Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No Exit and Broken Mirrors

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

"Fuck!" I screamed.

Change100 and I were in our new Las Vegas apartment for less than ten minutes when I broke a mirror on the wall in the bedroom. I rented a furnished apartment in the Del Bocca Vista close to the Rio in a gated community to keep out all the tweakers and gangbangers. Unfortunately for me, I accidentally knocked a mirror off its nail and it crashed on the floor. A large sliver broke apart from the mirror and I was overcome with emotion. The last thing I wanted to do in the first hour I was in Las Vegas was break a mirror. Even if you don't believe in that superstition, its never a good sign.

The number 13. A black cat. A $50 bill. SirWaffles. Someone touching your head. What do all of these things have in common?

Most people associate those things with bad luck. Within an hour of that mirror breaking, the internet in the apartment wouldn't work. I lost $300 playing online poker and then I scratched Change100's new car trying to pull out of the parking space.

"Fuck!" I screamed again as I inspected the damage.

"I'm gonna drive," she said sensing that I was on mega-broken-mirror-tilt.

When I eventually calmed down, I played some poker at Red Rock. When my name was called the kid at the desk said, "Table 13."

The illusion of control allows gamblers to feel more comfortable about their fate. By eliminating anything associated with bad luck, gamblers feel more comfortable at the tables and while they gained a slight cosmic edge over the casino and other players. Their x-factor is their symbol of good luck. Whether it's old ladies at bingo parlors with their good luck trinkets or Cyndy Violette and her lucky stones or Derek Jeter rubbing the head of Don Zimmer before every game (Ah... no wonder the Yankees have not been doing well! No more Zim as a good luck charm) people engage in rituals that they believe will affect the outcome of their gambling ventures.

The over-inflated beliefs and the illusion of control is one of the biggest contributing factors to problem gambling. It's a shortcut or easy excuse that consistent losers use to justify why they dire loses at the tables instead of owning up to the fact that they either lack the necessary skills to play the game or simply fell on the bad side of mathematics and probability. Pocket Aces are supposed to lose a percentage of the time and against Pocket Kings, they might be an overwhelming favorite... but Aces get beat by underpairs. That's the beauty of poker and why I love playing against superstitious people. They are easy to tilt and as soon as you sense that they are succumbing to the dark side of bad luck... go in for the kill.

Rituals are things that make people comfortable, like flipping the on and off switch to the lights eight times before you leave the apartment or why I used to knock twice on the outside of a plane in the jetway before I boarded any flight. I firmly believed that touching the outer shell of the plane would prevent it from crashing and improve my flight karma which meant avoiding sitting next to babies, chatty people, and folks with morose body odor.

The inflated expectation of winning by adhering to superstitions is the ultimate downfall to any gambler that sets foot in Las Vegas. You will not get blackjack or flop a set if you do or do not follow the delirium of a specific superstition. The randomness of luck is more powerful that your willingness to increase your edge with lucky items or fulfilling a ritual that's nothing more than a waste of your time and your crutch against facing the harsh realities of the world.

Gambling is a chaotic, godless, and random universe.

Asian people view luck in vastly different ways than those of us in the Western world. Chinese people believe that the ebbs and flows of luck can be predicted by astrology. The firmly believe that you can gain an edge by taking advantage of an instance when celestial luck is in your favor. That's why Chinese New Year is a popular time among Asian gamblers. They believe that winning at any form of gambling on New Year's Day will bring them positive luck for the rest of the year.

In some Asian cultures, people save up for decades before checking the stars to find out the right time to head to Macau, Las Vegas, or a local casino. They feel that the outcome for the remainder of their life is up to the gambling gods. If they are supposed to lead a blessed and wealthy life... then they will score big on their gambling sojourn. If they lose on that epic trip, then they accept the fact that they are not predispositioned to have a fortunate life and can accept the role of mediocrity or poverty for their remaining years.

There's a Vietnamese saying, "Winning is luck. Losing is bad luck."

Some poker players will find some truth to that statement. There is a sort of randomness associated with the shuffle of the cards along with the shuffle of luck. When you are running bad, the player at the other end of the table is often referred to as a "luckbox" or a "lucky fucker." But if you get sucked out on, you might chalk up your negative experience to a run of bad luck.

Is a run of bad cards just a run of bad luck? Or is simply... a random event?

That depends on the belief systems and psychological temperment of the person experiencing the rush or the dismay of the awful run of cards. When I get J-J and two overcards flop five straight times, it does not mean I have bad luck or failed to adhere to a silly superstition (I forgot to recite the Our Father in Latin... Pater Noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.) set forth to ensure that I flop a set. There are many instances when mathematics and statistics dictate the flow of the cards. Of course if you are running bad and on mega-tilt, you tweak the stats in your favor.

I used to give bums on the subway $1 bills if I encountered them on my way to the Blue Parrot. I didn't associate my good luck with helping out a homeless person buy food or score some malt liquor, but I felt that my overall karma would improve by helping out the homeless. Good karma might come back in a form of a winning session at the tables.

Last night, Change100 had A-A three times at our table. They held up every time. Was that good luck or the fact that Aces win more statistically than any other hand preflop? If she got them cracked three times, our favorite Hollyweird blonde would have been steaming and alluded to a run of bad luck and called her opponent a douchebag or cumstain.

Why did her K-K hold up against a guy with Q-5 and when did my cowboys lose to Q-5? Are her stars aligned in a way that she's more apt to catch a string of good cards? Or did my Kings get cracked because I broke a mirror and my soul was drowning in unfortunate circumstances?

One of the hardest superstitions to shake is the theory that bad luck is passed along from one player to another like a wicked case of the clap or the bird flu. Derek and I often joke around that certain bloggers are "The Cooler." We have a running theory that specific bloggers were symbols of death at the tables. I won't out The Coolers, but there were instances when blogger XYZ walked up to the blackjack table and Derek picked up his chips and walked away. At the IP last year during my awful run at Pai Gow, I walked away when a blogger/cooler walked into the pits.

I have a specific example involving SirWaffle. Is it proof that he's a cooler and he's the reincarnation of Semyazza? If you read his blog regularly, you know that the gambling gods have a hard on for fucking with Waffles. His karma is a black hole of bad luck. Sometimes it rubs off on others. At one of the blogger gatherings, he had just busted out of the tournament and came over to talk to me. I found K-K. I flashed him my hand and he said, "That sucks because you know an ace is going to flop."

The door card was an Ace and I snapped at Waffles, "Get the fuck out of here! You're bad luck is infecting my card mojo."

I was joking, of course. If I had flopped a set I still would have told Waffles to bugger off. I've been around enough casinos to know that bad luck does not rub off on other people. However, I do believe that negative people attract negativity and have a proclivity to the darkside of the universe. I try to avoid those people in life, not just at the tables. If I'm sitting next to a Prince or Princess of Darkness... I ask for a seat change right away.

During March Madness, Miami Don and I discussed certain sports bettors who historically lost. If you found out they liked a certain team, then you bet big against them everytime. One of our cocktail waitresses was the perfect example of someone whom we faded their picks. During one morning, we already put our bets in and the waitress came by to hang out and shoot the shit. We asked her who she liked.

"North Carolina," she said. "I bet that one."

A panicked look blanketed Derek's face as he shook his head. We bet UNC heavily and the fact that our waitress bet them did not bode well for all of us.

"We should have made our bets after we spoke to her," he said.

And yes, UNC lost but not because our waitress bet on them. However, at the time of desperation when gamblers are on the brink of insanity, your decision making processes are seriously impaired and you allow thoughts like "SirWaffle is a Cooler" or "Fade my cocktail waitresses picks" to seep into your mind.

Believing in luck whether it is good or bad is a form of tilt. Stat and math geeks will tell you that there is no such thing as a rush and pushing your luck is nothing more than feeling confident about your cards. Conversely, when stuck in a losing streak, worrying about the outcome of your hands due to an unlucky streak is simply playing without confidence. Like I said, math and science rule the universe over hokey superstitions. That is... if you believe in that.

Some people believe in God and some people firmly believe that praying to God will affect the outcome of your cards. I come from the school of thought that if there is a God, the last thing he wants to do is to turn off the doom switch on PokerStars for you or help you catch your two outer on the river.

Here's a tip... the next time you are in Las Vegas, realize that you are hanging out in the post-modern version of Sodom or Gomorrah. Didn't God send his angels to burn those cities to the ground?

Poker dealers are often associated with good or bad luck. Ask Linda to tell you stories about the regulars who view her as their good luck charm or the sign of the apocalypse. It's simply easier to project your losses onto someone else and blame the dealer. Sit in a locals casino for a few hours and watch the expressions on the faces of the players during a deal change. Some are happy to see a dealer go.

"That bastard cold decked me," they would say.

Or if the dealer had a history of giving them good cards, they would be giddy with excitement like a little kid on Christmas morning.

"Thank God you're here! I've been waiting for my luck to change."

Sometimes I laugh because I see these people playing their hands terribly. Their excuse for poor playing or lack of decent skills at the tables is all because of the dealer. Yes, all poker dealers are just vehicles for the poker gods. They get messages whispered to them by the consortium of angels (or fallen angels if you think that God has abandoned casinos and they place is run by Satan and his crew of Hell's Angels) and determine whether or not you catch your flush or get busted out of a tournament by a donkalope with A-2o.

You have heard of all those wacky superstitions such as a hat on a bed is bad luck or having a dead person in your dream means that someone close to you is going to die. Then there are the universal ones... like a black cat or walking under a ladder or having SirWaffles railbird you. I don't believe in any of those because once you start to believe one... you have to believe all of them and then you become a slave to your superstitions. Well fuck... why ever leave the house when there's too many ominous signs of bad luck?

There is one tiny superstition that I have and it's all because of Grubby. It involves $50 bills. I refuse to carry them in my wallet. Why? Because $50 bills are historically bad luck for gamblers.

The hardest part about traveling overseas is getting an influx of 50 bills whether it was Aussie bucks or Euros. I freak out when changing US dollars and get 50s. I quickly ask for a wad of 20s which often pisses off the person at the change booth. They obviously had no concept of Grubby's $50 rule or they would not have given me guff. In Las Vegas, workers at the cage are so used to the $50 rule that they rarely give out $50 bills because they know most of the people will give it back. And if you walk up to the cage to change a $50 bill, they'll quickly do that transaction for you. After all, a happy gambler is better than a grumpy gambler. And if you feel like you are having a string of good luck, you are more likely to gamble more than when you are soaked under a wet blanket of bad luck.

Aside from the $50 bills, I don't have any superstitions. I don't say three Hail Marys when I am dealt pocket Queens. I don't believe in the "secret" and ask the universe for good cards at the tables. I don't wait until both cards are dealt to me before I peek at them.

I often find myself avoiding unlucky people in life (or rather people who feel they are unlucky) not because I'm afraid it will rub off on me... but rather because I'd rather not be around negative people. Hearing about people's bad beats in life is probably the least entertaining thing for me in the universe. Just as Jean Paul Sartre explained that hell is other people in his play No Exit, to me... hell would be me locked in a small room and having to read bad beat hand histories posted by bloggers or listen to poker players tell me their bad beat stories... for the rest of eternity.

People who believe that bad luck is the reason why they lost are simply gamblers who are lazy or selfish and are unwilling to accept that they are bad players and did not accept the fact that they played poorly and made bad decisions. Even the top pros in the world rarely play flawless poker. People make mistakes at the tables and it's easier to mask their bad play under a string of bad luck.

Sartre's character Garcin said it best in No Exit, "I made my choice deliberately. A man is what he wills himself to be."

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker. All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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