Tuesday, November 28, 2006


New York City
Spring of 2003

"I blew a dog once," she said.

Had that been a scene in a movie, the background music would have stopped and everyone in the bar would have turned around and starred at her in astonishment for several awkward seconds.

She took a sip of her drink, an overpriced Apple Martini, and I immediately thought, "Do all animal molesters drink Apple-tinis?"

"It's not what you think," she said trying defend her statement. "Why are you freaked out? You're the one who asked me the question. You're supposed to be the bohemian writer living on the edge, hanging out with criminals and low lifes. On your travels you've never once heard about someone blowing a dog?"

"A donkey, yes. Don't forget I've been to South of the Border to Matamoros. I saw a guy fuck a chicken once too. Uneventful. But I've never sat a few feet from an actual canine cock smuggler."

"Oh my God! You are totally freaked out. Must be that McCatholic thing, right?"

"I'm not freaked out. Surprised is a word that comes to mind. And I never asked you how many dog's dicks you sucked in your life. I believe the question was, 'What's your most bizarre sexual encounter?' I was hoping to hear about hot lesbian affairs or made a semi-erotic story about how you gang-banged three chain-smoking snail-eating French dudes in the bathroom of a bar in Montmartre. I didn't think you'd actually fess up to bestiality."

"Fuck you, McFucker!" she screamed.

"That dog was no beast. He was a beautiful animal and I loved every second of it."

"I don't believe you," I badgered her.

"It's true. I was nine years old and, and..."

"And what?" as I moved in closer.

"I only did it that one time. I was curious. Don't freak out on me now. Haven't you gotten aroused by doing something you shouldn't?"

"Of course, but chugging doggie cock wasn't one of them."

She sighed and had a long sip of her drink before she checked her cellphone. She had gotten a text message during our banter which she read then never bothered to answer back.

"How did you know I was lying?" she said.

"I didn't. It's what we call in poker a 'semi-bluff.' I sensed weakness because there was some doubt in your story. Someone truly ashamed of a sexual encounter with a dog would have not revealed that secret in a public place. And if you had no qualms about people knowing, you would have told your friends... and I would have found out months ago. Besides most tells and lies are non-verbal. You make the same face when you lie to your friends and say, 'I love those shoes.' They can't tell when you're bullshitting, but I can."

"Well, your semi-bluff is semi-wrong."

"Care to explain?"

"I never blew a dog. That's true," she said before she paused a beat. She sat up in her chair and glared at me. Without blinking she blurted out, "I never blew a dog but I jerked one off once."

"That's one lucky puppy," I added.

That time I knew she wasn't lying.

* * * * *

The poker world is filled with world class sophists. Here's the definition of sophism according to Wikipedia:
Sophism generally refers to a particularly confusing, illogical and/or insincere argument used by someone to make a point, or, perhaps, not to make a point. Sophistry refers to the practice of using such arguments, and is used as derogative for rhetoric that is designed to appeal to the listener on grounds other than the strict logical cogency of the statements being made.
Sounds like the basic premise of a very skilled poker player and every politican in Washington. The best players in the world will often give off conflicting tells during the same hand to confuse their opponents. They rattle off false verbal information and use their betting patterns to deceive their opponents.

Your opponent is going to put you on a hand based on your behavior at the table. In real life, they'll size up your physical state. Online they'll scrutinize your betting patterns and check their notes on you.

Poker is tough enough without having to pay extra attention to your mannerisms from how you pick up your chips to how you bet when you are bluffing, have a monster, or on a draw. Even Gus Hansen has problems like that. No matter how much composure he tried to muster up, the Great Dane couldn't can't keep his hands still when he nailed quads at the featured table at the EPT Barcelona last year. I noticed that his hands shook like a Parkinson's patient on a bumpy bus ride. His opponents saw it too and both quickly mucked.

He had quad Queens and showed it. But what if Gus pulled off a superb bluff? What if he had Jack-Shit and nearly spilled his chip stack on purpose and feigned a shaking hand as he bet out at the pot? Now, that would have been something.

Bluffing is an integral part of poker, especially NL Hold'em. The best bluffers in the world are so good that you didn't even notice you got bluffed until you saw it happen on TV. There was not a doubt in your mind you were beat so you folded. How many times did that happen?

That's why there's the adage... Never bluff a calling station. They don't have the discipline to fold a crappy hand let alone a mediocre one.

That's why the biggest bluff in a cash game that I ever pulled off... was against a local rock at Green Valley Station last year. I had K-Jo and he had K-Q. I re-raised him preflop. I raised him on the flop when a King fell, and when he checked to me on the turn, I moved all-in. I had been playing tight and he put me on A-K. He agonized over his decision for a few minutes and even showed his cards to the players sitting nearby. Usually if someone does that they're gonna muck. I sat still trying to act meek, like I had a monster better than A-K.

"A set. I have a set," I thought several times just to put that vibe out there.

In reality, I had top pair with a not-so-strong kicker and had no redraws. I was way behind and had only three outs to save me. The only way I was going to win that pot, as I heard Mike Sexton's voice narrating the hand in my head, "Was to bluff at it."

That guy was convinced I had him beat and he folded the best hand. He mucked K-Q face up. The dealer pushed the hefty pot my way as I flipped over K-J. My opponent slapped his hand on the table and muttered, "Nice hand."

I know he didn't mean that as he stood up and paced back and forth at his end of the table. One of the other locals sitting next to me said, "Best play I've seen all week. Great bluff, kid."

I made the mistake at showing my hand but it ended up tilting the guy with K-Q so exposing my bluff had some merit. However, I jeopardized any future moves I'd try to make if any of those guys remembered playing with me the next time I showed up at Green Valley... and a laydown like that guy made tends to eat at your insides for a while, so I know that guy remembered that hand.

A great bluffer is part magician, part actor, part used car salesman, part preacher, part quack, part serial killer, and part philosopher. Like the original sophists, there's a small inkling of truth to any false argument. Next time you're ready to bluff off half your stack in a tournament, take a moment to ask, "Is my opponent going to believe me here?"

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