wheat grass, a very tough tack by Dr. Cardner, not one without validity because she is comfortably in her field, but one wherein she overplays her hand in an effort to reestablish authority rather than engage- or simply disengage. Psychology, or in fact, any field, is not delimited to and by its professional organizations. These associations set standards and ensure the relatively stable quality of their adherents, but to claim authority over a genre of thought is to make an intellectual overstep because it turns a field into a brand. The inquiring spirit and mind has every right, and should be encouraged to, find the cracks where the light gets in. Dr. Cardner’s error may be a common one – consider the arrogance of even your otherwise likeable family doctor vis-à-vis intuitive concerns about your own body — but it remains one nevertheless and becomes one of the rubrics for their longstanding feud.
It can’t be much of a surprise that this approach, combined with its breezy condescension, has the effect of completely retrenching the offended (and apparently ready to be offended, as in several places he writes of anticipating blowback) Mr. Malmuth, and he begins to take on, openly and by implication, not only Dr. Cardner, but her field itself. (At some point he even drops the title from her name, and begins stubbornly calling her Cardner.) Putting the screw to the amateur in the guise of helpfulness should probably be beneath the professional. Her post, then, was the red flag to the bull, as this and related posts show:
|09-13-2015, 09:23 PM||#36|
Join Date: Aug 2002
|Re: Book Announcement: Real Poker Psychology by Mason Malmuth
I’m sure you’re right. But again, as I think you already know from dealing with me over the years, I don’t care.
While the battle heats predictably – you can find the conversation spilling now over into multiple threads, Twitter, Dr. Cardner’s Homepage, and even happy go lucky Red Chip itself – several interesting interludes develop that are worth noting. Going back to the Positive Poker vs. Mental Game of Poker thread, the author of the latter book, Jared Tendler, probably the most eminent poker mental game expert, comes close to agreeing to with Mr. Malmuth in a series of intersecting questions. However, he is not completely in favor of the Mr. Malmuth’s generalities:
|09-19-2014, 08:36 AM||#57|
See my coaching listing
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: New York
|Re: positive poker vs mental game of poker
While I agree with you that a gap in logic, or a logical discontinuity, is part of the equation for what causes tilt, what’s missing in your analysis is a clear identification of the byproduct of a logical discontinuity within poker. You identify humor as the byproduct of a joke, so naturally there would be a byproduct for poker too. I think it can be seen from the description you give of players who are tilting: getting upset, playing in aggressive manner, demanding, yelling, and steaming. In other words, they’re angry. Anger is the byproduct of a logical discontinuity in poker.
Being angry doesn’t automatically mean a player will play suboptimally. For example, a player who gets pissed off for having made a few mistakes early into a session/tournament and uses that anger as motivation to perform at a high level thereafter. Most often, however, anger leads to suboptimal play. Why anger sometimes leads to bad play can be explained by the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which shows the relationship between emotion and performance.
When any emotion rise too high —anger, fear, excitement, etc—higher brain functions, like thinking, are compromised. The brain “shorts out” as you say…
…A logical discontinuity is what causes anger in the first place. So I agree with you that understanding the reality of poker is critical. However, I disagree that all of the causes of tilt can be cured with this one solution our analysis of the cause and cure of tilt…
Is anger really the byproduct of poker discontinuity? Whatever the answer may be (it is not the only byproduct, most likely; all this sounds bizarrely black and white and faux scientific), but Mr. Malmuth’s definition of anger is also completely off, even though the free market theorist, trapped by his perfunctory platitudes, perfectly understands him:
Anger is a state of the mind not being able to work correctly.
Anger extends far past misunderstanding, and points to the murky depths Dr. Cardner and her field attempts to provide some order to. In fact, it is sometimes the reasonableness of righteous indignation that is most striking. However, the question from Mr. Malmuth: is there a place for it in poker, nay, winning poker?
This nearly unnoticed commentary is revelatory:
|I think you take this term too literally; it’s doesn’t have to mean a physical fight.|
Of course it means that. It doesn’t mean that every “fight or flight” will result in a physical fight, but it does mean that there should be some fights in the poker room and there are virtually none.
Mr. Malmuth’s point in answering Tendler this way points to the very controlled and non-physical nature of poker, which is part of the Twoplustwo publisher’s argument: poker is not in the realm of what needs mental management so much as logical analysis. He is implying that focusing on the mental game may or may not be helpful, but that it is a sort of category error, and that the lack of altercations is subtle empirical evidence of his assertion. Anger and tilt, he suggests, are often obviated by understanding, unnoticed.
Another interlude is this observation from David Sklansky himself:
|09-25-2015, 10:22 PM||#178|
Join Date: Aug 2002
|Re: Book Announcement: Real Poker Psychology by Mason Malmuth
As are many other things. Like seat selection, table talk, and “money management”.
The problem is that poker players often ascribe to these things far more importance than simply “tie breakers”. And when they have poor results they waste time trying to improve these things rather than trying to improve their strategy.
Here Sklansky, in addition to providing cover for Mr. Malmuth, touches on the tactics of the game – as opposed to the strategy – a real 3rd dimension serious low stakes players, who are likely, in fact, the largest audience for poker books, seem to fail at again and again. Reality intrudes, then, and however briefly, while we argue the merits and demerits of hot showers. (I personally would wish tooth brushing would be considered the new non plus ultra of meta strat: my life at the tables would be so much more pleasant.)
A third, more extraneously humorous moment occurs when flamboyant poker celebrity “Kid Poker” Daniel Negreanu expresses his disbelief at Mr. Malmuth’s thesis, and the conversation turns to his own mental game conditioning; who could have seen that coming? While he makes some points for Dr. Cardner (many players, especially on social media, will ultimately come to her defense; remember in whose stadium the match takes place), what is more striking than his argument is that his energy seems not to be containable by the shaded boxes of the forums; he is antimatter to Mr. Malmuth’s The Frog and the Toad Talk Capitalism on a Very Rainy Day act. You probably could have convinced me that Daniel grew that new hair himself, by choice.
However, at some point the diversions end and the two contestants spar briefly, goaded by forum participants, before falling into fussing over Dr. Cardner’s credentials and what Mr. Malmuth said about them, again to much dubious goading. The fire is just not rising with the smoke. However, there are some lessons for players.
For Dr. Cardner, psychological study has yielded efficiencies that increase the likelihood of peak performance and promoting these practices appears to be the focus of her successful career – players crave these practices, rightly or wrongly. For Mason Malmuth, the mastery of the material is the issue, and once that is accomplished, he finds scant value in tweaking in what state its execution is carried out. Can Mr. Malmuth be correct that the mental game, and so these practices, are really a two percent question?
In one post the limited nature of psychological help is spelled out by Dr. Cardner herself:
We give by step step instructions, ideas, tips, and strategies to help you build each psychological skill/trait. I only included things that have been shown in clinical research to be effective for most people. Also, there are a variety of strategies in each chapter so you can pick and choose the things you want to try.
Here she also confirms the problem of proportionality with a misguided metaphor:
The other side of the coin is the psychological aspects. Those can be much more variable and harder to control – especially if we don’t have the psychological skills and knowledge we need.
The mental game is not necessarily the other side of a coin or the polar equivalent to strategy; that is what has to be proved, for one thing, to counter Mason’s argument, not assumed. This easy generalization, somewhat similar to Mr. Malmuth’s liberal use of an analogy to describe an event in the brain, helps stoke controversy without providing a clear point. Winning debates involves making strong, clear points… but she’s not the only one to stumble.
Twisting and turning through the thread is the odd example of Danny Robinson, an apparently unhealthy and obese yet still legendary stud expert. He is batted back and forth as an example for both sides of our argument (He was GREAT! Oh, yeah, he could have been BETTER!). However, two obvious points are missed in this thriller of a misexample. He played the way he wanted to play and his edge was apparently satisfactory. Mental game conditioning was not needed or wanted by him, whereas every single client of Dr. Cardner, Tendler, Roe, or whoever has to have been strictly voluntary and seeking an edge or help. In other words, there is no argument here and Mr. Robinson is a strictly counterfactual fantasy for both sides. However, what is true is that the long run is long, and it is hard. Danny Robinson clearly needed to be healthy to fully exploit his edge over the maximum number of years, but he never sought to. In other words, yes, he would have benefitted most simply by seeing the long run, which is best achieved by, say, living. How do we quantify this? It’s not as straightforward as it might seem. What truly motivates a man to do what he does and to live? It’s not a question for mathematicians… or performance studies.
Certainly Dr. Cardner went far past reasonable when actually claiming that her adversary is “incapable of logic” on Twitter. This charge, with the slightest perusal of his resume, is found rather obviously false and is a disservice to both. I believe there was even some beneath contemptible mouth breathings of “misogyny” by someone, somewhere. However, for the slings and arrows he endures, Mr. Malmuth does himself no great shake in his more zealous attempts to discredit Dr. Cardner, either. He bickers, for instance, with Fedor Holz, someone who actually would know just what kind of coaching he needs or imagines he needs (it often being the same thing for the high level competitor), over marginal spots. Mr. Malmuth has already established a solid argument, likely won the day as to what novice and intermediate players need- but he will not leave good enough alone. In other words, it’s his randomly assigned, 2% value of the mental game number, after all his straightforward arguing, that won’t let the dispute rise to a climax and close itself.
Dr. Cardner is not suggesting that mental game aid should replace any strategic aspect of the game, which she calls “mandatory.” (This is in an understatement.) Here the argument could have ended or gone in another direction. Instead, the red herring of “mental toughness” becomes a distraction, as if mental toughness were a strategic component, when all it is a way of increasing the probability of remaining in the game. The boxing example given by Mr. Malmuth shows this, and bridges the gap between poker player and sports figure when understood properly- yet neither seems to, oddly, or else it would have been a bigger part of the debate. Again, disappointment.
That, though, should be no surprise. It is often hard for an audience to receive information when it is not properly presented or clearly argued. Online forums are not famous for their clarity and generosity for a reason, and the confounding inability to use English in a persuasive and cunning way often leaves important points behind.
Here is, in essence, what Mr. Malmuth says: Tilt derives from the mind being unable to process information satisfactorily. More will be accomplished by learning to process than by managing not processing.
Here is what the Audience hears from him: Tilt derives from being confused. Don’t be confused.
They are not equivalent statements. Mr. Malmuth’s actual point is unique, succinct, and interesting. He even derives a theory of humor from it which he shared on the Pokersesh (fittingly, he is the least funny human on the planet, but such can be the ironical nature of inquiry). He makes an astonishingly sharp observation in connecting humor’s quality of release to poker tilt, noting that a solid player will sometimes surreptitiously laugh at a bad beat, as his brain sharply processes the discord between result and correct action; whereas a weaker player will leap into monkey tilt, unable to resolve what Mr. Malmuth likens to a “feedback loop.” In a rather funny twist of meanings, following this, you could posit that a weak player lacks a sense of humor, and that humor, therefore, has an intrinsic relationship to variance and winning poker, thereby pointedly bridging the philosophical and mathematical values of the game in a rather neat way.
To return to the issue, Mr. Malmuth’s “feedback loop” of course is an analogy, and not a psychological or biomechanical theory. This easy language will grate on the institutional approach of Dr. Cardner, naturally enough, and is in fact a good morsel of what the psychologist objects to. (Return to her original list of academic suggestions above.) The years of work and the methodology that go into creating acceptable ideas on how the mind work will recoil from the inquiry and even the language of the natural philosopher or personal essayist. (This works both ways, of course: FOMO? Really? I hope no tax dollars go toward that.) However, the upshot is that since neither of the two opponents want to use their imagination to bridge the gap in their ideas, nor precise the exact place for the mental game, each wishing to overstep in order to take more ground, we are left with a fun but minor feud that is easily resolved by everyone except its participants.
What’s more, attacking Dr. Cardner, even from a position of strength, is a somewhat foolish proposition in a forum of players who already have access to an almost endless well of information, yet are strangely still desperate for any edge. While Mr. Malmuth is rather obviously correct in his basic premise that poker expertise trumps its management, the soft skills he disparages, if I may use this somewhat loaded term, are real and a part of a player’s arsenal, secondary or not. What is missed is just how unlikely it is that even a decent player will in fact ever truly understand the game as deeply as Mr. Malmuth suggests he will or should- or even that it can be understood as he suggests. His platonic poker ideal is just that- a theoretical one.
So then, is the struggling poker player to go without the modest psychological support Dr. Cardner offers for the sake of someone’s “mathematical model” of anything? Should anyone actually be worried that there is someone out there so confused that they are going to Dr. Cardner for poker strategy, befuddled as to what they really need? In a profoundly challenging game should a player pass up any edge, an edge which means real dollars, for the sake of rigor? Does Mr. Malmuth imagine that feeling bad or disoriented or unfocused is something most people simply accept without looking into alternatives? Would Mr. Malmuth argue against treating the symptoms of a cold in favor of viral research?
That’s simply not how competition or competitors work at any level, and that is a crack in the Malmuthian armor, strong as it is. The small edge mental game experts offer is just that reassurance and aid that so many players crave, not so that they might evade the nature of the game, but so that they can return to the true work of understanding that Mr. Malmuth espouses. The players created the market and all the Dr. Cardners. The question is where, not if, they have a place at the table.
In other words, the enemies in this feud are arguing essentially complementary but unequally weighted suppositions. I believe Mason is right in the main, will read his book with curiosity, and that the real argument, the one they won’t have, is exactly where to fit in mental game conditioning. (It likely skews along these lines; amazing how even when it’s not his show, he still gets in the last word.)
This makes sense: almost all l things have their place, and the tougher the competition, the smaller the golden crumbs worth fighting for. This is true everywhere, and poker can’t be an exception. If you think you need a mindset coach to sit in an entry level game, the preposterousness of it is itself an argument against mental game conditioning. Yet as soon as the game grows tougher, even just one level up, some game preparedness issues begin to become possibly relevant. Certainly, moreover, it’s futile to argue with a high stakes player who feels he needs every edge imaginable.
Enough. Some people need extra-strategic advice at some point… but we could always use a good penguin joke. Post below!