Saturday, January 07, 2006

Naming the Degenerates

AS SHOCKING AS THIS may seem to someone who knows me and my poor grasp of math, I have become the poker-night cashier, responsible for selling players chips, taking the money for the house, and cashing folks out as they leave or at the end of the night. I am actually quite good at this, and I have developed a solid reputation of trust as a result. Part of this is because I always cash myself out last, with the understanding that if there is any unexplained discrepancy, I will make it good out of my own pocket. It shows the players I have a personal stake in making sure everyone gets a fair count of chips and/or cash.

One night, however, when I left early, and the host had to manage the cash box himself, it came up short. As a result, he decided to mark down any incoming cash for buy-ins. I had no problem with this — in fact, after a temporary miscount at my place one night (I miscounted one player's chips, which resulted in his getting an extra $20), I had thought of doing it too. So the next time we got together, I tallied the chip sales and the $5 we all kick in to the host to cover beer, chips, etc. The box counted down correctly to the last cent. Granted, having a big list of repeat buy-ins and the fins going to the house was not going to look good if the local constabulary decided to pay a visit, but it wasn't gonna tell them much more than the $1,000 or so in the box would. (Maybe we should invest in a casino drop box?)

Last game, I arrived after the first group of players started. When I went to buy chips (a measure of their trust was that I was trusted to do this on my own), I noted that the host had listed a name next to each buy-in. Interesting. I recorded my own name and amount, reflexively counted the money already in the box, and noticed a difference. Because of the names, I realized the host had omitted a buy-in, so I added the name and the amounts matched exactly. Useful.

So when I was called upon to take care of new players and the inevitable string of rebuys for busted-out folks, I continued to note the names. It was a busy night, and I eventually filled one side of the pad. At that point, I thought to take a look at the names themselves, and realized the importance of the list. I could make notes on why names were recurring — either due to getting screwed by the Poker Gods on all-in confrontations, or playing way too many hands — and use this information to guide my own play.

It also made me realize how easily some of the wealthier players lose track of how often they reload. One guy, a stock trader with boatloads of cash whose maniacal betting alternately costs or wins him four or five buy-ins per night, mentioned casually when he handed me a $50 for a new stack of chips that he was in for $170 so far. I knew before I looked at the list that he was low, even with the Grant in my hand. He disbelieved my revised estimate of $215 until I totaled the numbers next to the five instances of his name on the list and read the result to him. Sharp enough to contemplate the details of the next day's market trades, as he has said after making big bets to scare potential callers with an air of nonchalance, yet not able to track sums of cash that, apparently, are insignificant to him. Not a problem from which I currently suffer, alas.

I don't know if the host continued the list after I left, but I would love to see one for an entire night, especially when we have two tables of players. It would help me steer clear of the folks who only appear once and couple this with skill, or bet into those who rebuy six or seven times with greater confidence. As poker author Roy West noted, "There is no substitute for knowledge of your opponents!" And in war, there is no weapon like information.

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