Friday, May 18, 2007

Poker Cheats 


Damn, I'm lucky. My main man, Johnny Hughes, sent me a stellar essay about poker and cheating specifically for you, gentle reader, that should provide some perspective.



Psychological research tells us we are predisposed to project out ethics on others. That means that if you are highly ethical, we expect others will be. Around gambling, that makes you a king-size chump and an all-day sucker. The recurring discussion of cheating on the Internet convinces me that the newer generation of gamblers are way too inclined to be gullible. The consensus of new poker player opinion seems to be that they wish everyone would be honest, like them. If wishes were horses, the beggars could bet.

Since Iggy reaches a discrete, learned audience that I can count on to keep my shared secrets in confidence, I will now discuss cheating. How many of the old-time gamblers cheated? That depends on what you call cheating. Many played partners. That upped your edge. Amarillo Slim, Sailor Roberts, and Doyle Brunson played out of the same bankroll for years and in the same game. So what?

Gamblers made moves at the table that were angles or not exactly allowed these days. Bill Smith was the World Champ of 1985. In the early days, he might hold out a card if he was drunk. Once J.C. stabbed him through the hand with an ice pick for that. I was in a pot with Bill once and the board showed five spades. He showed me the trey of spades and I threw my cards away. There was not a spade lower than a three on the board. I wouldn't get angry about a deal like that because I should have been rubbing my eyes.

Those young poker players were discussing Johnny Moss on a forum the other day. Some were indignant that he was not a fine role model. Poker players of that day were outlaws first, gamblers second, and poker players third. We were often arrested by all types of law enforcement for the simple card game you guys take for granted.

Cheating is rare in live games around professional gamblers. I wrote an article in this month's Bluff Magazine about catching Titanic Thompson's son cheating. Usually when a pro sees cheating, he does nothing except the old heel and toe out of there. Some of the most common cheating is in home games or college games. People short the pot, kill a few cards on the bottom of the deck, signal partners.

Now I am writing special for Iggy and his fuzzy-headed, idealistic, silver-lining devotees.

Big Rock Candy Mountain folks. Regardless of your complicated views of human nature, folks will cheat if they get the chance. Anybody you can cheat, I can beat on the square. I don't cheat for several reasons none remotely connected to ethics. A gambler's reputation is a tool of his trade. You word is your greatest asset. It is good business to be honest. When I first started running my own pot cut poker games, in high school, I realized the reputation of my spread was a major business asset.

In high school, this big football hero was marking the cards by biting them. I challenged him. That black eye did not go away for months. I met a guy in college who was very good at holding out. This is especially dangerous and they can do their moves on anybody's deal. He ended up barred around town.

Once a good friend and I checked out all the decks of cards at the Texas Tech Student Union. We'd check out a few decks at a time and mark them with a light blue or red daub. This was a laborious task. When we finished and checked them back in, we tried it out playing each other but we couldn't see the faint marks. We gave it the old college try.

James "Tennessee Longoodie" Roy was one of the top road gamblers for decades. His picture is in Doyle's SuperSystem Book at the first two world series. He was one fine hold 'em player but he'd shoot an angle like the best of them. One time Longoodie and I were in a four handed game with two suckers. We threw in together, partners. We were ducking each other to get a go at the live ones. It was just getting daylight and the game had gone on eighteen hours. The live ones had been nipping and were drunk and really tired. We figured one of us would get them pretty quick.

Now a pot a show horse couldn't jump over comes up between the two live ones with me and Goodie on the sidelines. It looks like one of them is about to bust the other one and break up the game. We played with paper currency. When a game had gone on that long, there were big stacks of money with lots of ones, five, twenties. Goodie was dealing and they got all their money in right after the flop. They were both drawing and they stood up to see the last two cards. They guy that had a little money left stuck it in his pocket so we knew the game was all over. Both guys missed their hands and thought they had lost the pot. They both put on their coats and left. The pot was just sitting there in the middle of the table. We were playing in this old, whore-house, motel. Me and Goodie were peeking out the window at these two guys who were talking outside. Finally, they got in separate cars and left. Me and Goodie cut up that pot like a boarding house pie. What would you have done, Iggy? Huh??

The culture and behavior standards of poker have changed. It's still an outlaw proposition in the Lone Star State. If there's a way to cheat, folks will find it. I'd bet my case dough there are little three-way teams on free long distance destroying the Internet games and tournaments. Tell me there are not. Hey, Iggy?

Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.

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