View Full Version : The Seductive Brutalities of Poker

03-13-2002, 12:39 AM
That is the subtitle of a review of Andy Bellin's "Poker Nation" in the March 18 edition of The New Yorker. Thought that the following might offer some explanation for the abusive behavior that has been the subject of a few threads here lately:

"Bellin fits the profile of the gambler as a talented person who is nonetheless unsuccessful, smart yet unable to fit into the conventional workaday world. The gambling life allows such a person to feel that he is outside the system, and incorporates a number of masculine ideals not often met in ordinary life. The notion of being beholden to no one--boss, family, lover--is vastly appealing, and gambling for a living implies fearlessness and an absence of pettiness."

Unsuccessful, smart, unable to fit, outside the system, beholden to no one, fearlessness. Sounds like a card thrower to me.

03-13-2002, 01:07 AM
That's a pretty good synopsis, to which I would add - impulsive and immature.

Thanks for the Commerce info btw.

03-13-2002, 11:39 AM
"Unsuccessful, smart, unable to fit, outside the system, beholden to no one, fearlessness. Sounds like a card thrower to me."

And I thought my associations were thin. Wow! lol Where'd you come up with card-thrower from that list? And why did your list leave off the last thing from the original list? "An absence of pettiness." If you add that back, then I don't know what it describes, but it sure ain't a card thrower.


03-13-2002, 12:51 PM

03-13-2002, 12:59 PM

03-13-2002, 01:52 PM
I left off "an absence of pettiness" because a) I didn't agree with it; and b) it undermined my argument. You read too damned carefully.

A lot of guys who play cards, it seems to me (you should excuse the expression) exhibit that list of characteristics: "Unsuccessful, smart, unable to fit, outside the system, beholden to no one, fearlessness." They are basically unhappy people who don't get along well with others because they have trouble seeing that the world does not revolve exlusively around them. This puts them on the verge of anger all the time when the facts of life, namely that the world does not revolve exclusively around them, intrude, and when they approach the precipice they become insulting; when they go over, they throw cards. You yourself coined a useful term that summarized a lot of the problem: entitlement disease.

A lot of the jerks I know in the cardroom also want to project a tough guy image. They want you to fear them when they play, so they feel they have to come across as not nice guys in between the hands as well. It's not enough that they win; it's as important that you know they win, that you know why they win, and that you know you're inferior to them because they play poker better than you do.

They've found a world where what they're smart at is important, where they are beholden to no one but themselves.

03-13-2002, 08:35 PM

I think one could also infer that the author is describing someone who not a social misfit but has issues with spending their life behind a desk making someone else rich. This person lives their life for themself because they have decided that becoming a part of the capitalist mechinations of the commercial workplace do not fulfill them and demand that they continually sacrafice things they hold dear (free time, choice of hours, honesty and integrity) in order to be successful. So others might find them unsuccessful in the material side of life, as well as "unable to fit, outside the system, beholden to no one" etc.. That individual can also be a very kind person who just happens to have different values then many around him. It is not implied that he does not treat people kindly or does not find immense fulfillment in his life and his choices. I feel that you are adding that aspect to make your point. I also think you are correct in some ways. I do, however, think their are people who chose to live "outside the system" but are not socially inept jerks.

I am one of them.


03-13-2002, 09:39 PM
"It's not enough that they win; it's as important that you know they win, that you know why they win, and that you know you're inferior to them because they play poker better than you do."

most of them dont even win. or maybe they win a little bit over time. a very little bit, hardly enough to really make it worth it.

seriously andy (and tommy and others), how many people that play commerce top section would you say are what mason considers "expert" status, meaning they make over $30 an hour over 1000s of hours? id say very very very few. but your guess is more educated so id really like to hear your opinion on this.

03-14-2002, 12:59 AM
I certainly didn't mean to imply that everyone who plays poker professionally or as a semi-pro is mean-spirited or a misfit. I have met a ton of people in the cardroom who are wonderful human beings. Not just kind and generous and good hearted and sociable, but also interesting and interested in what you have to say. Well-rounded, well-adjusted people.

But I was thinking a great deal about the abusive behavior I see, or at least notice, more and more in the casino and some of the descriptions in the review struck me as possible/probable explanations for this type of behavior. Here's what Mike Caro said about losing many years ago:

"I cope with losing very badly. I think I have a feeling of persecution. That the unknown is persecuting me. I tend to think about mistakes a lot less when I've had a big loss. In fact I think I try to justify big losses by not wanting to think I've made any mistkes. It's already too painful to think about without the addition of mistakes."

That pain that he talks about, I think, manifests itself in anger. Anger, after all, is the outward manifestation of pain. Rather than think about the mistakes, blame someone else. [And I don't mean Mike here, I don't know the man. I'm talking in general.]

03-14-2002, 01:02 AM
I don't really know, Mike. Tommy would be a better judge of this. As a guess, maybe one in ten who play regularly. Maybe this too contributes to the behavior I'm describing: the pressure some of the pros feel to simply pay the bills.

03-14-2002, 02:21 AM
The Game of Poker can bare the soul and inner ego of many people. Poker shows the visceral side of a number of players. It also grinds and grins at the vicissitudes of life.

People react to it and become part of the Game of Poker for various reasons. Not all of those reasons side with the better part of human nature - at least for some people. I have personally witnessed the self-destructive and abusive behavior that inflicts some people that play this game. It is an ugly side to poker that most people do not wish to even talk about.

We all know that the Game of Poker as many benefits and rewards and challenges and can make people better human beings. It is just not a given that it is true in all cases.


03-14-2002, 03:10 AM

03-14-2002, 04:05 AM

I, like Tommy, would never have thought to associate "card-thrower" with the foregoing description. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if recreational players who hold full-time jobs or own businesses might not throw cards considerably more, on average, than pros. Aspiring pros, that might be different.

03-14-2002, 12:51 PM
My experience has been that the "regulars" (pros or semi-pros) are more abusive than non-regulars. I imagine that has to do with being more comfortable in the cardroom and thus less guarded about things.

03-14-2002, 02:45 PM
"It's already too painful to think about without the addition of mistakes."

i dont want what im about to say to come off as critical of caro either. but i think this above is a very harmful immature attitude to have(obviously). i used to sometimes feel this way when i would lose but now when i lose i can actually take solace in all the mistakes i made, i can see all the hands i justified playing when i was really just fulfilling some sick need to gamble. it's awesome, because when you recognize your playing was flawed you can set forth the next session with a refined attitude that you will play tighter and stronger than ever.

conclusions like these have made a very significant impact on my game.

one other thing, now that im rambling: i think it's good to sometimes let off a little steam momentarily when you lose a tough hand. i think it's okay to throw your cards into the muck (not at the dealer or a player), to say a cuss word (not at the dealer or a player), to get up and slam your fists or something temporarily ANGRY and uncontrolled. doing it too often will tear your image to shreds, but doing it every once in awhile can be productive and help ensure that anger doesnt come out in the much more dangerous form of tilted awful play.

03-14-2002, 03:24 PM
I agree. I think the non-regulars are better behaved than the regulars. I definitely find myself with much less patience with cardroom personnel as I become more comfortable in the rooms. There needs to be a better balance of keeping the regulars happy AND under control in order to make the non-regulars comfortable and turn them into regulars, though.


03-16-2002, 03:00 PM
I think it's more simple than that. A lot of "regular" poker players are just not nice types. They might have good "people reading" skills, but they a lot of them aren't what you call "people persons". Many of the "pros" in AC mid and high limit games are just flat out mean jerks. They are friendly enough to other regulars for whom they show "respect", but everyone else is just seen as a walking ATM machine. A lot of these players fall into two categories: either a. nobodies outside the poker world who use poker as a vehicle to gain respect, or b. bullies who find out that they can't get away with doing that stuff if they are trying to earn a paycheck from The Man.

I can't speak for the West Coast, but the amount of times I was sitting at a table in AC or Foxwoods and surrounded by a. criminals, b. drug or gambling addicts, or c. surly jerks got me fed up with it and helped me make the now almost total transition to online poker.

03-27-2002, 09:24 PM
You wrote (in part):

BEGIN (Andy Fox)

Here's what Mike Caro said about losing many years ago:

"I cope with losing very badly. I think I have a feeling of persecution. That the unknown is persecuting me. I tend to think about mistakes a lot less when I've had a big loss. In fact I think I try to justify big losses by not wanting to think I've made any mistkes. It's already too painful to think about without the addition of mistakes."

END (Andy Fox)

Where did that quote come from? I don't deny that I wrote this, but it differs from what I've said in the past. I try never to let losing bother me, and that's basic to my entire philosophy about poker. I'm known for having fun and giggling when I lose. If you tell me where this came from, I'll be able to consider it in context.

Straight Flushes,

Mike Caro (caro@caro.com)

03-28-2002, 02:02 AM
Nice to see you here, Mike, or I should say, read you here. I got the quote from David Hayano's book "Poker Faces." It had been many years since I read it, but for some reason, that quote always stayed in my mind, so I looked it up again when it seemed germane to this discussion . It's on page 102 in the chapter entitled "Losers Walk" and it was the entire quote. My copy of the book says copyright 1982, so if you indeed said this to David, it was certainly quite a long time ago, as I pointed out in my original post.

03-28-2002, 02:35 PM
Why do you assume that "Crazy Mike" was indeed Mike Caro? I haven't read the book in a while but I don't remember "Mike Caro" ever mentioned, quoted, or described.

03-28-2002, 06:51 PM
John Fox mentions a "Crazy Mike" in his books also. Says he was one of the top three Draw players, and the best at NL. I always assumed it was Mike Caro. Anyone know for sure? He mentions him practising looking sad before a mirror for hours...

03-28-2002, 07:54 PM
In his "cast of characters" in Play Poker, Quit Work, & Sleep 'Til Noon, Fox calls Caro "Wild Mike," saying he's one of the 2 or 3(can't remember) best limit draw poker players in the world. This was, I think, 1977.

03-28-2002, 08:02 PM
In the index, there are, if memory serves, 3 page references for Mike Caro, including the page in question. So the Crazy Mike quoted on that page has to be Mike Caro. Hayano wrote the foreward to Caro's Book of Tells, so they must know each other. I believe Mike is mentioned by first and last name on at least one of the other two pages of the book, but I don't have it front of me now, I could be wrong, I'll take a look tonight.

Incidentally, I just received a responding email from Mike Caro to one I sent him. He is a real gentleman, polite and well-spoken.

03-28-2002, 11:37 PM
Not that it's that important, but I just checked the book, and Hayano does mention "Crazy Mike Caro" on the two other pages (page 66 has a very long quote); it is only on the page in question that he calls him "Crazy Mike" without his last name. It is evident that he means Caro there, though, and the index confirms this.

03-29-2002, 03:28 AM
Hi, Andy --

Thanks for pointing out the source of that quote. I'm not sure what other things I might have said while David Hayano was interviewing me. I'm sure I was illustrating some point or just having a strange moment. The quote clearly doesn't express my teachings today.

I did experiment with many different kinds of images back then, though, to see which was the most profitable. I had acts that ranged from deranged, constantly angry and grumbling, stone-faced and unspeaking, giggling whether I won or lost, cackling (which Doyle describes in his book), polite and professional, and more.

About eight years ago, I wrote a column about this type of experimentation. However, I long, long ago decided that the most-profitable image for me was unpredictable-but-fun-and-friendly. That's also sometimes called the "wild image."

It's not for everyone -- especially for those who are more comfortable basing their profits on solid card analysis against world class players and who feel uncomfortable on the stage. It's best used to manipulate players who are having fun. However, all opponents are susceptible to it to some degree.

Not only do I not react unhappily to bad beats or to whole losing sessions, I've come to genuinely not be concerned by these events. I simply don't feel them -- and I'm guininely happy, no matter what happens. I can sense your skepticism, but it's the truth.

The only thing that disturbs me at poker today are times when I strongly suspect I'm being cheated, but can't quite prove it. My greatest weakness is that even today I find it difficult to leave a game when that happens. I believe that by playing honestly, the game should belong to me and other ethical opponents -- not to the cheaters. It's a strange, emotional flaw in my character -- not wanting to let the bad guys run me off. I'm sure they're grateful.

Fortunately, I find myself in many fewer dangerous spots today, and I've learned to actually walk away from games where I'm not quite comfortable.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah -- thanks for posting the source of the quote, Andy. Sorry if I got off-track and started babbling.

Straight Flushes,

Mike Caro

03-29-2002, 03:34 AM
I can't find the 'Wild Mike' story in the book, but I think he is also called Crazy Mike in it. In the Dramitis Personae section, he mentions that Wild Mike is also known as the 'Obscure Pornographer.' Wonder what that's all about.

At any rate, here's my excuse to reread it. It's one of my all time favorites. Anybody know what happened to John Fox.? I hope the old rogue is still alive and kicking.

03-29-2002, 12:16 PM
If that was babbling, I hate to think what my posts should be called.

No skepticism here. Anyone who knows you, or knows of you, knows how you got the "Crazy" moniker. It is evident that David's quote must have been part of a longer conversation and/or an answer to a direct question he posed to be used in that section of his book.

In those days, I certainly played smaller than you did, so I never saw you in action, but others told me, with admiration, of what you were able to accomplish. David mentions in his book that you would sometimes deliberately play with a dead hand (6 cards), give bonus chips to losing players, play a tape recorder to decide what action to take, and challenge opponents to "death" matches, in which the loser must kill himself!

I don't find not wanting to let the bad guys take advantage a "strange emotional flaw."

Nice to have you here. Hope you'll participate on some of the other forums as well.

03-29-2002, 07:44 PM
Mike writes: "The quote clearly doesn't express my teachings today."

I think the quote is powerful and honest. I don't see why you would want to remove it from your teachings. Isn't the whole point of teaching to go back in time to where your understanding matched the current student's understanding, then proceed forward? Surely many students today share the sentiments you had 20 years ago. I still get that way sometimes, to lesser degrees than before, and I've been working non-stop for a decade to shake those very feelings. I think it's profound that you ever felt that way. Not something to shrink from.