Renaissance Man or Dilettante Wastrel?

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003, 2:46 pm

Iggy posted a really interesting site on his blog yesterday about poker player Andy Bloch. Back in 1997 a gentleman named Tom Sims “sweated” Bloch as he played the main event in the World Series. Sims sat behind Bloch and recorded every hand that was played, including Bloch’s hole cards, and seeing how Bloch played (and was played back) provided fantastic insight about how no-limit Hold-Em is played at that level.

And what did I learn? That aggression–raw, feral, bloodlusty aggression– must be a primary component of your poker personality. Reading thru the hand histories I was amazed how often Bloch stole (or tried to steal) the blinds, or how often he made re-raises to defend his blinds. When everyone at the table is a predator, aggression ultimately decides who transforms into the prey. Waiting patiently for big hands to come your way is a sure way to get blinded down to the felt. You have to steal, you have to attack, you have to strip precious chips from those who lack the heart to lock horns.

I think that’s my biggest weakness, or at least it’s the weakness I perceive in myself. I don’t know how I would react in a tournament, when my money is already paid and I’m playing for chips and position, not for actual dollars. To be sure, you want to hang around and win the money, but tossing $15K worth of chips in the pot is different that $15K of your own money. In a tournament you’re constantly fighting for survival, and as we all know survival goes to the fittest. You can’t be afraid. You have to fight. You have to steal. You have to be aggressive.

You also need to have a good blood supply to your buttocks, ’cause you’re gonna be sitting for a long, long time. Bloch played something like 800 hands in two days before he was knocked out, and that’s A LOT of sitting. You have to avoid what Bloch called “WSOP Tilt”, when guys just go nuts because of the pressure and go all-in every hand until they run into aces.

Reading this really made me appreciate how remarkable Chris Moneymaker’s win truly was. Some critics have said that he was just lucky, that he caught a few big hands and outdrew his opponents when he got caught. Bullshit. First of all, ESPN’s coverage was about 6 hours long in total, which is about 1/10th of the World Series’s actual length. Moneymaker had to endure 60 hours of intense competition, and on any hand he might have been lured to his ultimate destruction. Did he get lucky? Sure, every champion gets lucky, you almost have to. Moneymaker had pocket 8s to Humberto Brenes’ aces and sucked an 8 on the turn, and that was bigtime lucky. But that was one hand out of literally thousands, and Moneymaker didn’t get lucky on all of them.

What’s even more amazing is that Moneymaker, in his first live tournament, knew the language of aggression that’s spoken at the table. When a shark like Johnny Chan (Johnny Fucking CHAN) bets at you and you have the wherewithal to re-raise him, you’re proving you truly know how the game is played. And it can’t be a one-time move (as it was in the movie Rounders). It happens day after day, hand after hand, bet after bet. When Bloch played in 1997 he couldn’t decide whether to play or fly back to Boston to study for an exam he had at Harvard Law School. At first I thought he chose to play in order to avoid the stress of tests and studying. While playing poker is certainly a lot of fun, I wonder if Bloch thought going home to Harvard was the easy way out. Sitting down for the World Series is undoubtedly more stressful than an exam on torts.

I rooted for Andy Bloch when he made the final table at Foxwoods and, uh, the other one he made. Bellagio? No…San Fransisco? I’ll think of it. Anyway, I was pulling for him because, like me, he has multiple degrees but isn’t using them to make a living. True, Andy is making big bucks at the table, and I’m in professional limbo, but I could at least identify. And while a writing degree from Penn State and an MBA from Pitt don’t exactly equate to 2 degrees in electrical engineering from MIT and a law degree from Harvard (ooh, Harvard, la-de-da), I too am overeducated and can appreciate what might make a guy with an advanced EE degree decide that law school sounds good, and professional gambling good after that.

I do wonder if Andy Bloch is truly fulfilling his potential to help society. I mean, here’s a guy who obviously has some heavy-duty brainpower. Is he inventing quantum computers or arguing a freedom of speech case before the Supreme Court? No, he’s sitting at a table in Foxwoods casino trying to decide if the slob across the felt really has the KQ to make the nut straight.

Now, this is a capitalistic country, and Andy is obviously doing pretty well playing poker. And to we really need more scientists coming up with more and more advanced ways of downloading pornography? For God’s sake, we don’t need any more lawyers. And this country certainly needs more poker players. The thing is, we don’t need any more GOOD poker players. We need more fish to school at PartyPoker and the local card club, not world-class players caving in our collective heads with brutal re-raises.

So I’m hoping that Bloch gets sick of poker and turns his attention to a field where I can profit from his talents but not potentially be victimized by him. Wonder if opening a microbrewry has ever appealed to him.

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