Saturday, July 09, 2005

"The single greatest key to winning is knowing thy enemy - yourself."
Andy Glazer

It's days like today that I really miss Andy Glazer. He was the King of WSOP tourney reporting and I relished every lengthy report in my inbox. I'm not slighting my heroes, Pauly or Otis here, because I'm obviously a huge fan of theirs, not to mention they are kicking ass and taking names.

But I miss Andy all the same.

And so I bounced around this morning, catching up a bit on my reading (I should start writing the Mother of All Uber Posts tommorrow) and read about Phil Helmuth tilting and getting knocked out of The Big One last evening. Great stuff.

And then I remembered I had some old notes on noted poker authors discussing Phil's car wreck behavior at the poker tables and tilt factor. So let's time travel back to 2002, shall we?

This was after Phil was penalized (and subsequently disqualified) at the Bike tourney for kicking a door in.

Enjoy for now and I'll be back with a doozy.

First of all: Phil pleads his case. Commentary after.


From: AuthorAndy (authorandy@aol.com)
Subject: Phil Hellmuth "kicks" down door at Bicycle Casino

Hi Everyone, Andy Glazer here...

Phil Hellmuth is staying at my house and so is accessing RGP from my account. The words below are his:

Hi All, I'm in the poker news again...Tonight at the Bicycle Club casino in LA, with 8 tables left in the $500 buy-in Omaha eight or better event, I lost an average size pot, and left steaming for the break. I tried to kick open the glass door (like I've done a lot at the Horseshoe), but in my haste I kicked the wrong side of the door, and the bottom hinges of the door broke, leaving the door still attached by the top hinges only.

I did not karate kick the door. I did not try to kick the door off of it's hinges. I did try to kick the door open out of frustration, and I feel bad that I can't control my emotions better. I need to grow up and handle losing better.

I have not had a penalty since the 1997 World Series of Poker (perhaps I've deserved a few since then!). The tournament director, in association with the management at the Bike, decided to disqualify me from the tournament and ask me to leave the premises for the day. I had $2500 in chips, and, I'm in the points race. I argued my case with Denny, saying that I didn't intend to kick any door down, and that I've never been cited for something like this before, and I haven't had a single penalty since 1997. However, Denny and co. stuck to their guns.

When I drove back to Andy's place, I called to apologize to Denny and the Bike one more time.

I feel like an idiot at this point, knowing how things look, but believe me, I didn't try to kick the door down! Hopefully, someday soon I will learn to control my emotions better. Hopefully, someday soon the poker world will realize that I'm a good family man that "Just needs a little fixin" (as Amarillo Slim would say).

-Cheers, from an upset Phil Hellmuth Jr.

And no less than David Sklansky chimes in with his thoughts:

From: Dsklansky (dsklansky@aol.com)
Subject: Re: Phil Hellmuth "kicks" down door at Bicycle Casino

I believe a large part of the reason Phil does this stuff is because he simply does not realize the large luck factor in poker. (One reason is because he started his career with a "rush". The other is that he apparantly hasn't bothered to study basic statistics.) Thus when he loses, he attributes it either to bad playing on his part or to unfair, in some sense, bad beats. If either was true it would be a reason to be angry. But neither is. Perhaps Tom Weideman will explain further, to Phil and Mark Napolitano as well.

And so Mr. Weideman does give his two cents. Good insights here.

>Phil's a pretty smart fella - I don't think he needs a lecture in >the luck factor.

I know for a fact that you are mistaken. You may have missed the thread where Phil contended that his A game gives him twice the chance of winning tournaments as his B game. Impossible of course, except maybe in no limit holdem.

>There is only so much human beings can do to keep their emotions in
>check by using their intellect.

I believe there is more that can be done than you think, especially as regards to gambling. The main idea is to look at things EV wise where every bet is thought of as a small earn regardless of the outcome. All blackjack pros learn to think this way, since losing concentration after a bad beat is disastrous. In fact I have noticed that all poker pros who came from blackjack do very little steaming.

It may have seemed like I was saying that Phil had a better grasp of this than most people, but what I meant was that he isn't a total idiot about it, and as such I could do him no good lecturing about it. It has been my experience that people with Phil's knowledge of (and success at) the game are typically unwilling or unable to unlearn their current beliefs regarding the luck vs. skill element of poker.

I suspected this was the case all along, and it was confirmed for me when I took Daniel (and Doyle and Howard) to task on it and received a great deal of resistance. In fact, I was pretty sure that most of my posts on this matter were (and will be, if I should do so again in the future) tantamount to being "inside jokes" with the very few people that do have a reasonable grasp of the luck factor. What's funny is that I don't believe I fully "get it on a gut level" it either, but the difference between my instincts on this matter and those of most people I discuss it with is night-and-day.

So I don't think I will be changing my mind. And I still think you way overestimate how well someone can separate their emotions from their results by use of their intellect. Your blackjack example has a cause-and-effect problem - successful blackjack players are successful (in part) BECAUSE they are capable of detaching themselves. Blackjack play is a FILTER for this ability, not (much of) a training ground for it, as you seem to imply.

Please note that I believe this "view things as ev to stay off tilt when losing" skill can be learned to a small extent, particularly by people with scientific/mathematical bents to their nature. But I don't think trying to force such a scientific world-view upon someone so that they might be a bit better at acquiring this skill is going to be particularly fruitful.

Tom Weideman

And last, but certainly not least, Lou Krieger gives his take:

From: LouKrieger (loukrieger@aol.com)
Subject: Re: Phil Hellmuth "kicks" down door at Bicycle Casino

Looking at things in terms of EV is incredibly helpful because to do so means that one is taking a long term view of the game, and is not overly influenced by the immediacy of short-term situations.

But the essence of this, it appears to me, lies in the exercise of willpower and self control. It can be both very easy and incredibly difficult, simply because it is left to each of us to decide whether our locus of control will come from within, or whether we will allow external factors to drive our behavior.

When we see only the short run, and look to place the blame outside ouselves, our inclination is to kick in doors. When we take the longer view (using the EV perspective, as it were) we don't tilt and we take things in stride -- even if we wind up muttering that good, old RGP catchphrase, "...nice hand sir, well played" to ourselves, under our breath.

lou kreiger

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