Gargamel is diabolic. Blessed with top percentile mathematical ability, he calculates his hourly at the table, adjusted for the swings of his session. He wants to extract every last dollar from his victims; if he missized a bet that was supposed to be called, I have to hear about the $20 he lost out on for most of the ride home. Even when he writes up a rare hand history (he doesn’t want to help anyone who is his potential fish, meaning you, like those women who think every one of their gender is competition) he is the villain. “I embrace my role,” he tells me. If knowledge is power, self-knowledge is ascendancy.
Since so few win, is knowledge scarce? How can it be that in a game with so many learning devises and methods, from the pedagogic to the empirical, that “everyone is terrible.” What explains the concentration of winners at the top of a particular poker player pool? How can so few gather so much? Why is inequality rampant in a game where even the slightest caution will keep your poker dinghy afloat, if not atrim?
There are several key factors in the establishment of an ascendant class, a player pool’s 5%. First, though, is the rather obvious concession: while the real winners are few, margins are still slim. Poker is not even on the top one hundred list of ways to get rich. Poker’s barely skim the surface of the money in play, like the metaphorical golden crumbs gathered by the banking class, yet in our field, it is from a cake that is paradoxically never baked. Even the best players over the course of a statistically significant sample will wager far, far more than they win.
The explanation starts with Variance. The goddess Variance, her water and her wind: she is the Winner’s friend and Loser’s consolation. Variance is the sea the SS Crusher steams upon. Further, as much as the winners take, it will never match the horrifying bottom depths the losing players discover. These poor divers, in search of something they will never find, will always manage to lose, even on an individual basis, more than the winner, try as he might, can gather. Underneath the surface, the waters are dark, dank, and frightening.
Most winners, in poker and in life, have no interest in this discovery. They do not want to know what happens after twenty losing sessions. Their interest in prodding the bottom of their bank account, infuriating their spouse and family and friends, is minimal. Most winners are profoundly uninterested in losing. A winner, in the larger sense, after losing a significant amount of money, decides he no longer loves poker. Maybe he never did, he tells himself. Maybe he’s humble, and decides he never was as good as he thought. And because he is a winner in the largest sense, he goes back to something old or finds something new to do. Winners have no tolerance for losing. Poker, as in most things in life, is self-selective. Winners, in the end, are usually ignorant of their counterparts.
Losers, on the other hand, have a different relationship with their net result; I’ll get into that another time.
What’s important for you today, since you seek to be a winner, is that Gargamel will not lose. I don’t mean that he can’t, it’s simply that he declines to do so. Whatever it takes for him to win, he will do it. It’s not rational. Gargamel has been known to make himself sick, miss work, skip appointments, abandon loved ones to their devises, and strand carpoolers at the casino bar in search of a good hit. He sometimes drinks so much coffee and stays up so late that he is at risk of an aneurysm. The idea of floating in that hole with the losers, of finding a moment of solace in the blank stare of the weird sea creatures in the losing depths, hovering dully over their hopeless shortstack, is an impossibility for Gargamel.
Don’t imagine I am advising this. It’s not good for him, in the generic sense everyone goes on about; it’s not good for anyone. He probably needs a better strategy, but winning is not just about strategy, it’s just about winning. His obsession with streaks and hourly and monthly results are just that: a morbid fixation. However, one man’s narcotic is another’s medicine. Find the way that works for you. Are you as comfortable with yourself at the table as Gargamel? Probably not.
If he could actually, as everyone clichés on about, “crush souls,” Gargamel would. He is not satisfied with your chips; he wants the emotional satisfaction of seeing your possessions transferred smoothly across the table to him. He is the medieval lord who wants your virgin bride’s prima noctis.
And sometimes, when you are truly yourself, like Gargamel dares to be, you find your number has been called by the Goddess. (Like all females, as Dorothy Sayers wrote, She loves mastery above all, for good or evil.)
It was a good 5/5 game, with Gargamel sitting on my left – somehow the chair on the right has never been available in five years of poker together, strange- when a cheerful chunkster plopped into the freshly felted one seat. “That’s a great card protector you’ve got there,” the ploppy complimented Gargmel. “It’s been good to me,” was the response, while gently patting the bald pate of the beloved figurine. A rare moment of understatement from Smurfkilla.
New guy wasn’t done, though: “Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, I’m coming for you… I’m Papa Smurf!”
It had to be a fucking dream.
I started out on our new friend by running a three street bluff on him, only to have to fold to his river min raise. Papa Smurf kindly showed me his turned hidden gutter, having flatted Q9o with bright blue optimism. The stage was more than set; while I reloaded, a spotlight, formerly thought to be a banal security camera, I believe, rotated its lens and focused a beam upon Gargamel.
Papa Smurf padded, prodded, and straightened his now puffed stack with delight, cheerfully placing the whites on top. Meanwhile, Gargamel opened the next hand from EP. As he later described:
I opened UTG and picked up 3 callers. Flop was A35. I cbet half pot so I think 40 into 80 and smurf monkey raised me to 125. I called. Turn 3, I checked and he shoved. I snapped and he said “I think I might be in trouble”. He had AQ. Effective stacks were around $700.
I figured the bottom of Gargamel’s range here was AK, but he in fact had that outkicked by one. The only thing that convinced me this wasn’t a dream, besides the fading spotlight, was that Gargamel did not activate a dubious Russian accent and begin schooling a disconsolate and broken Papa Smurf: “You’re right, I don’t have spades…”
However, the evil wizard was too occupied for snarky digestifs; only I noticed Papa Smurf stumble out of the poker room. Gargamel was counting up his stack, recalculating his month’s haul.
He was busy, winning.