Monday evening in a Las Vegas restaurant with three poker veterans. International Man of Mystery (IMOM) is recounting a PLO hand he played in Switzerland. Much to the befuddlement of medical science, IMOM was born with a tiny megaphone embedded in his larynx, and as he describes the increasingly improbable board run-out his volume rises.
A young man walks over from a neighboring booth and pulls up a chair.
“Sorry to bother you gentlemen, but may I take up a few minutes of your time?”
Everyone at the table stiffens. My immediate worry is that our poker discussion has triggered the concern of a Member of the Devout, and that we are about to face inquiries concerning our personal relationships with a prophet and/or deity. Instinctively I reach into my pocket for anything that might be mistaken for a Satanic talisman.
“Heard you guys talking about poker,” continues the visitor. “Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
We all relax.
“What do you know about roulette?” he says.
We all stiffen again.
“Don’t do it!” booms IMOM.
The sonic shock almost causes the approaching cocktail waitress to drop her tray. Since the tray has my beer on it I glare at IMOM. On the other side of the restaurant two infants burst into tears.
“Why not?” says the visitor, looking simultaneously surprised and deflated.
Our new friend is immediately bombarded by a flurry of odds, the best and worst table games, and the observation that the house edge is sufficient for several Strip casinos to air-condition their properties to fifty-eight degrees in high summer while leaving all the doors open.
“So you’re saying roulette is rigged?” says the visitor.
“No, you just can’t beat the house edge.”
“So how did I run up two hundred to fifteen thousand my last trip?”
“You got very lucky.”
At this point you may be suspecting that we were not dealing with the sharpest knife in the drawer. That’s a lazy conclusion and one that can cost a poker player money.
The visitor was well-dressed, eloquent, and could afford regular visits to Las Vegas. It’s at least probable that in his chosen line of work he is successful. But unlike those of us who spend much of our lives in casinos, and who tend to assess many aspects of those lives in terms of expectation value, the visitor simply didn’t know much about gaming.
And neither do most of the people playing games in casinos.
“So what about poker?” said the visitor. “You guys beat that, right?”
We all agreed enthusiastically.
“How long does it take to learn?” said the visitor. “Couple of months?”
As we each threw out estimates of the amount of time required to become a winning player the visitor’s shoulders slumped. He stood up and thanked us for our time. Poker coach and author Doug, who is no more likely to miss a trick than a light three-bet, handed the visitor his business card and wished him luck.
I suggested above that viewing individuals such as the visitor as dim can cost a poker player money. Why?
You make money at poker by playing against people who know less about the game than you do. But dismissing them as stupid misses the point. They are simply unsophisticated when it comes to poker and other forms of gaming. And if they don’t fully appreciate concepts such as the house edge, I doubt they have the slightest inkling of the massive knowledge deficit they face against a poker player who studies the game.
The thinking poker player. That’s you. And your edge against most of your opponents is derived almost entirely through a knowledge gap. For professional players, this edge is literally the one we live on. We need to understand it and preserve it. By recognizing that our opponents are invariably successful in other areas, I think it helps us respect them. Treating them with respect makes their poker experience more enjoyable and promotes the continued health of the game.
And that, kittens, is good for business.