Wiesenberg (s057 pan): Sophie asks about booze

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money..

Michael Wiesenberg index.

Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie asks about booze

“Dollink,” said my Aunt Sophie, “what do you think about drinking and gambling?” She poured me a Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, dark brown liquid with a creamy head.

We were watching the ducks in the large artificial pond that lay between the balcony of my first-floor apartment and the club that housed steam room, sauna, Nautilus room, game rooms, a formal ballroom, and a small bar for more intimate gatherings.

“Drinking and gambling?” I echoed. “I love them. Both of them. Nothing I’d rather do more.”

An amorous pair of honkers slowly ambled up the stream that entered one end of the pond, to a small man-made, but realistic-looking nonetheless, waterfall.

Drinking and gambling

Aunt Sophie poured herself a Cronenburg Lite, and sighed. “No, no, Tsatskeleh,” she laughed, “that’s not exactly what I mean, and you know it, of that I’m sure. What I mean is drinking at the same time as gambling.”

“Depends on what kind of gambling,” I responded, “doesn’t it? And on who’s doing the gambling.”

“Oy,” she chided, “such a stickler for accuracy you are. I mean what about drinking while playing cards?” She dropped a piece of her poppyseed cake over the side of the balcony, which failed to interest a duck that was engaged in removing snails from their hiding places beneath the ivy at the base of my building. Or maybe the cake was just too rich for these overfed fowl.

“Again,” I ventured, “it depends on who does the drinking. Your recreational poker players, they love to drink while playing. The two go together in their minds. Both are a form of relaxation. And they don’t mind paying for the relaxation by losing a few dollars at the tables. They rationalize that they’d spend that much going out to dinner and the movies. Of course, it’s just rationalization, and most of them end up losing far more playing cards than any night on the town. On the other hand, of course, there’s no chance they’d ever get lucky at La Choufleur or while watching the latest Sybil Danning epic and come home with more money than they left the house with, unless maybe they found a century note on the floor. For them, drinking doesn’t make a lot of difference. They’re mostly going to lose all their money whether or not they drink.”

“Yes, yes,” she agreed. “Finally the idea you’re getting of what I’m asking. And it’s not the losers to whom I’m referring to. I mean the players who seem to win most of the time, or at least play like they want to. Some of them drink while they’re playing. What about that?”


“Well,” I temporized, “maybe they want to relax a bit.”

“Relax, schmelax,” she snorted. “A bit of social drinking I’m not talking. A Glenlivet this one player always orders, and always after he’s been there exactly one hour. And from that point, he has two or three per hour.”

“How does it affect his play?” I queried.

“Not much,” she replied, “as long as he’s winning. But let him lose a pot, oy, then he starts chasing, and making too many bluffs.”

“Mm hmm,” I interpolated, “it does affect his play, and there you have your answer.”

“Answer?” she demanded. “Now I’m not sure what the question was, but an answer to it that doesn’t seem like. I want to know what you think about a good player drinking while playing cards.”

Judgment’s affected

“Actually,” I suggested, “I did answer. Drinking affects a good player’s play. It doesn’t make much difference for the losers, because they’re going to lose anyway. But it does make a difference for the good players. It affects their judgment. They can’t help but make poorer decisions when their senses are clouded by alcohol. Just like driving and drinking. Some people insist they drive just as well after they’ve had a couple of drinks, but we all know that isn’t true. Their reactions are affected. Their judgment is affected. They might catch the tail end of a yellow light after a couple of drinks when at other times they’d stop. Okay, if they catch the light too late, they just might get into an accident. Judgment’s affected adversely. Same thing when playing cards. In many critical decisions you have to have all your wits about you. A couple of wrong decisions can make a great difference on your bottom line at the end of the game.”

“But this guy I was mentioning,” she put in, “he wins even with the chasing and bluffs.”

“Actually,” I offered, “I find that difficult to believe. However, I’ll grant the possibility. He must play a really sound game all the time, and can still operate reasonably on automatic pilot. But I’m certain he’d win a lot more if he didn’t drink. Possibly you just notice him making a few out-of-line plays, but he doesn’t make enough of them to seriously eat into his profits. Nonetheless, if he didn’t drink, likely he wouldn’t make any bad plays, and would win even more. And for those players who are just barely able to stay ahead of the game, drinking while playing is even more of a disaster.”

“And pan?” she demanded.

“Just as true for pan,” I returned. “Pan requires a lot of careful decisions. The drunker you are, the harder to think clearly. The actual play of the hand is mostly automatic, but whether or not to play is a critical decision. Give a man or woman a little booze, and those marginal hands start looking attractive. That’s enough to turn a winner into a loser.”

“Even a beer, or a bit of wine?” she wondered.

“Even,” I came back with. “Save the drink for when you’re done playing. If you win, you can celebrate. If you lose, you can drown your sorrows. Just make sure someone else is driving. Or have the drink when you get home. One drink affects your judgment. More so in some individuals than others, but it affects everyone. You don’t want even the slightest reduction in your abilities, your powers of observation, your sharpness. You may have noticed that when you get into the top ranks of poker playing, the so-called ‘world class’ players, they rarely drink at the tables. Look at the photos from the World Series of Poker and the other top competitions. What do most of the players have in those green bottles on the table in front of them? Mineral water. No booze. Oh yeah, I know that one or two of them drink, but the percentage there is far smaller than among your recreational players.”

“Ah hah,” Aunt Sophie remarked. “I always wondered what was in those little green bottles.”

“It’s not booze,” I stated. “And, by the way, all of this applies just as much to drugs. Marijuana dulls the senses even more than alcohol, and it’s more insidious, because the players usually don’t act drunk. Maybe a little silly, but not the same effects as booze. Except when they try to play. They might think they’re playing like champs, but they’re not. And cocaine is even worse. The wired player becomes impatient, acts too hastily. Bad decisions result. Some players use coke for staying power in those marathon sessions. Their bodies are wide awake, but their brains are numb. Now, I know you don’t do drugs, at least not that kind, but as long as you asked about alcohol, I thought I’d say something about the other drugs. And don’t let anyone kid you. Alcohol is a drug just like any other. The only difference is it’s legal.”

Next: 058 Sophie and the bay area play


4 thoughts on “Wiesenberg (s057 pan): Sophie asks about booze”

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  1. I’ve found that the use of alcohol has actually had an extremely positive impact on my personal home-game profits. I always make sure the fridge is fully stocked with cold cylinders of ‘Tilt Juice’ before the crew arrives, and a ‘help yourself, fridge is full’ policy is always in effect. The money I’ve spent on ‘free beer’ has multiplied itself right back into my chip stack over time.

  2. Hey, Bill,

    Thanks for your cogent feedback. You write well and humorously.

    My empirical data are necessarily even less conclusive than yours, because I played drunk only once and you can’t conclude much from a sample of one. However, as anecdotal evidence, it supports my thesis. That was the single worst session I ever had.

    In my opinion, and this is bolstered by what I have observed of opponents whom I could see were drunk, alcohol slows reactions and clouds judgment, all of which adversely affects one’s playing ability. Alcohol also hides reason and releases inhibitions, both of which lead one to the false conclusion that one is playing better than one actually is. I’ve observed the phenomenon online, also. Otherwise winning players playing horribly and losing a ton and admitting — often proudly — that they’re high. Tight-aggressive players become loose-aggressive, a dangerous switch — both for themselves and for their opponents. They might win a lot, but when the opponents catch on, they’ll mostly lose a bundle.

  3. Firstly, my replying is probably a mistake because I have been drinking while exploring this website.

    Secondly, in general terms I agree that drinking and poker … heck, drinking and … well, just about any other combination except for drinking and drinking are usually bad combinations.

    Having said that, I will also say that on rare occasions I have experimented with alcohol and poker. My finding are as follows:

    Starting out, a mild buzz opens up my hand range and increases my aggression factor slightly. With this “drunk gear” of my playing style, I actually can turn a losing streak around (probably more from the changing of playing styles and my opponents not adjusting more than the alcohol in my system, but my empirical data is inclusive on this pint, er, rather point).

    However, if I try to maintain the above “drunk gear,” I have found it difficult to remain at that mildly buzzed level.

    Slowing my drinking sobers me up and I start to think “Oh, my God, was I drinking while playing?!? It’s time to beat an embarrassed retreat.”

    Or (proving what you said above), I drink more and the opening up of hand ranges and increasing of aggressive betting soon becomes “let’s see if 72 off-suit can hit the brad, … wait, whose Brad? and why would I want to hit him?” and “ah, 72 didn’t hit! Wow, I better buff, … er bluff with this had.” And, boy, do I get had.

    And now that I’ve sobered up a bit while typing this, I will beat an embarrassed retreat.

    1. Hi, Bill —

      I’ll leave if to Michael Wiesenberg to possibly reply to this one.

      Meanwhile, thanks for making your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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