Check-Raising The Devil
Saturday, 8 August 2009
I’m very much enjoying Mike Matusow’s book. It’s a proper poker autobiography, gritty and honest - or, at least, I assume he’s being honest. He certainly includes a lot of poker’s dark side, the disappointments and miseries, losses and addictions and grim days. It’s not a dull autobiography-by-numbers, not a strategy guide and not one of those cheery show-off poker books about driving Ferraris and sleeping with hot strippers (well, it is, but only during his drug-addicted phase and that all goes horribly wrong, which I’m always delighted to see since I never have that kind of fun myself.) A big reason why I’ve spent the last two years writing my own poker book is because there are too few like this around these days, truly honest books that talk about all angles of the game and the lifestyle. Now, just one month away from publication, I see that Mike Matusow has done one, it’s brilliant and FAR darker than my life ever got. Ah well. I can console myself with the fact that he needed two ghostwriters to help him, while I simply used 900 pots of tea and a lot of episodes of Cash In The Attic.
And there are annoying bits. Here’s a section I read today. He’s talking about Dave Colclough knocking Phil Hellmuth out of an Omaha high-low tournament at the 2000 World Series of Poker.
“Phil instantly went ballistic.
‘How could you not fold on the turn? You knew I had you beat when I made that bet! You called when you knew you were dead to two outs!’
Actually, Colclough had more than two cards that would improve his hand to a winner, but noone was going to interrupt Phil in full rant mode. It was a classic Hellmuth bust out. He calmed down quickly and walked back to the table to shake David’s hand. David totally dissed him and left Phil standing there empty-handed. [Andy] Glazer called it a 3.5 on the Hellmuth Richter Scale. But you have to understand that the losing moment in any poker tournament totally sucks. Anyone who tells you any different is a liar. To be a great player, you have to play with passion. With Phil and me, that passion sometimes boils over on a river suckout. It’s not an act. You play with passion, you lose with passion.”
Nope, sorry, don’t buy it. Of course it “sucks” to be knocked out. Of course you play with passion. But that absolutely doesn’t mean you have to “lose with passion”, shouting and screaming and having a big tantrum, any more than you have to “win with passion”, cheering and waving your fists in the disappointed opponent’s face. Play with passion; win and lose with grace. Get it quietly, lose it quietly. Nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly possible, with a bit of effort.
That applies to everything, of course, not just poker. You should do everything - everything - passionately, because if it’s not worth caring about then it’s not worth doing at all. But you have to take your wins and losses graciously, for the sake of the rest of the human race, never mind your own sanity. And yes it is “an act”, but that’s what social behaviour is all about. Sometimes it is “an act” to thank someone for a nice lunch rather than shouting, “That was hideous, I could barely keep it down, and by the way you look like a great fat elephant in that revolting smock”, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.
I’m very fond of Phil Hellmuth and a huge admirer of his incredible poker skills, but that sort of performance is just indulgent and stupid and I’m not surprised Dave didn’t want to shake his hand afterwards. If the pot had gone the other way, Dave Colclough would not have said a word.
My first thought on reading Matusow’s heroic defence of the “passionate” outburst was that it is perhaps a cultural clash; the British, with our stiff upper lips and our old “moody rule” (which was still in place in 2000, banning poker players in this country from trash talk and various other sorts of ungentlemanly behaviour), are just better trained and more instinctively inclined to behave graciously in these situations at the table. It was our good old Kipling, after all, who said that we must “meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”
But then it occurred to me that it was Ernest Hemingway who banged the drum for “grace under pressure”, and he was from Chicago.