Wiesenberg (s087 poker): Sophie and the kvetchers

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 poker.

Michael Wiesenberg index.

Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie and the kvetchers

“Nu, tsatskeleh,” Aunt Sophie wondered, “why are there so many professional schreiers?”

“If by this,” I suggested, “you mean chronic crybabies in poker games, I can only wonder with you.”

We were having dinner in the Anaheim Club’s gourmet restaurant, Mickey’s, I after a tough day slaving over a hot hold’em table, she playing 20-40 lowball. The waiter was just clearing away our hors d’oeuvres, chopped chicken livers on sourdough rye, prior to presenting a palate-cleansing sorbet.


“Ya,” Aunt Sophie went on, “such a bunch of kvetchers I have hardly never seen. Crying Jake gets a one-card draw to a bicycle under the gun and pairs fours for the second time in half an hour. So the four he throws at the dealer and yells, ‘This is why I don’t raise when I’m drawing to this hand!’ It’s nice for me, of course, because I know one player I don’t have to worry about in case I want to bet a rough hand or bluff. It’s also nice when he doesn’t raise drawing to that hand when I’m in the pot also drawing because he saves me money when he has the best of it. And of course if he doesn’t slam the card he caught on the table and just quietly bets, I know I have to beat a hand. But, anyway, aside from that digressional, after the hand is over he starts complaining to anyone who will listen that he lost $6000 in the last month, as if he’s in a contest to see who can lose the most.”

“Ah, yes,” I laughed. “But, as you said, he’s his own worst enemy. Because he’s so predictable and gives away so much information, he loses more than he ought. It may be unpleasant to have him at the table, but you can count on him to supply a steady supply of money to your game, and that more than makes up for his sour demeanor.”

“Yah, of course,” she assented. “And then there’s Christmas Alf.”

“Christmas Alf?” I interrupted. “How did he get that name?”

The waiter unobtrusively cleared away the mango sorbets, so quietly that we could continue our conversation as if he were invisible.

“Nicknames,” she supplied, “usually I don’t know where they came from, but this one I do. Alf’s two front teeth are missing, from where I don’t know, and I can tell you not such a pleasant sight is it, but one day around the holidays about two years ago someone started whistling in our game a Christmas song and someone who didn’t recognize the tune asked what it was, and the whistler said, ‘Oh, that’s Alf’s theme song, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”’ And pretty soon everyone started saying, ‘What do you want for Christmas, Alf?’ And the name stuck.”

Double French Lamb Chops, accompanied by vodka-marinated green beans and roasted new potatoes appeared at my place. Rabbit Rillettes with sautéed flageolet beans and steamed rice manifest itself before Sophie.

“Did you know,” I interjected, “that rabbit is the other other white meat? At least, I read in the Grab Bag that rabbit is all white meat.”

Sad story

Aunt Sophie deigned not to respond, continuing instead with her diatribe. “Christmas Alf,” she offered, “seems always to expect to lose. He gets stuck a few hundred and doesn’t win any of the big pots he’s in, and since he’s next to me, me he’s gotta tell his sad story. ‘I’ve got to be the unluckiest guy alive,’ he says, after going all in on an eight-seven and getting beat by a two-card draw. ‘You win with a rough nine against two players, and I can’t beat a two-card draw.’ As if I cared.”

“Right,” I agreed. “It doesn’t matter. If you play better than the other players, you will win. Playing better is a matter of making good decisions. If more of your decisions are good than those of the others, you should win in the long run. In the short run, anything is possible. You can have short-term streaks in which everything works. You call raises and make what you draw to and win those big pots, sometimes several times in an evening. You can raise with your pat hands, and not get drawn out on. When that happens, you have a nice winning session. But you can also play correctly, and miss most of the hands you draw to, and have your pat hands get beaten more often than they stand up. But you know this. You don’t get upset about the inevitable losing sessions, knowing that in the long run you will have more wins than losses. You don’t get cocky about the just-as-inevitable losing sessions, knowing that short-term better-than-average luck is not what makes you a winning player.”

“Of course,” she concurred, “but still I wonder what makes so many complainers. Is it just in the lowball games?”


“Oh no,” I chuckled. “Just today when I was got up to take a walk around the building, Dr. Phil accosted me. He must have felt he could bend my ear because he knew me from 20 years ago in a no-limit club in Northern California. Anyway he was telling me how unlucky he is in the big games. He had played 3-6 hold’em at another club, and won $200. Then they called him for 6-12, and he won another $600. Now he’s in the 10-to-200 spread-limit game here, and already the $800 is gone. The owner of that other club, Sharky Grasponi, is in his game, and he tells me how Sharky is both lucky and good, and what a deadly combination that is. Dr. Phil, I think he’s a chiropractor, but I don’t know who would want him working on them because he’s a heavy smoker and always smells like an ashtray, anyway, he tells me how Sharky starts with ace-nine and beats ace-queen in a huge pot, and that’s typical because Sharky has been lucky as long as he has known him. He, Phil, on the other hand, starts with pocket aces and gets beat by two pair. Well, from what I remember of Dr. Phil, he loses because he’s such a lousy player, and you always know what he has. And he doesn’t force his opinions on innocent bystanders, like me. At the table he throws his cards, asks for a new setup, complains bitterly about his poor luck.”

We had been working on our meals while speaking. The waiter unobtrusively whisked away our empty plates, and returned with the dessert menu. I like a waiter that doesn’t hover, yet knows just when to remove finished plates. I don’t want to have a waiter interrupting me in the middle of a meal to ask, “How are we doing?” Makes me feel like coming back with, “That depends on how your are doing.” I certainly don’t ever want to eat at one of those places that start with the waiter crouching by my side and informing me that he’s Bruce and he’s going to be our server for tonight. The excellent Mickey’s waiter, whose name I did not know, waited silently until we had both seen the list, and I requested Cherries Jubilee for me and Banana Flambeau for Aunt Sophie.

“But why,” Aunt Sophie persisted, “do so many players seem to get so much joy out of complaining about how much they lose? They seem proud of it, and each tries to outdo the other.”

Bad luck

“Well,” I responded, “they can’t brag about winning. Players don’t want to blame losing on bad play, so they blame it on bad luck. I guess it’s like Mike Caro wrote about. They categorize their bad luck by how many hands they lose, and then it becomes a contest. Usually they’re lying, too. Caro wrote about the player in a draw poker game who claims to have missed the last 29 flush draws in a row. Never mind that the chance of that being the truth is only slightly better than 1 in 1000. The fellow is almost rooting against himself the next time he draws to a flush, because he wants to say he missed 30 times in a row. That may explain why Crying Jake keeps pointing out how he pairs, according to him, ‘every time’ he draws. And if he draws and makes a monster, don’t bother pointing out to him what he said. He will just dismiss it as an aberration. As for Christmas Alf, when he accuses you of being lucky in the same breath as bemoaning his own poor luck, don’t deny it. He’ll say something like, ‘I’m not lucky like you.’ Just say something like, ‘Isn’t it amazing? I can’t explain it. I’ve always been lucky.’ The more convinced he is that he’s a loser, the more he will play in ways to increase his losses; the more convinced he is that you are a winner, the more he will play in ways to increase your winnings. He’ll still play those two-card draws from early position, just because he has the joker, and he’ll complain when you raise. ‘Not you again,’ he’ll cry, but he’ll still call the raise. And he’ll still pass those eights, nines, tens, and even jacks after the draw and call if you bet, and when you show him the nuts, he’ll say, ‘I knew she made that hand.’ Just resist the urge to tell him, ‘So how come if you knew did you call?’”

Dessert came and went. We sat sated, sipping postprandial coffee. Life was good.

Note: There is no Aunt Sophie 088 in this series.
See Wiesenberg (s088): No entry (explanation)

Next: 089 Aunt Sophie learns about tells


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