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.
Over 20 years ago, I wrote: “Poker is a game of people. If you remember that, you can bounce your opponents around like tumbleweeds in Texas. If you forget, Lord have mercy on your soul.”
You’ve got to know who people are at the moment they’re playing cards against you. And sometimes that’s different from who they were yesterday.
Along the road to Amarillo in 1961, my car dies. It’s the straightest, loneliest stretch of highway a man can imagine. And there isn’t even a cow in sight.
Then, amazingly, a brand new Cadillac pulls up besides me. “Need a ride?” smiles the driver. His name is Justin and he plays poker on the circuit. I’ve never been impressed with his much-too-conservative game. He’s a likeable, mellow, and modest kid. Actually, he isn’t modest at the moment.
In the passenger seat beside him is a beautiful young woman he introduces as Caroline. His lavish cufflinks, fancy clothes, and the new Cadillac don’t match the demeanor of someone who had dressed shabbily and driven a beat-up car a week earlier. On the drive to Amarillo, he keeps bragging about his poker skills and how much he wins at poker.
Caroline blurts out that Justin had said he’d been teaching me to play. When she says this, Justin seems embarrassed, but hopes I’ll cover for him, so he can continue to impress his girlfriend.
But when he tries to change the subject by telling me he’d bluffed me three times last week, I decide not to play along. He isn’t a close friend and I see a chance to goad him into giving away money when we get to the poker game. Maybe this constitutes inappropriate psychological warfare against someone who has rescued me, but gamblers are gamblers.
Justin is obviously targeting me from the first deal. He brings $10,000 to the table, more than enough for this medium-limit game, and he flashes it for Caroline.
He begins to win, and Caroline, sitting behind him, keeps saying, “Oh, my! You’re the greatest!” and other such nonsense.
At the moment
When he tries to bluff me, I call immediately. I knew right away I was going to have to do it, even though I’d seldom seen Justin bluff previously. But this is the new Justin, not the Justin of yesterday. You’ve got to play the person the way they are at the moment; the historical person doesn’t matter at poker if you perceive a change. If it’s raining, use your umbrella. Thirty previous days of sunshine don’t change this advice.
I call immediately, rather than hesitating, because I want to unnerve him if I’m right about the bluff. I am right, and he explains to Caroline that I only would have called once in a million times.
I guess it’s twice in a million the next time I call his bluff minutes later. “Oh, my goodness,” cries Caroline, seeing so much of his money lost.
“Shut up!” Justin shouts, having lost all his composure, soon followed by all his chips.
He leaves in a huff and we never see him again. The lesson here is that I adapted to the new Justin. I’d seen him in his new Cadillac, pretending to be something he wasn’t usually. So, when we got to the poker table, I ignored everything I’d previously known about his tendencies.
And that’s how you play people in poker. If they change, you change. And there’s the profit. — DB