Wiesenberg (s104 poker): Sophie complains

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 complains about the kvetchers

Oy, Dollink,” began my Aunt Sophie. “Why do so many card players kvetch?”

“Why do card players complain?” I echoed. “Didn’t we discuss this a few years ago.”

We were in a booth of the coffee shop of the Anaheim Club next to the one-way-mirrored wall that looked out onto the cardroom floor. We could see all the action, but all the players could see was a big mirror. The waitress arrived with my blueberry cheesecake and a latte, a piece of apple pie for Sophie, and a pot of hot water for tea. She placed a cup with a Lipton’s teabag in front of Sophie and a cup with an Earl Grey teabag for Sara. Sara was buried in an advanced psychology text that had to be read for one of the courses she was taking for her master’s. She would have no speaking role in this episode.

“Yah,” she went on. “You told me about three players, all of them with special problems. Crying Jake is a born liar. Christmas Alf has a persecution complex. And Dr. Phil is an idiot with no life. But why so many others I want to know. Look out there. I can point out at least one kvetcher at every table.”

Aren’t good players

I sprinkled shaved chocolate on the latte. “Yes,” I sighed, “there’s something about poker that seems to bring that out in people. I think the reasons are complicated. To my mind, the main problem is that most people are not good players. They’re losers overall and it’s directly due to their poor play. But many don’t want to admit that to themselves. Otherwise, they’d have to quit playing. So what else is to blame for their losing? Bad luck. The dealer. In blackjack, they can blame the poor play of the guy that hit 16 and caught the king that would have bust the dealer, but instead the dealer caught a little card and made 21. They can’t do that in poker, but they certainly can say they lose because of their bad luck. And to reinforce that, they have to complain out loud about that bad luck to anyone who will listen.”

“Uh huh,” she assented. “Last time I played in the $9-$18 hold’em, this guy next to me told me how he the last 10 times he had flopped a flush draw not one did he make. And he gets a lot more flush draws than most people because he plays any two suited cards no matter what the betting before the flop.”

“Exactly,” I said. “So he’s a big loser, and clearly part of it is playing suited cards every hand. He probably also plays most connectors, and of course every pair, no matter how small and how many bets.”

“Right,” Sophie agreed.


“So,” I continued, “he doesn’t want to admit that he plays badly. And he doesn’t want to draw attention to how many hands he plays that he shouldn’t. Of course, there are times to play those hands, but those times aren’t 100 percent of the time, particularly in raised pots. However, it usually is a good play to continue when you flop a flush draw, so he draws attention to that part of it for his complaining. Thus he justifies his bad play in his mind and blames his losses on his bad luck.”

Sophie poured more hot water into her cup and had another forkful of pie. “Any other reasons?” she demanded. “That can’t be all.”


“Oh, many,” I responded. “Some players have inferiority complexes, but it’s not socially acceptable to complain in most social situations. People don’t want to hear it. In cardrooms, but, because money is involved, even though most people still don’t want to hear it, they at least let complainers get away with indiscriminate caviling. I used to play with a world-renowned stress psychologist. He was Mr. Nice Guy all the time in the lab he ran and in most social situations. But I think he was under a lot of pressure on the job and had a lot of insecurities that he had to let out, because it wasn’t natural for him to be pleasant all the time. So he played cards deliberately in such a way that he would lose because that would allow him to complain and yell at the dealers and his opponents. In fact, that was his reason for playing cards, so that he could be a bad guy and let out all the anger he kept bottled up. He would never admit it, but he hated to win because then he had no excuse for complaining. I think other players act similarly.”

“Another piece cake maybe you’ll have?” inquired Sophie as I had the last bite. She has been trying to overstuff me for decades. It didn’t work when I lived in her home and was a finicky eater and it doesn’t work now that I try to eat sensibly.

“No, thank you, Aunt Sophie,” I returned. “That was delicious, but it’s enough. I will, however, have another excellent latte. They use really good coffee here. I think they import it specially from Peru. None of this restaurant grade stuff that you get at some of the other cardrooms, even the ones with good restaurants.”

“Any other reason people complain?” she prompted.


“I can think of at least one more,” I offered. “It, too, falls into the category of needing justification for one’s actions. And this is a big one. I think most players subconsciously want to lose. They feel guilty about something — being trapped in a miserable marriage, cheating on their spouses or their taxes, not working at the job that allows them to exercise their full capabilities, or perhaps being overpaid for doing a mediocre job — and need to punish themselves. Losing at poker is more acceptable socially than self-flagellation and less permanent than suicide. But they can’t admit this to themselves. So they have to blame their losing on something, and the way to do that is to complain about something other than the reasons they lose. It’s sort of like a magician’s misdirection, who makes you look at one thing while doing another that you don’t see unless you know to look for it.”

“Uh huh,” put in Aunt Sophie. “Lots of reasons. All complicated.”

“Yes,” I observed, “people are complicated.”

“Yah,” Sophie ventured, “so maybe a psychologist you should have been like Sara is studying instead of a poker player.”

Next: 105 Sophie traps a trapper


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