Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
How did poker become such an important part of my life? Sometimes I think back and wonder why I turned out this way. I’m trying to remember, and in today’s self-interview, I’ll ask myself some questions about that.
Exploring my poker past might not fascinate you the way it does me. If that’s the case, I apologize for this column.
I estimate that there are almost 3,000 meaningful events that could be remembered, bringing me to where I am today. So far, I’ve only actually succeeded in remembering about one hundred. Maybe examining a few of those will be interesting to somebody besides me. Let’s find out.
Question 1: Why did you get involved in playing poker seriously?
It started with my youthful resentment of labor unions. I was 19 or 20 years old. At that age, I played a little poker, but pretty much stuck to the tight and boring method of beating opponents who entered too many pots. There wasn’t a great deal of finesse to my game, and I hadn’t analyzed poker yet.
The most sophisticated thing I did back then was use psychology to make opponents believe I was playing looser than I was. This turns out to be a key technique that I still teach today. But, I’m straying from the question.
I wanted to be a writer. I was kind of a prodigy. In the eighth grade, some of my short stories and poems were used for class discussions. Same in high school. A few teachers speculated that I would be the next great American writer. Keep in mind that I’m talking about creative writing, not the type you’re reading now. Back then, I spent a lot of time getting the rhythm of the words just right.
So in 1964, I mailed out a short story to the third-leading men’s magazine of that time, called Escapade. Mine wasn’t typical men’s magazine fare. It was a satire called “Civilization.”
$250 reward. [NOTE: Reward no longer valid. Copies located.]
If you collect or have access to old magazines, I’m offering $250 for a copy of the Escapade magazine in which my short story Civilization appeared.
The issue date is unknown, but it was either late 1964 or early 1965, I think. The payment will go to the first person who can supply a copy in good condition.
I had copies, but they were misplaced decades ago.
It was accepted – as was a poem I submitted to another publication about that time. They tell me it’s unusual to never have received a rejection slip from a publisher. But, after that, I never gave it a chance to happen. I quit creating.
Why? Because I wanted to write a screenplay and my visit to the local Writer’s Guild brought bad news. I would have to join a union to write movies. Movies are an art form, I argued, reflecting all types of viewpoints. One of those might conceivably be hatred of unions. While I wasn’t personally intending to create such a script, others might be. Were they saying that a person had to join unions in order to create art opposing them?
They said yes. And, demonstrating the stubbornness and rigid idealism that sometimes accompanies youth, I walked away and never returned. No attempts to write great movies, no books. Dream abandoned. I’ll show those unions how long I can hold my breath. That type of thing.
Settled on poker
What I might have been never was. I decided to channel something else. I guess it could have been anything, but I settled on poker.
I walked through my conservative phases and my liberal phases and back again. Today, I’m more of a libertarian than anything else – resenting unnecessary government control over anything – especially poker. But I never wavered in my resentment of unions, because they prevented me from sharing myself with others. Looking back, that was irrational, but I’m sharing it nonetheless.
That’s how poker happened for me.
Question 2: Can that story teach us anything about poker?
Yes. It teaches us that trying to get even is counterproductive. In my young mind, I perceived that I was doing the ethical thing by taking a stand against a grave injustice. Players do this often in poker, by targeting for revenge an opponent who bluffed them.
But it no more matters whom you win money from in poker than it matters which sources account for most of your success in life, as you follow your chosen path. Assuming you’re going to act honorably, you should choose the tactics that are most likely to succeed. It doesn’t matter what personal satisfaction you gain from conquering people along the way. Happiness matters, but revenge doesn’t.
It’s perfectly fine to lose some skirmishes. Each hand you’re dealt in poker and each confrontation dictates decisions that should be made on their own merits.
Same in life. I could have played by the rules and later sought to improve them. I didn’t, and it changed the direction of my life. Instead of pursuing my dream of being a great writer, I turned to poker and that became my dream. Sometimes, I’m glad I did that, but often I remember what might have been.
Question 3: Do you remember any big disappointments about poker?
Sure. I remember being cheated often. I now realize that my policy of staying in a game unless I could positively prove cheating was ridiculous.
I have an obligation to avoid games I suspect aren’t honest. Why? It’s because I’m pretty well known for my work on behalf of poker integrity and my presence in potentially dishonest games could be taken as an endorsement, causing other honest players to join in and lose money.
One of my biggest disappointments is linked to my biggest personal success. That would be Orac (Caro spelled backwards). It was an artificially intelligent computer poker player I programmed in the early 1980s. It got positive publicity in both computer and science magazines. It played on ABC television on Ripley’s Believe it or Not? in a $500,000 winner-take-all match.
You might think my disappointment is that it lost, being clearly unlucky for everyone to see, but that isn’t what bothers me most. My disappointment centers on a front-page article that appeared the day after it played three matches against world champions at the World Series of Poker in 1984. (By the way, it won one match and lost another with the best hand.) The article was headlined something like, “The biggest fiasco in the history of the World Series of Poker.”
The writer for the Las Vegas Sun was in a lounge at the Horseshoe, where a friend of mine heard him relating that he hated computers. Apparently the discussion centered on the fact that the Sun was demanding that writers submit stories from computer terminals, instead of using typewriters.
Perhaps the front-page account was tainted by these feelings. In contrast, I was feeling euphoric about how well Orac played until reading that account the next day.
I could list over 100 things that have deeply disappointed me about poker, but this is a column, not a book.
Question 4: So much for disappointments. Any successes you can report?
There are 2,419 of those that suddenly come to mind. Where should I start? Never mind – out of space. — MC