People Who Don’t Read People

Every community is different – culture exists, or I should say is a thing, for you online poker players. However, the rules governing voluntary communities are always the same. (It’s always Tolstoy, innit.)

One rule of every community is that the moth is always drawn to the flame.

Poker, in other words, attracts the vast majority of its adherents not from people who are good at what poker demands, but from the people who don’t realize they are missing what it offers. Simultaneously, the people who are extremely good at what poker requires do extremely well.

These are the two sides of the coin, or more accurately, these two elements meet and the community is created.

The primary poker skills – logic, judgment, and intuition – are all exemplified by great players in poker. (I won’t bother to list names, you know who I am talking about.) That’s a tiny number of people. The rest of us – the people who don’t read people – are simply in love with what poker is.

We’re here for the fire and we’re going to learn about it by getting burnt.

This isn’t just true in strategy, though. As the spectacle of Nik and Matt plays itself out (I am split myself, knowing people in both camps), what’s striking is that there is no particular moral to be drawn and maybe only praise for their fighting spirit. Players should settle their differences, and the traveling circus can be good for the town. Maybe Doug should shut up here and there.

Yet something else is happening too. The commentary around the match isn’t just silly, it’s simply, well, wrong, and nobody seems to care.

People just can’t read people. Nik isn’t a bad person, and if he is a villain, it’s part of his game persona. That’s great. And his pronouncements and shit-stirring? That’s what twenty-five year olds do. What they don’t do is sagely judge what’s good for everyone. They don’t measure the benefits and harms to society. No, they splash and party and deal with the stains and cuts and broken china later. Yes, he’s likely in over his head, looking for advice and breaks and probably pushing boundaries with the phone and the meetings. Still, being against him is just… pointless. He’s defending his friends associated with Hustler Casino Live, for good and bad, and being exactly the type most of you would call a good person in the different scenario where you were being publicly grilled.

The people who can’t read people have to learn to be fair.

As for Berkey, the irony is that while they make fun of him for misapplying vocabulary, it’s equally hard to have a conversation with people who haven’t mastered their first language. Solve For Why is, and rather obviously is, not a “scam” and Berkey is not a “fraud.” It is probably true that he makes his living through poker less profitably than many better and more legendary players, but when did we get so stupid that we couldn’t recognize a winner (or if you want to quibble, a minor winner) when we’ve seen one? He’s posted graphs from time to time as well, and there were years of winning and years of struggle. Are you better than that? I’m not, and so there are no stones in my hand: et tu?

The people who don’t read people don’t read the room, either.

As for Berkey’s poker training, I myself know a dozen winners who have taken at least a course from their site, if not their Academy itself and I don’t even talk to the man or anyone over there. Do they credit Berkey? Does he get to claim them? Do you get to disclaim them? Is that how it works?

The people who can’t read people are here to tell you all about who learns what from whom and when and how much.

When did we get so stupid? We learn from all sorts of sources. I’ve learned from everyone around me, every coach in existence who has put out a bit of teaching, and have been a “pro” since 2014, travelling the world and paying for me and my family’s needs. I don’t win as much as Berkey – should I quit my life because my graph has gotten ugly of late or because no corporate poker site sponsors me? If your favorite vlogger only has money because of the private games he extrorts maximal rake from or from the very stream revenue he works hard for, is he a scammer or a fraud?

The people who don’t read people never seem to see anything but black or white.

I have a former student who hangs out with my group and talks poker and shares ideas: the usual poker crew member; he’s good for us and we’re good for him. Yet I know he has some misgivings, some resentment because a long time ago he was attracted to a philosophy and several of us encouraged him. Later he changed course, and again, and then again, and now has become a solid winner with a different and mature outlook. Yet he bristles at the idea that anyone is or was ever his coach. Now who claims his success? Why is he like this? Why was he drawn to one philosophy and does he get to repudiate it now having explored it? Should we not help him now unless he dons the patch and kisses the ring?

The people who don’t read people just can’t help you with complex questions.

They certainly have nothing useful to say about poker education and how the mind works vis-a-vis a challenging game.

Now Berkey created all this drama with Nik through his opinions on poker stream security. Berkey is an extremist – his puritanical streak well documented – and certain policies of HCL, ones which allow for a better show, bother him. Are we supposed to do without this hardline point of view, which is obviously fair but harsh?

(And by the way, Hustler Live is a show: it’s entertainment, not the goddamned Olympics.)

Berkey is passionate about so-called “trustless” card display systems, but all that really means is the next cheat is one step harder, one step away, all while the new horrors of AI are at our doorstep. Is he not harsh enough, is Berkey soft on security? Brrrreaking news: no game is riskless.

So, the people who can’t read people certainly have lots of contradictions to sort out before they can start flinging anything purposeful at Berkey, Nik, or even the Hustler, for that matter.

Some of those contradictions are funny. After all, it was only a few months ago they were lecturing us on the statistics of cheating, those savvy poker bigwigs who tell us how much we must respect them, but now they are all aflutter over who wins over one hundred hours of live poker! Some are changing their bets after the first six hours!

The people who can’t read people don’t do sample size.

Still, it’s all good. We are moths and this is not just a flame. It’s a bonfire.

Let’s get really close and see what happens!

Now it of course occurs to you and me that I’m taking things too seriously, that everything is just a posture and I am being a sucker. We’re all adults here, after all: it must be a giant joke, a secret PR stunt. But then, why? Why would you want to spend your life posturing, being a caricature of yourself? I can tell you behind the scenes, there are tensions – this stuff is real enough, the money real, and the people involved and who have involved themselves lost perspective badly enough to arrive at this point are regaining it, real fast.

The point of touching the fire is to learn about it – and maybe to do better with our fascinations next time.

One last thing: why is Zachary Elwood’s podcast on my mind? Is it because his present concern is bridging polarization gaps, trying to get different sides to talk to each other? No, that’s too simple. Is it his book, one that involves the subtle clues of poker? No, not really related.

I think he is on my mind because of his persistence in pegging away at promoting his work as a tweet response. It’s annoying for some and enlightening for others and of course surprisingly shameless, but it makes me wonder if he too is expanding past his limitations, reaching out past any natural recalcitrance. Or is he, who used to blast anyone who disagreed with him, having found jesus, now rediscovering his natural and aggressive self?

In other words, the people who read people deal with complexity, and the people who don’t, don’t. That’s what’s on my mind, because our game itself is complex. I’m one of the lucky butterflies, but I’m not making the most of it. Everything is connected, and I have a lot to think about and a lot to be responsible for.

Maybe he and I and you and all of us get burned a little by doing what we’re doing, but in the end, someone benefits. The flame is not the problem – it’s not learning anything from its kiss that makes life hard, polar, and indecipherable.

3 thoughts on “People Who Don’t Read People

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and, perhaps unwittingly, offering a blueprint of an analytical framework for thinking about ourselves, each other, the game.


  2. Listening to the recent Doug Polk interview with Garrett, I noticed the importance he places on the ability of high stakes pros to be placed in public streams and private games. When Garrett speaks of his “business” and its challenges, he refers both to the inherent poker variance, but more importantly to the social aspect. When (as he describes) a bottom-feeder like Nik besmirches his reputation, he sees it not just as a personal attack but also as a business risk. This all strikes me as ironic, given that the innocent stream-watcher is led to believe that s/he is just watching a “fun game” between “buddies”. I was also bemused by Doug’s characterizing Berkey as a fraud, not knowing the background of that feud. Assuming that Berkey is indeed a “struggling mid-stakes player” – does that disqualify him from coaching? Was your high school science teacher a leader in her field – or just someone who was able to convey basic scientific principles to her students? All that said, watching some of Berkey’s behavior in the Rise and Fall of the Poker Dream, gave me pause and gave me the impression that he is full of himself. For the below-average player like myself, all of the above qualifies as entertainment, while my real concern is how often the maniacal asshole with a 13% 3B stat should be 4Bet and what to do when he 5Bet jams. Assasinato may have the right answer: make a hand and hold onto it hard.

    1. As for coaching, no one who thinks about teaching seriously thinks only the best players should teach, it would make a cat laugh, some of the takes on this subject.

      Thanks for your comments, guys.

Leave a Reply