b Papa Dog's Blog: Poker

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I’m a pretty terrible poker player, but it’s my good fortune to have a regular poker game where that doesn’t seem to be much of a handicap. I never think to calculate odds, but if I did I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have a vague notion what pot odds are, but the concept never seems to enter my head during an actual game. I bluff when it makes absolutely no sense to do so. I don’t bluff when it would. I stay in hands far past the point of hopelessness, just because I like to keep playing. Here’s where I come off lucky, though: everybody else in the game is in the same boat, and maybe more so. No matter how ineptly I play through a given night, there’s always going to be somebody at the table paying even less attention to sound gambling precepts.

The game’s been going on a regular basis – some years more regular than others – since about 1996. Since 1999 I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet tracking everybody’s performance in the game. I’ve had my ups and downs, but for most of that time I’ve been steadily winning and am now closing in on $1,000 up. It’s not quit your day job money, but my lead is large. My nearest competition – Mama Dog, coincidentally – is around $250 up. Only four of us have cracked $100 in five years.

I’ve come up with a few different theories over the years about why I appear to have performed better than other players over the long run. One is that I’m the most regular of regular players. I’ve missed maybe two or three games in five years. So maybe I’ve just had more practice and more cracks at the money than other players – but that doesn’t explain why there are so many regular regulars who regularly finish in the red.

Another theory is that while I don’t pay any more attention to odds than anybody else does, I probably do pay more attention to the other cards on the table. The flaw in that argument is that while I think I probably read the table better than most of the other players, I tend not to follow through and act on the information I glean. “He’s obviously got the fourth queen,” I’ll think, looking dubiously at my own low straight. And then I’ll raise anyway. I disregard any intel that keeps me from following the course of action I’ve already decided upon. I’m kind of Republican that way.

The explanation that seems to me the most correct is that, although I’m the obsessive keeper of the statistics and was for years among the most enthusiastic proponents of the game, I’m probably also the one who’s generally least arsed about winning or losing. It probably doesn't appear that way to most of the other players. In fact, they would probably think the opposite is true. But my philosophy of gambling has always been: “Come to the game with money you’ve already said goodbye to.” It’s not like we play for any real stakes – it’s a $20 buy – but I see players agonising over whether or not to toss in that extra quarter. I don’t think I’ve genuinely agonised over a bet in five years. (There’s one of my tells, for any players who are reading: if I appear to be stressing over whether or not to bet, it probably means I’m faking it.) I put my money in the pot and if I win – hey great! – and if not, so what? The money’s already gone as far as I’m concerned, and if I had any ego invested in the outcome, I don’t think I’d be able to play.

What I’m describing is a pattern of play that would get me eviscerated in real tournament play. I’d be the rube at the shark convention, swimming around with a bucket of chum in each hand. In a friendly home game where people show up to get drunk and gossip, it’s apparently, counter-intuitively, a winning strategy.

We had a game last night. I finished $5 up. No big, but it’s another little chug towards that $1,000. Maybe if I make it there one day I’ll just trash the spreadsheet. It would, after all, better fit my strategy not to know how I’m doing.


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