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It's the business we've chosen

EdmondDantes It's not personal.

In the Godfather: Part II, there’s a scene where Hyman Roth discusses the murder of his Las Vegas friend Moe Green with Michael Corleone.

“There was this kid I grew up with - he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me - you know. We did our first work together - worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition - we ran molasses into Canada - made a fortune - you father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him - and trusted him. Later on he had an idea - to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast. That kid's name was Moe Green - and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man - a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque - or a signpost - or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order - when I heard it, I wasn't angry; I knew Moe - I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead - I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen - I didn't ask who gave the order - because it had nothing to do with business!

You can see the last line here…

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Nice hand, sir!

The other day a friend of mine (newer player) called me up steaming. He had just left the Hustler Casino following a nasty beat after he had moved all in pre-flop with KK v villain’s 87o. He said, “I just looked at this guy. I mean who calls an all-in with 87o for two hundred dollars? I had only been there like 10 minutes but I was so pissed I just picked up and left.”

I said to him, “Let me get this right. You left a game with a guy on your right who was willing to call off his stack when he was, at best, a 2 to 1 dog against an unknown player? That’s stupid, sure…but you’re even more stupid for leaving. Instead of calling for your keys, you should have been calling for chips!”

I went further. “Listen. Yeah, you had a dream spot there, but the ugly truth is that 20% of the time you’re going get cracked. And when there’s a lot at stake, it’s gonna suck. You see the KK v 87o and mentally book the win at 100%, but 20 times out of 100, the chips go elsewhere. If you can’t come to grips with that, DON’T PLAY THE GAME. Seriously.”

After a little self-reflection on his part and additional love from me, “What? You want 8 guys in there leaning on you with good cards all the time? Wake up.”, I think he got it. I felt a little bit like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross* but he’s gonna be a better player for it. My conscience is clear.

"Running bad" you say?

A little while later, I was talking to another friend who was complaining that he’s been “running bad.” What is that? A downswing? Variance? Come on. It’s just the math at work and the math works the same for everybody. If we all played the same, our short term swings would vary but our long-term results graph would look the same. The fact that our longer term results differ means one thing—some players are good (or constantly improving) and others aren’t. You’re either playing well, marginally or badly. The math is just there sorting it all out.

When a player believes he’s “running badly”, I think he should ask “Am I playing well or poorly?” and be HONEST with himself. If he’s making good decisions, his concerns should be bankroll management, game selection and getting more hands or tournaments in. If he’s making sub par decisions or doesn’t honestly know if he’s playing well or poorly, he should take the time to study, review hands and retool his game. The only player that I see on televised events consistently talking about “running bad” is Mike Matusow. Funny, most of the decisions I see him make on TV are horrible. He “runs badly”? Gee, what a shocker.

It's just business.

In contrast, I have a friend who used to be a professional blackjack player. He and his partners would look for favorable casino conditions, play basic strategy and watch for edges. When the deck was favorable, they’d press their edge as much as possible and let the math sort it out. Of course, they had downswings but there was no talk of “running bad”. They would shrug variance off as part of the business. To manage downswings, they relied on bankroll management and simply looked for MORE opportunities to put money to work with an edge. They made a great living.

In short, Hyman Roth got it right. He didn’t bitch when a good friend got shot because he knew from an early age it was the nature of the business. Hence, he avoided the mental anguish of the emotional swings of his business. Harsh? Yeah, but the applicability is there for a successful poker player. Bad beats, downswings, variance…whatever. Learn to deal with it or find another way to make a living. It’s the business we’ve chosen.



* In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, there’s a scene in which Blake (played by Alec Baldwin) is sent in to kick a group of under-performing salesman into gear. For most of the movie, the salesmen bemoan the working conditions, the lifestyle and the quality of the leads they get from headquarters. Blake will have none of it.

It’s a great scene with classic lines and must see viewing for anyone in any kind of sales. If you haven’t quoted “Put down that coffee. Coffee is for CLOSERS only.”, you need to find a spot for it!

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Mr_Taterhead says

All I can say is "Variance is a B" and why does it always seem that all 20 of the 100 hands that KK < 8-7o happen within 20 minutes of one another? For goodness sake can the poker Gods just spread them out a little. I am sure the little munchkins living inside my computer are going to turn my DOOMSWITCH on.

Thanks, Edmond. I blame you.


xxrod17xx says

I don't get a chance to read many blogs and this is my first of yours, it is very well done and will become a part of my day for sure.


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