Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yell "Free Money!"


At the poker tables, bad beat stories are often shared. In typical big-fish-story fashion, the details are often distorted, allowing the teller of the story appear to be the helpless victim of a complete buffoon who had “no business” being involved in the pot in the first place. In the narratives, the teller played perfectly while the maniac played like a fish. Lost coinflips become lost one-outers. Typically, the teller fails to mention key details such as the maniac having top pair to go along with his flush draw.


It hurts me to listen to these stories. Like, physically hurts. For one,
it is mentally draining to dwell on bad beats. Players often complain, saying that nobody in the world runs as bad as they do. Among other things:

[x] Their opponent’s flush draw always gets there.
[x] Their opponent always hits their miracle two-outer to give them a set on the river.
[x] Their opponent manages to hit a gut-shot straight draw on the river.

Allow me to insert a fact here that most of my poker-playing comrades tend to
forget. Say Player A gets it all-in with pocket aces versus Player B’s pocket kings. All of their money is in the middle with no more poker to be played and five cards to come out. Player A is going to win 80% of the time. One out of five times, though, he is going to lose. He is supposed to lose 20% of the time. Putting this into monetary terms, if both of these people put $100 into the pot, that is a $200 pot. Player A has 80% equity, meaning that he has an estimated value of $160 in the pot. But 80% of the time he is going to get all $200 and 20% of the time he will get zilch. So when he scoops the pot, he technically got lucky and ran above his expected value.

But to most players, they just know that they got it in with a dominating hand, and lost when they were supposed to win, and that eats at their brain. It isn’t their fault, but rather a cognitive bias, which is hard-wired into humans’ brains. It is called loss aversion. In general, people want to avoid loss more than we want to acquire a gain. As a result, losing $100 makes us feel much more unhappy than winning $100 makes us feel happy. It can lead to some pretty nasty things, such as blindly chasing our losses or continually pining over the hands that made us “unfairly” lose our money.

It is why many people swear that online poker is rigged, saying that the software continually gives the bad players whatever cards they need so as to keep them in the games. The truth is that more hands are dealt per hour when they are playing online, therefore they see more bad beats. They conveniently forget about the times that they are the ones who get lucky. It is easy for these players to rationalize and blame their losses on a rigged game or terrible luck, and not come to terms with the fact that they are playing with a flawed strategy in which they are expected to lose over time.

What really bothers me about these stories is that the crazy hand that the person is telling me about has happened to me hundreds of times, and I have experienced far worse beats. When I play online, I typically play 24 tables at a time. I play anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 hands of poker a day. I am probably seeing more hands of poker a day than these idiots see in a month, year, or lifetime, so the beats I take are far worse and much more frequent.

It is frustrating, then, when I have targeted the idiot who is sitting to my right. I am just waiting for my moment to take his money and he starts blabbing to me about some bigger idiot who took his money in what he calls the suck-out of the century. I patiently endure his verbal torture until I pick up three of a kind versus him and whaddya know -- he hits his flush on the river, saying “Sorry” (which is the dumbest and rudest thing you can say. If you are really “sorry” then give me my money back). He stops telling me bad beat stories and five minutes later decides that its time for bed. I don’t see him as he walks away. Instead, I see the chip rack in his hands. In it, my chips are floating away, wondering what they did to deserve their new owner, and what a cruel and unfair world they live in that their previous master didn’t have a chance to win them back.

The donkey at the table gone, I decide to ask for a table change and I am granted my wish. As I settle into my new seat and unstack my chips, I shake my head. “You guys won’t believe what just happened to me at my old table…”

* * *

Bad beat stories aren’t the only embellished stories that are swapped at the tables. By our very nature, anything that comes out of a poker players lips is bullshit. In the game, a player is trying to sell his hand, so it would make sense that exaggerations would spill over into other banter. The unfortunate thing about poker players’ banter is the fact that it typically revolves around one thing. Poker. This can get quite boring as the same stories are told and retold. Each time a story is recycled, however, it typically has a different flare. Some new detail is added to make the story sexier to prove that the teller has all the inside info.

It is because of this whisper-down-the-lane tales of lore of the Atlantic City casinos that I don’t play at the Taj.

Last summer, there was a stabbing at the Taj Mahal over a blackjack seat. A few months later, someone shot one of the employees in the head. This summer, someone was kidnapped in the parking garage and later found dead. These are facts, but every time they are recounted, new details are added to make the scenario more ominous. I sometimes wonder why, instead of sitting around poker chips and a deck of cards, the ten of us aren’t around a campfire in the woods with the storyteller beaming a flashlight up into his face.

While the Taj certainly has the worst reputation in terms of safety, I generally aim to stay away from any of the casinos that are located in the actual urban area of Atlantic City. I typically play at Harrah’s or the Borgata, which are not only closer to our house, but are much safer in my judgment.

There is one unavoidable obstacle that will sometimes force me to venture into the city. Each casino has a progressive jackpot, called the Bad Beat Jackpot. If a player loses with four-of-a-kind or better, the loser gets 50% of the jackpot, the winner of the pot gets 30%, and the rest of the players at the table who were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time split the other 20%. Many players will play at whichever casino’s Bad Beat is the highest. If the jackpot really inflates (Think: $700k), that particular poker room becomes a mad house.

When this happens, I am forced to play there. Not only is there barely any action at the other casinos, but it is so easy to make money at that casino that it is almost criminal. Players will put heaps of money into the pot with hands like 3-7 of spades, a terrible starting hand, but one that has the potential to hit a straight-flush. Players will be so blinded by the dream of hitting the Bad Beat that they will forget about the constant stream of cash that they are basically donating to everyone else at the table. When the Bad Beat is so big, it is considered a mortal sin to not head over to this zoo.

* * *

Recently, the Bad Beat Jackpot was very high at both Caesars and Ballys, which are directly next to each other. I couldn’t get a seat at Caesars, so I decided to see how long the waiting list was at Ballys. It is approximately a thirty second walk via the boardwalk, so I didn’t think I would encounter anything terribly dangerous.

However, halfway to my destination, a seemingly homeless man came up to me in what can only be paradoxically described as a brisk stumble. His eyes were glazed, but they had a certain fire in them. He was clearly high on something.

As he approached me I immediately assumed that this man was going to kill me.

His first words were unexpected:

“I love the cops, maaaaan.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Me too.”

“I mean, they’re here to protect us, maaaaan. Like, they get up in the morning, and they get up, and they get up. They just get up and they go to work. They get up and go to work and protect us. That’s what they do. Protect us.”

I began inching away.

“Yea, its good to be safe. And there are so many of them,” I hinted. “They’re everywhere.”

At that point, he had tears in his eyes. He looked up to the heavens, and extended his arms.

“Do you ever wonder if we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing?”

A fair question.

“Who, exactly?”

“Us, maaaaan. Peeeeeeople. What if we’re just here doing the wrong thing, maaaaan?”

I glanced towards the doors of Bally’s. My sanctuary, only a few yards away.

“Oh yea I dunno, man. I’ve really got to get going.”

“Give me a hug.”

“No thanks.”

“What? I’m not gonna hurt you man.”

“I’m good. I’ve really got to get going.”

“Shake my hand, bro. We’re in this together.”

I hesitated, cowardly assuming that shaking this man’s hand would start a series of events that would end my life. Instead of shaking his hand I offered a pathetic wave that was my form of a white flag.

“I love you, man,” he said.

“Same,” I said, as I literally ran away. I looked back to see him staring up at the sky. For answers, I assume.

* * *

Later that night, I left Ballys and went back to Caesars to retrieve my car (this time using the indoor skybridge). Because of my earlier encounter on the boardwalk, I felt uneasy as I walked through the parking garage. Walking behind me were three men. They were probably business executives heading to their car after a great weekend. But in my imagination, they were either thieves, murderers, or rapists who had targeted me and were following me through the dark parking garage as they salivated over my wallet, car, and all-too-alluring body.

I made it to my car and quickly shut the door. Feeling unsafe, I locked the doors. However, in my haste I opted to lock them using the remote lock on my keychain. This is not standard procedure, apparently, because it made my car alarm go off.

Now, I didn’t even know that my car had an alarm. So imagine my surprise and confusion as I sat in the driver seat, unable to figure out how to turn it off. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw one of the men glance over his shoulder towards me before getting in their car and driving away.

I finally got my car to shut up and I drove off without further incident. But I started thinking. What if that was not my car? What if I were the car thief? I mean, I got into a car, it started beeping loudly and its lights flashed, and they continued to do so for half a minute before I disabled the alarm. It looks a hell of a lot like I am trying to steal that car. And those three guys just drove away?

Then I started thinking about anytime I hear a car alarm go off. In the middle of the night when a car alarm wakes me from my sleep, I don’t spring into action to look out the window to try to catch a glimpse of the perp. No. I wonder how long it is going to take the owner of the car to turn the alarm off as it cycles through its various stages of annoying, carnival sounding, ear-rapings. Not once have I thought that the car was being stolen.

* * *

I read somewhere (or maybe I heard it at the poker table) that if you are about to get raped, you have a better chance of someone helping you if you yell “Fire!” rather than “Rape!” I assume that the reason is that people feel more equipped to throw a bucket of water on a flame rather than on a man.

But I think the real reason is that people don’t want to be embarrassed. In a potential good Samaritan’s mind, there are many bad results for himself if he intercedes in a possible raping. For instance, the “raper” and “rapee” might know each other. They could be a couple for all he knows! Perhaps they are having a minor fight, and the girl yelled “Rape!” to get a rise out of her boyfriend. Another way of saying “Fuck you,” if you will. Or perhaps they are a couple who enjoy role playing and rough sex. I mean, these are just two possibilities, but there are tons of possible scenarios rather than an actual raping. Wouldn’t it just be so embarrassing if our potential hero went next door and inquired as to whether or not she was being forced to have sex against her will. Can we say “Awkward?” Talk about an elephant in the room!

And what if the rapist is much bigger than him? What if the rapist beats the hell out of him? Owch! What if the rapist beats the hell out of him and then rapes him too! So many variables. At least with a fire, you know it is a fire and that a fire extinguisher will put it out. But there are no rape extinguishers. It’s simply not worth the potential embarrassment or broken bones, our would-be hero decides as he turns up the volume of The Legend of Bagger Vance.

* * *

I can make fun of our gutless hero all day, but in reality, I possess some of the same qualities. Last week there was an Amber Alert for a kidnapped child. I heard a description of a car earlier in the day, a dark blue Malibu. While driving on the Atlantic City Expressway later that night, I saw a Malibu. I wasn’t sure what color it was, and I took note of the license plate number, which seemed vaguely familiar. I was in no way certain that it was the car, so I drove the rest of the ten minutes to my house while repeating the license plate number aloud over and over, so as not to forget. When I got home, I looked up the description of the car to find that the car I had seen was not one that was imprisoning a helpless child.

But what if it had been? I would have wasted ten minutes that could have sent the police to a much more specific search grid. Why did I need to fact-check before calling in a tip? I thought about it for a while, and the honest answer is that I did not want to be embarrassed. Although for what, I am not sure.

Why do we have a hesitation to spring into action until we are certain that our action is wanted, needed, or acceptable? What happened to shooting first and asking questions later? Why do we try to stay out of other people’s plights, but talk about it so freely at the poker table?

Perhaps it is a cognitive bias similar to loss aversion. The risk of being wrong scares us more than being right makes us feel good. Either way, society’s unflinching knack to not flinch when staring at someone else’s danger or misfortune is something that should be changed. The advent of the car alarm was a sad day for carjackers. But they can stay in business because we opt not to turn and look. Instead, we roll our eyes and plug our ears.

* * *

I can’t help but think back to my drugged up friend on the boardwalk. I think he might have really been on to something and maybe if I were to meet him again I could let him know just that.

“I love the cops, maaaaaan,” he’d say. “They’re here to protect us.”

“It’s a good thing,” I would tell him, “Because we sure as hell don’t protect each other.”

“Give me a hug,” he would say again.

Then I would say, “No.”

Sorry. I can’t even justify that in my hypothetical scenario.

“Shake my hand, then, bro. We’re in this together.”

The druggie has a point, although I am not sure it reflects the point that I see. I look into this fanatic’s eyes and wonder if he would stop someone from stealing my car. I question whether he would spring into action if he heard someone I love yell, “rape.” I even speculate as to whether or not he would say “sorry” after beating me in a hand of poker.

But I can’t determine whether or not he would do any of these things. All I see is an outstretched hand that is attached to a peculiar coke-head who wishes to make physical contact with me.

There are alarms going off in my head, but these alarms I ignore as I reach out my hand. Because crazy as he seems, he is right. We are in this together.

2 comments:

  1. although you got heavy with the poker terminology on me in this one.. i enjoyed the entry. you make a very valid point at the end with the homeless man that we ARE all in it together..

    i believe you should get back into this and type more than an entry ever 5 months... maybe only play 10000 poker hands a day for a couple days..

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know where else people talk about their plights? Check out lines. Some of the stories people unload on total strangers baffle me (especially at Walmart)

    ReplyDelete

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