Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
There are two major factions among winning gamblers: the hustlers and the non-hustlers. I’m proud to be basically a non-hustler. Hustlers feel joy in conning unsuspecting victims. They build a bet out of trust, then win it through treachery. I don’t like that.
In poker, most great players represent their skills accurately. Sometimes the more you brag about your skills, the more unsophisticated players choose to challenge you. That’s the beauty of poker. It’s the illusion that you can beat anybody, because luck pays such an important part in the short run, that makes poker players put their money at risk unwisely. And they’re right, too. Even an average player has a shot against a world champion on any given day. Over the long run, the champion will prevail — but poker profit often takes time.
My feelings against hustling solidified at the age of 14. An older friend, Lester, cornered me one day and flashed thirty or forty dollars. That was a lot of money in the eyes of kids like me. Lester explained that he’d won the money in his dad’s poker game last night. Then he said he’d make a bet with me, because he wanted to “share my good luck with a friend.”
He continued to flash that cash, and although I should have been leery, I was hooked. “I’ve tried this with six friends already and they all won,” he told me. I started to ask which friends, but he just rambled on.
“I’ll try to guess if a card is red or black,” Lester said. “You shuffle the deck of 52 cards and we’ll turn them over one by one. First I’ll guess the color. If I get at least half of them right — at least 26 of the 52 — you pay me $2. But if I get 25 or less right, I’ll pay you $20.”
Those sounded like mighty good odds to me. After all, there are 26 red and 26 black cards in a traditional deck. So I shuffled to his satisfaction and we began to play. Before I turned over the first card, he predicted, “Red.” It was black. Next he chose red again, but again it was black. My hopes were high. I was ahead two to nothing.
Lester continued to pick red until I finally asked, “Aren’t you ever going to guess anything except red?”
“Nope,” he said.
And then I realized I’d been had. He ended up picking red every time and finished with exactly 26 correct guesses. He slapped me on the back and said, “I read about that one in a book. It’s a great hustle.”
I paid Lester, but I didn’t feel good about it. To this day, I’ve never felt comfortable about hustling — or being hustled. Sometimes a really clever gag bet is OK, but hustling as a life style isn’t for me.
My poker reputation is build on being a quality player and letting every one know it. Opponents will play anyway, just for the adventure. And that’s as it should be.
Personally, I’ve always preferred a fair challenge. You can spend a lot of time seeking suckers and ultimately win, but you won’t experience the same pride of victory that comes from winning when you’ve represented your skills accurately.
I guess you have to decide for yourself whether you want to live the life of a hustler. I don’t. — DB