Chapter 2

Poker A.D. (“Poker After Doyle”)

As you saw in Chapter 1, the World Series of Poker Main Event field grew from 839 players in 2003 (the year Chris Moneymaker won) to 2,576 players in 2004.  In 2005 there were 5,619 players. And then in 2006 there were 8,773 players–> in three years the number of people who would enter a $10,000 buyin annual poker tournament (in the Nevada desert- in the middle of the goddam summer) grew over 1000%!

Boom…

I was at Viejas Casino in Alpine, CA (just East of San Diego) maybe a week or two after ESPN aired their Oscar-worthy broadcast of the 2003 Main Event… Chris Moneymaker, the Average Joe hero overcoming all odds (literally), Sammy Farha, the slick and formidable super-villain at the end of the movie, and so on- it could not have been scripted any better… Not only was that epic broadcast great entertainment and inspiration for all poker players at the time, but more importantly, anyone who watched ESPN back then (who didn’t?) saw actual proof that just about ANYONE could learn No Limit Hold ‘Em, invest a few bucks, and become the next World Champion (with millions of dollars and all the glory one could ever want)!

A new American Dream had been born, and its birth was beautiful and perfect- and televised for all the world to see…

Anyways, it was a busy Saturday morning in the Viejas poker room and I remember I was just leaning against a pillar talking to Melanie- a dealer who was on her break, while I waited for a seat in “the big game”- $8-$16 Limit Hold ‘Em…

As noted in Chapter 1 (I know you just skimmed it- and I still don’t blame you), “the big game” in almost all card rooms actually wasn’t very big at all. You could buy into it out of your wallet (no bundles of cash necessary) and optimal play was mostly just folding- over and over, and then just crossing your fingers and pouring money into the pot whenever you finally got a great hand (not totally dissimilar to what optimal strategy has become again in “the big game” today, come to think of it).

I had been frequenting Viejas and other poker rooms in and around San Diego County pretty regularly for about 5 years, ever since I saw/became obsessed with the movie Rounders. And I had worked my way up to playing “the big game” in each room (the buyins for these games generally ranged from $100 to $500). I had read just about every poker book in circulation, and as a result I had become one of the best poker players folders in all of San Diego.

Also noted in that chapter you didn’t really read- chapter 1 of my first book (thanks a lot!), I was the only baby face assassin in poker rooms pre-boom, which made me both a pretty big hotshot- and a pretty big joke. Yeah, I always had cash on me and I was highly respected with regards to my poker (folding) prowess, but I should have been out partying and getting laid, doing stuff kids my age were supposed to do- not grinding my life away with a bunch of off-duty taxi drivers and retirees.

Melanie must have known I was a joke, but she didn’t seem to care. She was happy to shoot the shit. I mean her conversation choices amongst the Viejas regs were basically me (slightly younger than her), or someone much older who would undoubtedly only want to talk about the bad beat jackpot- how big it had become, how nice it would be to win it, how close people had come to winning it lately, etc…

And then God’s words came down through the speakers in the ceiling like the first lightning bolts a boy had ever seen, lighting up a calm and dark sky- the only sky that boy had ever known…I mean the microphone was practically in the board guy’s mouth/he was not fucking around, “Attention players, we will be starting a one dollar, two dollar NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM game on table ___… Please head to the table and talk to the floor man if you would like to play.”

There it was, Poker’s Emancipation Proclamation (I’m not making light of real slavery- that was the dumbest and most evil shit ever, just trying to make a point). With those two blaring sentences, every poker slave in the world was suddenly free (is this insensitive to use- even if I’m the opposite of racist and think slavery was WOAT idea by a mile?)- free to play a game that actually had a pulse, a game that was actually FUN, a game that wasn’t all folding and then just crossing your fingers and pouring money in whenever you finally got a great hand, a game that could actually be beat- senseless…

I didn’t know all the rules to “NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM”, much less any strategy- I was a strict Stud Hi-Low and Limit Hold ‘Em boss at the time, but I was pretty sure no one else there would really know what they were doing either…

So I quickly said goodbye to Melanie and I took a seat.

God’s game was full and cards were in the air within 10 minutes of his words striking down upon the Viejas player pool. And within 2 orbits of play/a very surreal feeling out process by all, I had completely abandoned my Limit Hold ‘Em pre-flop uber patience/discipline. Something just told me I could play more hands in this game…

And then it happened.

An old man in red suspenders raised UTG and I called with something mediocre (97o if I only had one guess) on the button. I flopped an open-ender, called his bets on the flop and turn (people didn’t pot control in the beginning), missed my draw (standard), and then just spazzed TFO as soon as he checked to me on the river…

“All in!”

There was a little less than $50 in the pot, and my all in was for around $150 (this was 15 years ago, but those numbers seem pretty right). It was an absolutely horrific shove by today’s standards (at least on level 1 it was), because I represented absolutely nothing—in terms of value hands—with that sizing/timing. But…

The old man folded. He turned over his flopped overpair (JJ- a hand I would soon learn was hated by old men everywhere) very quickly, showed it to the table for a little sympathy or whatever, and then just threw it in the muck.

Boom…

I was hooked. I fucking loved No Limit Hold ‘Em! I had just won a nice pot WITHOUT making the best hand/despite missing my draw. And… my starting hand was pretty much garbage! Finally, I was playing “a skill game”- what poker had always been depicted as in all the books and movies I devoured, but never really seemed like before at actual poker tables. ”The Cadillac of Poker” (as Matt Damon Mike McD introduced it at the beginning of Rounders) was for me!

There was a buzz in the air that day at Viejas like I’ve only witnessed one other time in poker- day 1 of the 2009 Main Event of the WS0P (even though that tournament is basically a crapshoot these days, you gotta play it at least once in your life imo- day 1 of your maiden voyage is special)…

Other Limit Hold Em’ and Hi-Low Stud survivors had circled our game a few rows deep from the onset, and there were wide eyes and broken chains and shackles everywhere you looked (too much?). Soon the poker board was full of names…

God came through the ceiling for an encore, “Attention players, we are also going to be starting a two dollar, four dollar NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM game on table ___…”

I went to the new game (that’s just how I live- for better or worse) and it also was full with cards in the air within 10 minutes of being announced…

My old game filled up before I even got to my new game, and two more $1-$2 NLHE games were called down and started instantly in the next hour or so… Dealers dealt faster that day. Players didn’t care about bad beats. People in a poker room were actually smiling. Chips were flying. Time was nothing- it didn’t exist. Poker was fun!

Boom…

I drove 40 minutes to Viejas almost everyday after that- to play NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM. Soon the “2,4” was turned into a “2, 5”. Red chips! And green chips! Maybe even black chips (actually I don’t think they allowed $100 chips, but still)! There was a buzz in the room 24/7. Everyone (players, dealers, floor people, servers, etc) was constantly talking about “maniacs”, “solid players”, how to play Ace-Jack- all the good stuff!

And that is where you would find me, a baby face assassin, previously a huge joke toiling away in “the big game” that wasn’t even big- and mostly a crapshoot, now sitting in the new “big game”- which still wasn’t big, but was far from a crapshoot. I worked on my strategy every hand (especially the ones I wasn’t in), applying logic and deductive reasoning as best I could to every situation that came up. I brought the most interesting/crucial situations home with me, and they rattled around in my head over and over, until I felt like I had finally solved them like the math problems I knew they were. I didn’t know NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM would eventually become my job- I just knew I absolutely loved it…

Full disclosure: looking back, I was pretty bad at NLHE during the boom. Luckily for me, everyone else was bad too/almost all of them were worse than I was. There just weren’t many NLHE books in circulation back then, no training sites, no coaches, nada. Poker was an open competition where 9 players simply sat down and battled wits (who could come up with the best strategy on the spot given all the ever changing variables), courage (who could make the big bluff or call whenever necessary), discipline (who could make the right play over and over no matter if they were losing, winning, tired, etc), perceptive abilities (who could figure out what the other players were doing/going to do best), etc- all the while acting like gentleman (and the occasional lady) playing a game.

How crazy does ^^^ sound? No shortcuts, no playbooks, no solvers, no team play, no iPads, etc. Just 9 people sitting down to play a game of luck and skill in a social setting- none of us trying to take more from the game than the chips on the table, none of us contributing to the decline of the game we loved (that would be stupid, right?), and none of us relying on anything more than our own innate poker abilities…

Sounds to me like poker- the way God intended it.

15+ years and 20,000+ hours of play later and “NO LIMIT HOLD ‘EM” is still my game of choice- still the only game I would ever play seriously. It’s fast enough, complex enough, and psychological enough to hold my interest forever- as long as the environment isn’t too brutal and people aren’t playing too tight/GTO…

All the other poker variants that are commonly spread in card rooms these days (with the exception of PLO- which is merely “The Honda of Poker”) are all but unbeatable for any reasonable/true hourly rate- unless the game is gigantic and/or there is a massive whale at the table giving his/her money away. Poker, by nature, just isn’t that beatable without a lot of freedom in the variant- like being able to win an entire stack with one bet, or being able to manipulate which players even enter a pot, or most importantly, being able to win a pot without the best hand

(Back to the boom…)

No Limit Hold ‘Em went from completely unheard of in most poker rooms to the featured game in most all of them- practically over night. By mid-2004, the vast majority of all poker players in the world were NLHE players. And the player pool blossomed uncontrollably/unimaginably for a good three years. And oh yeah… Your average $2-$5 pro nowadays- he would easily have been the best player anywhere during the boom. Seriously. It was remarkable. It was mayhem. It was poker’s zenith.

 

A) The Perfect Storm

“We already know about the perfect storm, man- a Chinese Emperor started poker 1000 years ago, it gradually became a gentleman’s game played in private settings all over the world, then some women joined (but you promise us more are coming), then Doyle and the boys brought Hold ‘Em to Vegas and the WSOP was formed in 1970, then California legalized all the cool games in 1987, then the US government finally threw the Indian Reservations a bone and legalized gambling on tribal land shortly after that, then Rounders and Planet Poker came onto the scene in 1998, then in 2003 Chris Moneymaker binked his brains out on ESPN after winning an online satellite into the 10k main event- then EVERYONE wanted to play…”

Well yeah, that’s pretty much it. Except I didn’t really talk about Rounders enough, or the massive role online poker played, or how the US economy (before that bubble burst in ’07) contributed so greatly to the perfect storm/the eventual boom…

“OK, well be quick, I want to get to the part where you tell us how we can have more ladies at the table. That’s honestly the only reason I’m reading this dumb book.”

Understood/fair enough.

Rounders was incredibly instrumental in sparking the NL boom. Not only is it a sick movie with sick actors (Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturo, and John Malcovich?!), but also it glorified poker as a young man’s game for the first time…

(Rounders 2- if that ever is made, would be smart to glorify poker as a woman’s game)

Worm (Norton) was the live on the edge degen gambler/thrill seeker that some awesome future poker players related to. Knish (Turturo) was the tight ass who could never go broke, but also could never feel any glory (or even his pulse probably)- which a huge portion of today’s poker population absolutely must have related to :). And Mike McD (Damon)- he was the perfect middle of both those extremes. He was the hero for most of us- young and smart and chicks just throwing themselves at him (yeah right he didn’t cave though when Petra came over to his apartment to collect Worm’s debt)…

And oh yeah, Teddy KGB (Malcovich/GOAT)- I imagine he was a pretty big inspiration for all the home game operators/poker capitalists in general who would later MASSIVELY contribute to the decline of poker…

Anyways, young dudes suddenly playing poker with college money and what not was a huge factor in the boom that would occur 5 years after Rounders came out. Guys like yours truly were already pulling off our best Mike McD impressions at our local casinos before the boom (albeit in Stud Hi-Lo and Limit Hold ‘Em lol)–> the necessary hotshots (but also huge jokes, mind you) to start No Limit games of all sizes were in place, for whenever God decided it was finally time to liberate the poker world…

Also incredibly important to the coming boom, Rounders painted poker very much a game of skill- and very little a game of luck (i.e. “why do you think the same 5 guys make it to the final table of the main event every year” <– amazing). This lack of acknowledgement of variance in poker/NLHE was not only incredibly instrumental in the poker boom, but it is also going to be incredibly instrumental in the bubble bursting- coming soon, unless players everywhere start seeing the light a little and changing their ways…

(No one wants to think about variance…)

Popular websites like Yahoo started offering play money poker games sometime in the late 1990s. Then, in 1998 (same year as Rounders) Planet Poker started offering real money games. Many other real money poker sites (Paradise Poker- that was the first one I deposited on, Party Poker, Bodog, Full Tilt, Poker Stars, etc) were born shortly after that.

Online poker being firmly in place—so Moneymaker could even enter the WSOP Main Event via winning an online satellite, and so people without access to brick and mortar card rooms could strike while the iron was hot/play poker immediately after they saw Moneymaker take down all the world’s best players—was also extremely key to the boom. Anyone who had access to the Internet could take their shot at the new American Dream- and potentially become the next World Series of Poker Main Event Champion!

Like Rounders- with its message that poker was all skill and no luck, online poker was also both massively instrumental in the boom (accessibility) and will likely also be massively instrumental in the bubble bursting (strategic advancement/game solving). More on that later…

America, home of the World Series of Poker- poker’s unquestionable mecca since 1970, was flush with cash in 2003. Real estate (all facets of it) was insanely lucrative, and there were just stacks and stacks of not-so-hard earned money absolutely burning holes in pockets-

“Man, this is all pretty basic- and I’m starting to get bored to be honest.”

OK, yeah, I’ll be done with “The Perfect Storm”. There were other minor components too (like Hockey being on strike in 2004 and ESPN filling the void with poker content), but the major ones have all been covered (if not belabored- my bad) at this point. I just wanted to really drive home how the poker boom was merely the long shot result of many gusts of wind coming together perfectly- at just the right time, from just the right directions.

Maybe if people better understand ^^^ they will stop taking the game they love (and maybe depend on) for granted? Maybe they will start becoming more active (both reactive and proactive) when it comes to preserving their lucky situation? Maybe they will start standing up to all the Knish’s and Teddy KGB’s of the poker world a little- who are absolutely ruining it?

 

 B) The Theory of Poker and Super System

As stated at the beginning of this chapter (the first one most of you are reading- really, it’s OK), “the boom”, launched shortly after Moneymaker held up that WSOP Main Event Champion bracelet, barely peering over a mountain of $100 bills, with his sunglasses on his hat- I think, on ESPN, in prime time- was an around-the-clock No Limit Hold ‘Em extravaganza. Just about every poker room in the world (brick and mortar and online) was buzzing with No Limit enthusiasts 24/7- and that buzzing didn’t really cease for almost three years…

Games started out small ($1-$2, $2-$4) but got huge quickly (Commerce had lots of $20-$40 and $40-$100 NL almost right away). It was a free for all, with ungodly amounts of money being dumped carelessly in the middle of poker tables everywhere (including on your computer)…

Any serious player during the boom read all the necessary literature on No Limit–> a few chapters in TWO books… Mike Caro’s book of Tells was fairly popular (likely because it got a cameo as a place Mike McD hid money in his apartment in Rounders), and Harrington on Hold ‘Em was OK I guess, and there was another book that was sort of decent that had two pistols on the cover (not sure the relevance of those pistols- but they looked cool/I’ll have that image in my head forever), but really it was all about The Theory of Poker, by David Sklansky (co-owner of Two Plus Two Publishing/Poker Forums), published in 1999, and Super System, by Doyle Brunson, published 20 years earlier- in 1979. Both books were filled with chapters devoted to games that didn’t matter anymore in the brave new No Limit Hold ‘Em poker world- but they also contained speckles of NLHE strategy gold/all the essentials anyone really needed to become a poker pro and make heaps of money in a suddenly massive poker industry.

For the first time ever, there was a significant job market for professional poker players, and all the training/education one needed to become one was provided over a few chapters, in TWO books…

Theory of Poker was most important because it taught the concept of Expected Value- the secret weapon its readers would quickly have in their arsenal–> think about decisions in a vacuum, compare the odds of each possible choice/outcome, and then choose the decision with the most favorable probability. This enabled otherwise fish to make decent decisions over and over and not be too swayed by actual results of hands/run outs/whatever (unless they ran too far in either direction away from expectation- then their minds would get warped for life obviously!). This concept is simple to think of now, but back then it was a huge light bulb moment for all us dedicated poker students- who took the 20 minutes or whatever to learn that section of the book.

Super System was/is a much cooler book than The Theory of Poker. It’s less nerdy, less mathematical, more gangster and exciting. It also indirectly presents balance for the first time- specifically when Doyle talks about playing his sets extremely fast- because no one will believe you are playing a good hand that way/that’s how most people play their bluffs…

Balance is the holy grail of poker. While I have long argued that live poker requires far less balance than online (due to volume issues, stat tracking issues, etc), I have also long been balanced (at least in perception) every time I’ve put money in a pot. Doyle taught me that (indirectly). And he’s just gangster as hell and a great writer and seemingly legendary human being in many ways.

Anyways, that was it. Take a few hours and read those TWO books (you only needed fragments of them- but no way you didn’t read all of Super System at least imo) and you could slaughter poker during the boom (if you ran OK+). You didn’t even have to have any social skills. Just play fundamentally sound (for back then), try not to run horrible (if you run horrible you are dead- always and forever), and absolutely crush- because the rest of the budding poker world was making enormous errors and playing their hands all but face up. Poker was easy (belabor alert: provided you didn’t run horrible), especially for those of us who “studied”…

 

C) Sports Cars & Baller Pads

During the boom, kids armed with a few chapters of education (excerpts from TWO books) and the resources to buy into big games (actual big games) were huge favorites to win 20k plus a month, just sitting at poker tables and picking off all the “dead money”- mainly real estate boom benefactors who saw Moneymaker bink on ESPN and had way too much easy money to burn, as they soaked in the glory of the final days of their own bubble…

You could go to Commerce Casino in Los Angeles and see some young guy casually walking to a poker table with 40k in his hands (hi Red Ryan). He might even let an acquaintance borrow it, no questions asked. Outside in valet, his Mercedes or BMW (or whatever) was being kept up front for a $10 tip, for whenever he was done with “work” for the day.

When it was time to go (maybe he won a paltry 5k real quick and got bored), he would jump in his sports car and zip downtown to his baller pad.

“5k a month? No problem. How about I pay a year in advance in cash and we just skip all the paperwork? I’m gonna put a pool table and a bar in, just so you know, and there are going to be people partying around the clock. Don’t worry though, I know all the neighbors. They are all poker pros too…”

^^^ was the norm for LA pros during the boom (and I assume in Vegas and on the East Coast too- or anywhere else you could play 10-20+ NL). Their cars were fun to ride in back from the club and their parties were pretty damn awesome. Stock brokers with no qualifications basically (and often no real skills or work ethic), just murdering the soft as hell poker market, day after day…

 

Pre-order “The Long Run…”

AKA “Light a fire under my ass to finish this book!” I will donate $1 to the Las Vegas homeless for every pre-ordered book. All purchases will be refunded in full if the book doesn’t get published for any reason. It will be an Ebook or an Ibook (or both). Cancel and get a full refund at any time.

$20.00

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