Gargamel has disappeared. He hasn’t actually vanished, or been bound and kidnapped by a crowd of torch bearing Smurfs, but he is still gone for another day. In fact, the WSOP has carried away not only your favorite Villain, but silent Osiris as well, perhaps the only other true TAG in the player pool and one who regularly makes his way back to the cage with racks of red smeared with blue. Many of the middling, slight winners, the guys who love tournaments and can steer around a cash table without crashing the car too often, are south as well, dreaming of their “Hi Mom” moment on the live stream. Laughter and overcalls fill the void.
For me, just back from Vegas, it’s like working on the Friday of a three day weekend; the cubicles seem suspiciously empty and work isn’t happening. As I look around the room tonight and settle into my table, the tension of concentration observable in heavy pauses, thoughtful gestures, and deliberate movements is as absent as the Village’s scourge himself. Competence is scattered and rare. In one corner, Angry Asian Foster Kid, who normally takes out his misplaced frustration on the feeble daytime crowd, seems to putting in a little OT. The plump Banker, a happy and smart player with a seat and a half of gamble, is in the house; he does actually appear to be taking up a seat and a half. Medical Matt, an online refugee, sits next to me, in a rare appearance without scrubs. Including me, that’s four demonstrable and known winners, one and a third for each table of NL. The games tonight, needless to say, will be down pillow soft, and I have come home from racy Vegas games to lay my weary head and get back to the cozy.
So many of them at one time! And like their quantity, losing players are bad at the game in an endless variety of ways. I’ll focus on a few. The most obvious, yet most important and telling, is that many do not even know they are losing players. This division has a simple component -they don’t track their gaming results- as well as a more subtle, causal quality: they think others don’t track their results, either. Oblivious to the efforts of the obsessive types that haunt forums, buy obscure poker literature from hirsute self-publishing aficionados, or fall asleep to HSP fairy tales, these players exist in a bubble of their own blowing.
I remember well, in a rare, mistaken moment of talking poker seriously with my opponents, explaining big blinds per hour to Angry John, a top percentile whiner who plays as big as possible to get away from what he calls the “bingo” poker of the low stakes. I recall his eyebrows raising in frightened enlightenment while we discussed reasonable win rates. You see, poker for Angry John is a battle and a compulsion which seems to have no end and no beginning; he has no clue how much he has lost, and doesn’t compare himself to his fellow grinders. What he focuses on is the winning and losing of pots, and then how he feels about the result (I’ll let you guess his primary emotion). Angry John no doubt remembers the good nights, like a moment of sexual conquest on a calendar of rejection. It’s just going to be very hard for him to get to his next lay thinking like this.
Losing play, as a concept and as an approach to the game, especially thrives when the rigors of strategy do not fetter it. Related to this, it is very rare that someone will lose every session: sometimes even the worst players have magical nights; hours of delight at the table, which, like Angry John’s finest soirees, feed them and their poker hopes forever. The absence of tough competition, therefore, is not only and incitement to, but is in part the cause of, weak poker. Tonight, I observe, may well be one of those confirmatory nights: I open two pots and find five callers greeting me, each of them staring at the center of the table to see if they will be selected for a prize (Angry John does have a bit of a point, naturally, no one is completely wrong!). After a week of dealing with quasi-pros and forum nerds at the Wynn, this is a mild regression, to say the least.
And I am not to be disappointed: within the hour, without a measure of Gargamel or others with a solid grasp of actions and equities to keep the reckless in check, to three and four bet in spots where it is demanded, to deny action where it is appropriate, to take the time with a decision which is not only the signifier of, but is in fact the game itself, we soon see a pot which summarizes the strategy, fun (yes, fun), and obliviousness of the losing crowd.
Where did it start and how did it exactly get there? I think the Lehore Lizard, an unfortunately ugly new reg with a slimy and protruding lip, who shields himself from good play with snazzy shades, may have raised under the gun; a limp would have been in character, too. Kermit, dressed conspicuously as usual in his trademark green sports getup, humorously highlighting his tender vindaloo belly with stretched neon polyester sheen, made a typically loose call from EP. (These calls, by the way, which always set off alarm bells when dropped in surreptitiously by solid players, are always absolutely terrible hands when performed by tadpoles like Kermit, who in turn compound their lack of equity and positional disadvantage by inviting in the donkey chain of further callers: oh, Kermie!) I let something go, then Medical Matt, briefly looking up from his OFC addiction interface, got involved, clearly with some sort of implied odds hand he should probably be isolating Kermit and the Lizard with; but, as Medical Matt seems so very sane and impossibly normal, he was probably expecting strong hands from the jokers in EP. From here, I lost track; did the Keystone Kops actually have a script? Somehow these guys and three others, including Caleb the Caller, one of the worst players to ever grace a five dollar blind game, conspired to lose Medical Matt while creating a five way, four bet clusterfuck with a little less than 2k in the middle preflop. Invent your own narrative; I just sort of looked up and they were doing it, like a bad babysitter.
So while the dealer was sorting out the main and two (?) side pots, Kermit showed me his 54dd, which he had back raised, naturally, still leaving a bit behind, just to make one weep a little for him. (Medical Matt had had him overcoated and crushed with a high connector; tsk, tsk.) The flop action starts with the Lehore Lizard leading $60 (not a typo) into mammoth pile of red, picking up Kermit, who had actually acted out of the turn first by shoving his five high. However, now Kermit put it in anyway, with no made hand and with no draw on a paired, high/low/low board. (Hmm, well he was committed, after all, and it was the right play given odds, so that incredibly, this was the best action he took at any point in the hand!) However, the real problem, is that Caleb the Caller was not impressed with the lack of vigor in the Lizard’s betting, and therefore flatted with an underpair. Now unable to shake Caleb, one of those seventy VPIP, I-call-how-much-is-it types, the table ends up seeing a showdown where his underpair wins against the Lizard’s miserably, hang-oneself-with-the-floor’s-lanyard, played AK. Someone from the blinds, like a shot (but not innocent) bystander, shows KJ (!?!); another player shamefully mucks and retires from poker forever (this last part is not true). The delighted super duper station Caleb calls (haha) out, while scooping the 3k, “I only called because sevens are HOT!” Somehow Medical Matt, who would have scooped the whole thing with top two, is not upset by this outrageous development; I feel the need to go on tilt for him. Meanwhile, Caleb’s joker grin seems to be setting in permanently. Caleb will now go on, in fact, to get paid handsomely by a notable tiltasaur I regularly bumhunt, and have the night of his poker life, making a surprise return to the cage with pillars of green and catching the suspicious employees off guard.
As badly as they all played this hand, relativity is important. No one was there to shut out Caleb. No one bet properly at any point; even Medical Matt did not recognize the situation and know his equity against the field six way would be better than expected versus donkey ranges. While the cat’s away, the mice will play, and this is how losers want to play: gamble and have fun.
It’s not a bad thing! They want to win, of course, they just have no methodology for it, because it is not actually a goal, but a desire. And why should they bother to have goal? Caleb is a winner at life; he looks like a nice dad and a reasonable husband. Kermit makes hundreds of thousands a year as a minor corporate goon somewhere; his wife probably has no choice but to put up with the clothes and the belly and the poker hours. The Lizard is no doubt a green card software import with the cash to drown his loneliness. Let them have their fun.
However, if you, dear reader, want to win, you can’t share in their kind of joy. Winning may feel great at the end of the night, but in the trenches, it is work. There are no hot hands, I’m afraid, Caleb. You will get sucked out on all the time, Angry John, and you have to recognize it before you put in that one, winrate-killing final bet. Then, counterintuitively, you then have to take a chance and gamble when it is right to do so, as Medical Matt declined, turning down 3k for the sake of normal poker and not missetting his OFC draw. Winning is hard, losing is easy: that’s why it’s your most likely outcome.
In fact, if there is a unifiable losing theorem, it’s likely related to the fact that everything the loser does is easy on himself. He whines at the table, like Angry John, or in the forums, like your least favorite poster. He blames the deck, the dealer, the opponent, the casino, coaches, authors, family, job, fatigue, variance, math… whatever. He has all sorts of fundamental leaks, of course, and we can debate them or correct them until the whales wiggle home, but in the end, he gives up at some point on and thought and effort, letting the Goddess carry him where she may, because that is simply less stressful. However, she is a bitch who carries mortals with the express intention of dropping them.
Gargamel, on the other hand, for whom nothing is easy or simple or fun, will be back all too soon, peeling off stacks of reds from these guys, taking even their jokes too seriously. I feel sympathy, almost solidarity with his victims for a moment; why does Gargamel have to come and kick down their mushroom houses? Why can’t the kazoos keep playing? It’s the Smurfs that really run the show, after all: They keep the place in business, not the rake averse, seat hopping, table changing miser.
There is, in fact, some ironic justice for the Smurfs: Gargamel can’t have everything he wants. In addition to failing to use a paleo-nitrate diet to change his physique to resemble Chris Cornel “in his prime,” one of his flagging schemes is to become a coach, or as I prefer to put it, to shit where he eats. Unfortunately for him, his quest for students is comically unsuccessful. He is turned down left, right, and center; his lack of pedagogical charm can’t open the door and his standoffish nature can’t close it. I am relieved, of course: I need these guys to keep donating, not ranging. The Village comprises almost exactly one half of my hours and provides one third of my income. However, I shouldn’t have been so uneasy. He could be smooth with an e at the end and these guys wouldn’t take him up on it, I have come to realize, because they don’t want to change. Change is hard. Change is tl;dr. Change is the opposite of easy. Change is not for losers. Even those who don’t win but quit, as I discussed last time, understand the power of change.
In one case, the closest moment Gargamel has come to acquiring a student, a fun and action player who has probably lost half his income over the past year at the tables, simply couldn’t be persuaded. I even helped out, thinking a little triangulation would give Gargamel the best chance of acquiring that first student. I had skin in the game: the pride of being able to convert someone. Yet, no dice. The potential pupil explained- with great credit to him and his honesty- that it was too painful to admit that he would need help to win. I will not bother him again, and thanks to his reminder of how the struggling player thinks, I do not need to fear Gargamel or others changing the nature of the Village.
No, nothing changes. I end up putting in a long session, one of those stretches where am becomes pm and then am. While I am racking up, I get a text from Gargamel, who is already at the airport. “Lol. They're holding my $ there.” The barbarian is approaching the walls.
I look around. The party doesn’t want to end, and the conversation burbles. “I KNEW you had it, but I had to see it.” “Nice bet.” “No way to play Jacks right, har, har, harhar.”
Live it up while you can, guys. Gargamel is back.