Tuesday, August 16, 2005

They Turn Their Back on the Land

YTD: +$19316.06

I have been playing poker for what seems like an age now. Certainly in Internet terms, it has been almost forever since I first stepped into a casino for my one buyin into a rebuy tournament - I lasted 20 minutes and had to walk home in the dark.

When I do stop to reflect, I realise how very different the pre-Internet, pre-ESPN world of poker in the UK was to this new halcyon age we play in. And very different are the players too.

When I played, Poker was just coming out of its Dark Age. The revelations of Late Night Poker were still ahead of us and the game was still mostly full of degenerates, losers and "characters". At 25 I was one of the youngest players by a very wide margin. The number of "professionals" was so tiny as to be insignificant. Several players had very dubious sources of income and were themselves not perhaps, the kind of people you took home to have Tea and Biscuits with Mother and the Vicar. The cash game I cut my teeth in, as I have mentioned before, did not have cards speak as a rule. It was that severe. If a fellow exposed his “losing” hand, showing the winner, without realising it, only players in that pot could mention it. More bizarrely, I saw people split pots with opponents who claimed to have the same hand, tabled in front of them, but in fact had a loser. I did not say a word.

I witnessed a fight at my table where a young gun, later a very successful pro, got into a drunken brawl, rolled around on the floor with the guy next to him, yet when management resumed calm, they then both of them sat together and carried on playing as if nothing had happened at all. Two maiden Aunts. I had a large combat knife pulled on me once, and was jokingly prodded with it by a celebrity drunken player. Joke, yes. Unnerving, yes too. There were other, more brutal conflicts, where serious harm was inflicted.

I used to play with people who were widely known as cheats, pot shorters, rat holers and all round not very nice types. There were some nice folks too, but they were very much in the minority. In fact, anyone not old enough to be my Dad was a minority.

Trying to make poker players behave ethically was, and I guess still is, a bit like forcing maggots back into the corpse.

Despite all this, we all knew what were were doing. We were gambling, some more successfully than others. We didn't kid ourselves that we were involved in "sport" and some fantastic mental athletics. And although some of the players would not be creating an emotional and societal vacuum by winking out of existence, we all, roughly speaking, behaved reasonably ok around the table. And despite our differences, please god we had them, I did feel something in common with them.

Today there are huge swathes of players I feel almost nothing in common with at all.

The Idiot Savants are a strange breed. These Uber-geeks normally come from some teenage sad-fest of gaming like organised Warcraft or Magic the Gathering. Now I have a little sympathy for Geekness, as I am certainly a closet Geek myself, despite having once played rugby and all that inevitably entails. But these types are beyond the pale. Normally very young, if even legal, and with a capacity to play huge hours over many, many screens they churn through winning at a relentless, religious rate. But in the end, you start to ask yourself, impressive though they are, is that it? I mean, what are they going to do when they grow up? As pointless, valueless lives go, poker player is up there with compulsory masturbator. So much talent, so little point.

Whereas the ID's are rare, the other group I feel little connection with is the swarm of Nearly Men. At first glance, these folk seem to be winning players; some significantly so. But when you start to look a little deeper, perhaps reading blogs or comments or forums the penny drops. They really have no clue what they are doing. I don't mean this to be patronising, certainly with my results I would struggle to do so. But often they can talk the talk but can't walk the walk. Or maybe they can execute but don't understand why or how they are winning, which in the long term can be just as bankroll fatal. As a group they are surviving on low rake, insane WSOP/WPT driven newbies and variance. The tsunami is coming, but these guys are still playing on the beach.

The last group, often overlapping the others, is certainly my least favourite. The ESPN wannabes. These are the kind of people who try and combine Poker with Jackass. The kindest thing I could say is that they are juvenile, but even when I was young, I was never that juvenile. The ESPN types fill forums, blogs, tourneys and cash games. Now I am no saint in cash game comments, to my shame. But hopefully what I say is always funny, and often becomes self-deprecating. In fact I have become quite friendly with several people I started off whining to. But I would never criticise someone that I had just beaten. Or write posts which showed continually how bad everyone else played whilst I was a righteous superstar. Or just be so damn fucking rude. Their demi-god and spiritual leader is Amir "Rocks and Rings" Esfandiari. I just wish I could put him and his mini-Mexican fucking wave into some of the games I used to play in.

Christ, I am starting to sound like an old man.


Lord Miros said...

I think you mean Antonio Esfandiari. And yes, he is a cock of the highest order.

Big Dave D said...

Nope. According to GROAN, Amir changed his name when being Middle Eastern fell out of fashion.


Andy_Ward said...

Needless to say I agree with most of what you say, but I might take issue with

"As pointless, valueless lives go, poker player is up there with compulsory masturbator. So much talent, so little point."

Yes, but, if these guys didn't play poker, how many of them would end up actually doing anything useful ?

How many would be gamblers under another name (city traders etc.) ? How many would be doing something completely fucking useless in the world of marketing ? Worse than that, how many would be using their talent to help corporations evade tax, or otherwise sidestep the law ? How many would be developing weapons ?

Come to think of it what do I [we as a company] do ? Make peoples' phone calls cheaper and enable people to download porn quicker. It isn't much, but at least it's on the plus side I reckon :-)

Frankly anyone who made a living playing online poker and did a few hours voluntary work a week would be adding more value to their community than most.


PS When it comes to cocks though, Amir/Antonio is definitely a 1.4

Anonymous said...

'How many would be developing weapons ?'

Is that a trick question? At a guess, not that many.

I play poker for a living and no doubt should be doing something much more worthwhile. Playing poker for a living is either a cop-out or a greedy choice. For me it's 80% cop-out, 20% greed.

It's a shit way to waste the gift of life, but it aint the worst.

SERO said...

I recognise the sub-autistics and hamburger republicans, but who are these nearly men of whom you speak ?

Great article, more anecdotes from the good/bad old days please.

the new said...

the ESPN types are the easiest to beat, and also the majority of online players at the stakes I play. I'm not going to say a bad word about them.

It's pretty easy to spot all the people who don't know what they're talking about. They're the ones replying to every question in poker strategy forums and acting like their word is gospel.

Andy_Ward said...

When I said "how many are developing weapons ?" it was a bit dramatic :-)

I don't mean building their own death rays a la Dr Evil, I mean working in the defence sector. You might be surprised how much complex software we need to kill each other these days.


Gergery said...

Do they play music too loudly these days too?


Wintermute said...

Just for the record, I do my compulsory masterbating while ON the beach. Pretty rocks and rings, if you ask me. Gawd I'm so 1.4!!!1!

Big Dave D said...


Whether great intellect is used for good or ill is up for grabs in the "real" world. One thing is for sure, it creates nothing in the poker world. And it becomes hard to stop becoming a bitter and twisted fuck, as I seem to be aptly demonstrating - minus the towering intellect.



Big Dave D said...


The nearly men are everywhere. Jeez, I cant even start. I may do some anecdotes soon, although most of them are not that pleasent.


Dave d

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the insightful comments on the modern era of poker. No doubt, the old timers like Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier have many fond memories of when poker was populated by road gamblers and businessmen with lots of undeclared income. But I think they all agree that there has been no better time to play poker than now, with more players and much safer conditions. Even though it seems like a majority of big tournaments are being won by amateurs, if you look at the total money won, the professionals are still on top.

Idiot savants as you call them will always be looked down upon, but I don't think they really care. When you see them jumping up and down on TV after winning a big hand or sucking out, no doubt everyone is thinking "I'll bet that guy has never gotten laid." Inevitably, I believe that these players will occupy the highest ranks of money players, as they have with other intellectual games such as chess and backgammon.

I think that I most likely fit into your category of Nearly Men, but I don't think that is a fair characterization. I think a more accurate description is Every Men. There are a significant number of people who are students of the game, enjoy playing, but do so as a form of entertainment (sport and mental athletics as you put it.) This is no different than the weekend golfer, tennis player, or whatever your chosen sport. I do not depend on Poker for income, expect to play at the WSOP or make myself rich from playing.

The last category you mention, the ESPN wannabees, is my favorite kind to see at the table. They are the aggressive ultra-fish who win/lose big and really make the game fun. No doubt they can hand you some really bad beats, but winning a big pot against them is quite thrilling. My guess is a lot of these players are rich college-aged kids playing with their parents' money. Very few of these mature into great professionals; I think most turn into degenerate gamblers. But I will bet that their style is very similar to what you used to see from the men with "illicit income" at your live games. Of course, you would never dare to talk back to them because they were probably "packing."

Good stuff.


Seed said...

Wait, let me get this right.

It was better when everyone was playing in back alley poker rooms and kicking each others asses between each bottom dealing hand?

Yeah, compared to that commendable behavior, acting like a brat at the poker table by commenting on someones bad play is f'ing disgraceful!!!


Big Dave D said...


Thanks for your considered response.

I don't look down on the IS's, I just think they are a waste. And I doubt that many of them would be as good in live cash if the Internet thing dies because in the end, this isnt chess and live lots of other factors are just as important as those that make them a success online.

You misinterpret Nearly Men; I am not talking about social players at all. In fact I have a high regard for those who can write off poker as entertainment. When I played live, I used to defend them over the table, saying that "they are winners in life." Which most of them were.

As to your last point...I don't want to exaggerate how shady the games were...it wasn't the Wild West! We are still in Blighty after all. I guess the difference was, from today's world, is that you may have had people from all walks of life together but we had two things in common. We were all gamblers, to some extent; we were moderately polite to each other, 99% of the time. Now I appreciate that the US always had a different "talking" poker culture than us, but to my ancient eye the difference now is that there is no respect. And I don't mean that in a sad "elders and betters" way, just in a human being way.



Anonymous said...

To paraphrase a well known joke.

"Dave, you're not here for the poker, are you?"

Entertaining stuff though Dave, keep it coming.

GimmeDaWatch said...

Dave, c'mon now. "As pointless, valueless lives go"? Poker is something people do for money, entertainment, enjoyment of competition, et. al. Most people do not spend their 40 hour workweek in some grandiose effort to cure the world's ails, rather they work for money and IF they enjoy that on some kind of consistent basis they are lucky and certainly in the minority. You talk as if poker players can't/don't have any exterior lives worth a shit but in reality theyre just doing what they do for money and the rest of the time they live their lives like anyone else. Personally, I like playing poker and it beats the hell out of any other job Ive ever had (with the possible exception of a home business I had for a couple years)
and thats that. Are all other professional games players equally sad and without purpose? Not trying to saddle you with some crazy invective, but you're gettin a little dark in your old age :) .

P.S. Ya, I used to play Warcraft (ok obsessively), its fun. Was also obsessed for some period of time with Axis and Allies, Baseball, Tennis, Chess, Bowling, Pool, Hearts, Street Fighter II, Basketball, and ping pong. I love games, no shame in that.

Big Dave D said...

Hi Gimme

The big differences in poker vs any other occupation/game is that the money you win, is directly taken from your opponents. And also you can lose money, have negative wages as it were, even though you play perfectly. The cumulative effect of this, over a long period of time, especially live, is very difficult to live with. And even harder to keep you as a productive human being.



GimmeDaWatch said...

Hey Dave. Do you mean its difficult to live with b/c the ups and downs are so difficult or b/c you're taking money away from other people? As for the former, its something that every player obviously has to deal with, and while its not the easiest thing in the world, its simply a part of the game and one which most (winning) players overcome with time and patience. As for the latter, I think its an issue of personal responsibility, and I wouldn't hold anything against a player who won money from me anymore than I would harbor resentment towards a casino in Vegas where I blew a couple hundred bucks over the weekend. I knew I was probably gonna lose, but there's always a chance I win and I was doing as much for fun as anything else. I realize and acknowledge there are some moral and ethical implications which youre getting at, but Im not crazy about the idea of protecting people from themselves.

Big Dave D said...

Gimme, I've written about the -ve effects of poker on people b4, and didnt really want to get onto that track again. Look up "In the beginning", my very first post for a good summary of my views then and now. What I would add to this is (a) its easier to be more human if you only play online, but paradoxically also easier to behave much, much worse (b) The ISs, and computer gamers of all compulsive types, tend to get it easier as (i) they really do see poker as just a game (ii) their obsessiveness often means that they aren't that social anyway. Or at least social with the types that may "harm" them.


Dave D

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