Rolling your own poker winning streak


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.


Poker players don’t need to wait for an amazing run of good luck to brag. They can just tell everyone how many sessions they’ve won in a row. And they won’t need to lie or even exaggerate.

My memory returns to my Gardena days. Gardena is a suburb of Los Angeles that once billed itself proudly as the “Poker Capital of the World.” It still does, but there are two problems with that contention: (1) It isn’t; and (2) “Capital” is arguably misspelled* if used that way.

Picky points, right? The slogan was clearly valid in Gardena’s heyday. Heyday? I’m puzzled by the English language sometimes. At my web site, Poker1.com, I recently added this Mike Caro quote: “Before I go to hell in a hand basket, I’d at least like to know what one is.” I’ll tell you why clearly understood English matters to poker in a minute.

Gardena

Let’s get back to Gardena, from which today’s poker concept evolved. Every poker player should understand how Gardena used to be, because it spawned many of today’s greatest players. There were six licensed card clubs, each with exactly 35 tables, by city ordinance.

Each club had an assigned closing day each week, and this meant daily customers couldn’t become totally loyal to one establishment. Once a week, we’d choose other clubs to sample – and sometimes we’d prefer another one and move our business there for a while.

Today, two clubs remain – Larry Flynt’s Hustler, which was built where the demolished Eldorado once stood, and the Normandie. I never understood how Flynt ended up with that casino, being that I’m pretty sure my group of investors made a higher cash bid first, only to be rejected by the bankruptcy judge. But that’s another story for another day.

Here’s some Gardena strangeness. Until the mid-1980s, the only form of poker you could play was five-card draw. You could play it high or low. Both had a lot of action, but lowball drew more players. I mostly played high.

The list

The reason for draw poker was a misinterpretation of state law. Unlike most states, California chose not to simply outlaw gambling and then make exceptions. In the late 1800s, legislators scratched their heads, pondered for days and thought up a list of every form of gambling their primitive brains could remember.

They then turned to someone who could read and write to make a list of prohibited games. It was a pretty short list, actually, but it also included “banking and percentage games.” That meant the house couldn’t participate with an edge. Gambling among players themselves was limited to games not prohibited.

The only mention of poker on the prohibited list was “stud horse poker.” Say what? The word “stud” bluffed club owners out of offering anything but draw poker. In my mind, “stud horse poker” was just another term to place in the same file as “heyday” and “hand basket.”

Stud horse

It’s now widely believed (thanks to I. Nelson Rose’s research and others’) that “stud horse poker” was actually a casino game, not poker. Still, only draw poker and panguingue – a multiplayer form of rummy – existed in California’s legal cardrooms until about 1984.

What happened to poker in 1984? Huntington Park Casino happened. And I happened. By then there were bigger poker rooms around Los Angeles. Huntington Park wasn’t one of them, however. It was the last link in the profit chain and looking to uncouple and go its own way. It did that in 1983, when they asked me to testify before city council as an expert witness on behalf of hold ’em. I did. The city authorized hold ’em, and the rest is history.

It’s a bittersweet memory and a Pyrrhic victory. Some publications had cited me as the best draw poker player alive. Okay, so they were right. Unfortunately, I soon found myself to be the best at a game nobody played, as hold ’em and seven-stud took over.

The end of old Gardena

I think that event unofficially marked the end of old Gardena and its strangeness. Like no dealers. Players took turns dealing, and everything that’s popping into your head right now happened. Making a living as an honest player was tough, and I had to choose games carefully – which is probably why I write so much about table selection today. Cheating wasn’t the only obstacle. There were other annoyances, such as murder.

We began to think of ourselves as practicing the most dangerous profession on the planet. I was robbed at gun point twice, far from the record. And I was still alive, unlike some friends.

And the clubs closed for a few hours each day. That meant unsavory, non-players would gather along the rails surrounding the tables and count chips. Yum, yum! You’d get followed home.

Final hand

Management would announce when the final hand was approaching, and those last pots were monumentally large, as players desperate to get even flung chips with utter disregard for their worth. Some players made a living by only playing that last hour before club closing.

That concludes your poker history lesson for today. Your homework assignment is to sit down and chat with someone who played in old Gardena. You’re surrounded by them in most cardrooms. They each have a different story about poker’s most famous small city, years before our game found the spotlight.

Finally! We’ve reached the point where we can discuss today’s poker concept.

47 consecutive wins

I’m at the Monterey Club in old Gardena, about – oh, pick a year – 1981. I’ll call him Rudy. He proudly shows me his notebook listing something like 47 consecutive winning sessions. He’s either telling the truth or has balls like grapefruits, enabling him to attempt such a huge lie. Then I look at the numbers. I see scattered wins of $11, $24, $2, $19, and even three that were $1.

Obviously, you could roll your own winning streak by quitting when slightly ahead and continuing to play long hours when behind, hoping to quit as a small winner. But to manufacture such a streak, you’d tend to play a great deal of time in bad games when you’re losing and quit when you’re winning in good games, just to ink the victory on paper.

That was the dawn of my manufactured win streak theory. That’s the one stating that Rudy was losing money he should have won. He risked having the streak end with a single crushing defeat, and it did. That’s no way to build a poker bankroll.

Here’s what you need to know. Winning or losing streaks are irrelevant to you poker success. Your history continues with the next deal, whether it’s played today or tomorrow.

The trick is to put in as many hours as you can under favorable conditions, often indicated by the fact that you’re winning. You should consider quitting when conditions aren’t favorable, often indicated by the fact that you’re losing.

Don’t think about streaks at all; just think about profit. — MC

* Note: You can rightly contend that “Capital” is, in fact, the correct spelling, rather than “capitol.” Capitol would refer to an established site or the building or buildings in which poker were headquartered or played. Capital could correctly apply to Gardena, if it meant the city in general. That’s why you sometimes see “Capital of XYZ” and sometimes “Capitol of XYZ.” I’ll give the Gardena promoters credit. When I said, “Picky points, right?” the answer is right — too picky — and probably unfair. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

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  1. This is why I only play in tournaments. And you reminded me that I need to respond to something else I’ve read this week. Thanks!!!

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