It’s not exactly The Professor, the Banker and friends, but the Village does have its scions, the upstanding winners who funnel money from the dollar store bad, software good games. There aren’t many. The Smurfs love, to speak technically, to realize their equity, and so they trade chips back and forth in a kind of raked pyramid scheme, a game of poker hot potato where winning might not seem like the goal to a scientific observer. Speaking of that, it takes some serious observation to figure out if anyone is actually winning at a significant rate at a casino, and at some point I’ll tell you how it’s done, but at this point, I’ve identified a few primary sharks in the pool, each with a different style. (And if there’s someone winning a bundle that I haven’t figured out, all the more power to stealthy him.)
There is, in fact, a Banker- who is not a banker- but has earned the appellation from his willingness to loan to other players their losses back. There’s your humble servant Persuadeo – growing on you, hopefully, these Latin present active indicatives. There’s a few outliers, as well: thoughtful Osiris hovers in obliquely for a couple days a week, filling a few foot long coffins, and the Angry Asian Foster Child paddles the daytime shift. However, looming darkly above all of us is the man the Village was meant for, its yang, its nemesis; the scourge of the Smurfs, the mushroom smasher, hater of all that is blue, cute and calls too much, Gargamel himself.
These other winners are good players, and I will go into all of them at some point. The Banker, for instance, is a contented man, analytical but a tad casual in poker, unparalleled in good winning attitude, relaxed, indifferent, no doubt a grand success in his professional field- I never ask what. He plays a loose, quasi-tournament style game. He never saw a pocket pair he didn’t at least try to felt reasonably. If the price is break even, he’ll go for it: his bankroll is infinite, and you will never get free, surrendered dollars out of him. This was a development, a refinement really, of his game, because for the longest time, he was a breakeven mark. He called every three bet, and snap folded when he missed. He was loose in front, tight from the back. He couldn’t win unless the cards dictated his results. For a long stretch of my poker development, he was one of my primary bluffing victims as I dabbled with a very loose aggressive game to counter the senile slow dawn of a bad TAG’s win rate. So I started attacking, and I mean a lot. I made the pots, I stole the pots. Call me Pot. Easy from someone like the Banker before he took up the corner office of the firm, because something definitely funny and unexpected happened on the way to the cage. It might be more correlation than causation, but I remember a specific moment in between his poker career as Clerk and then Banker, an inflection point in the grand Infinite Stacks tournament, around level 48754, I believe.
I had three bet the Banker’s obviously loose EP open with J8ss, gotten a cold call from one of those hopeless Chinese degens who got lost on the way to Baccarat, a cigarette, and a divorce; the Banker had meekly surrendered his investment, knowing what was coming. Later on in the hand, I made a big call with third pair to felt the bluffing Baccarateer, but the image that stuck with me was the Banker’s face. He knew he had bamboozled, had laid down the best of it, and was sharp enough to recognize it must have been happening a lot. People never change, Dr. House tells us, but the Banker did, and he has not been much of source of profit for me since that day, and might even be up on me thanks to some retaliatory run good.
However, as much as the amiable Banker beats the game, he is a beloved figure. Revered for his play, healthy attitude, belly laugh, and the big stacks he runs up without agony or much more than an occasional puzzled frown, the players lionize him. It baffled me for the longest time, but for the Smurfs, he is truly the non plus ultra of Village poker. At one point, it miffed me, as everyone takes pride in their work, but I have passed over this immature feeling. In any case, as much as I beat that game, the Village does not belong merely to me or the Banker, but to a true blackguard, fiend, and poker antihero.
Dastardly Gargamel pillages the Village. Dressed in a black leather coat, dark hair slithered in gel, snipped into a curious cross of a bowl cut with an 80’s tennis star, this guy might actually have some of the cartoon villain’s DNA. The trace of upstate New York that colors his clipped insults postindustrial grey gives him serious jerk cred. More importantly, it’s not really an act or a self-caricature. He hates the Smurfs, and lets them know. I have lines in my face from all the wincing I’ve done from when he tapped the tank. You’re lucky not to be berated, your intelligence apprised, and your game torn to shreds if you’ve spent time with Gargamel. He’s not a pleasant type at the table. (Certianly no one would ever think to ask this misanthrope for money!)
Don’t think I haven’t tried to something about this. We’ve known each other for years- back to learning at home games in fact- and he is reformed in some senses. However, and I in fact somewhat sympathize, when he is in the Village, Gargamel cannot control himself. Whereas he takes beats calmly and plays like a pro on the road, when he’s in the Village he is ready to explode. He’s a brute. A nightmare. The dealers call him Bruce Banner.
However I digress. Hate him or dislike him, Gargamel storms the village for a thunderous hourly. Let’s discuss how, without giving away the important state secrets, since you’re probably curious.
- Like me, Gargamel is capable of exercising inscrutably good preflop discipline. He has nearly no limping range, 3 bets based on his opponent’s range, and declines to play out of position much. He does not lie to himself about making bad decisions pre because he’s going to (lol) “outplay them postflop.” He may be evil, but the recipe in his brew is still Whole Foods organic: start from scratch with high quality ingredients, in the right doses, at the right time.
- Unlike me, Gargamel is a value bet machine. To balance his underdone bluffing range, he uses combinations to bet aggressively and thinly, especially vs. fish. He’s not afraid of value owning himself a bit, one of the signs that he is in fact among the last of the true TAGs. (Not one of those guys we know all too well from the forums: “I’m playing TAG and call out of the SB with 97ss…”)
- While he has certain tells that only I know about, Gargamel always acts deliberately, which drives the other players insane and leads them to make crazy plays they would not normally make. The Gargamel spell explains calls and spazzes he seems to always get, which drives me bonkers.
- Like me, Gargamel knows his players, and plays completely exploitatively. He makes no “standard” stackoffs that look ok in a 2D forum hand history but in real life are not the way to create a sick hourly. As part of these studies of player tendencies, he’s contributed heavily to one of my most powerful tools for coping with the Village at the height of my interest in playing there: the mighty Database. It’s now in disuse, but its principles and data will create stacks of red and green for Christmasses to come.
- He is diabolically driven. Whereas I have come to espouse a game of comfort, objectivity, and mental stability, Gargamel, when in the Village, is out for little Smurf heads. His staff is waving, he’s torn his Wizard’s robe off and is howling at the gods of war for strength and bodypaint. It’s quite possible someone in his family was severely handicapped by a weak poker player at some point in a limp/calling accident. If you somehow stack him, he will wait all night- I am not using exaggeration here- to get you back, and then he will insult you, having remembered every detail of whatever you did wrong twelve hours ago. Gargamel has now beaten all my records for longest sessions and biggest swings, because like a rabid raccoon, he will not let go and he will not let a session be a losing one. He happens to be on a frightening twenty session win streak at the moment, and takes it like it is religiously owed to him, sweetmeats and offal from the bewildered Villagers at the volcano base. When he does lose- and the coming one is going to be particularly tough- the next day is one of personal recriminations, mourning, and beating Azrael. (Take that whatever way you prefer.)
So that’s not all of it, but enough. Gargamel by coincidence recently pointed out that one fact of life in the Village is its inequality. The gap between the 1% and the rest of us, in life, as they are whinging on about these days, and in the Village, is high. There are few winners, even with so much money going around. How is this possible? In the next installment, I’ll be exploring poker inequality, as well as narrating the unexpected and epic showdown between the dark scourge of the Village… and Papa Smurf himself.