It Must Suck Being David Sklansky

Thursday, February 24th, 2005, 11:02 am

I say this after watching the final few hands of the WPT “Poker By The Book” event. Sklansky is up against Doyle Brunson, they’re both all-in, Sklansky has AQ, Brunson 9-10. And someone yells out, “David, what are the odds?”

And Sklansky thinks a bit and says, “Ummm…about 62 to 38.”

And then the flop comes 8-9-10 and the same moron shouts, “David, what are the odds?!” And Sklanskly thinks a bit and says, “Ummm…I have six cards out of about 45 left with two to come…about 25%”

And then the turn is a Queen, and once again there’s a voice crying, “David, what are the odds now?”

I wanted Sklansky to shout, “Why don’t you go buy a goddam calculator? I’m BUSY here.”

While Sklansky has a reputation as a mathematical genius (a reputation that, from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve read of him, is a cross he seems quite willing to bear) I don’t think that gives we laypeople the right to treat him as an abacus with legs. I mean, the guy goes to a restaurant in Vegas, a few people recognize him as he’s led to his table, and some jackass at a four-top jumps up and shouts, “Hey, David Sklansky! We’re having trouble figuring out the tip. Now, the total is $127.37, and we want to tip more than just 15%, but I think tipping 20% is too generous. What’s 17.5% of $127.37?”

So you have a guy trying to have an evening out with friends or family and he’s asked to perform like a dancing bear. Leave him alone. Get out a pen and paper and figure it out yourself. Americans are quite deservedly criticized for our general lack of math skills–maybe the boom in poker is just the thing to get our kids (and grownups) interested in math again.

I say this although, if I saw Sklansky sitting down next to me in a restaurant, I’d probably be the jerk asking for his help settling the bill. I’m not terrible in math, but I’m not good either. Especially figuring things out in my head, I’m just not wired that way. The numbers seem to dance mischeviously as I try to line them up for calculating. And for some reason I can’t figure out tips on dinner checks in my head. It isn’t the math that makes me lock up–it’s like a variant of “performance anxiety”. You know, you’re in the bathroom, you gotta take a leak, you line up and another guy steps next to you and starts whizzing and suddenly your tap’s been plugged. Awful feeling. I get that way figuring out tips. It’s not that I can’t do the math, it’s like I’m afraid that I’ll come up with the wrong amount and short our waitron and get my food spat in the next time I show up. I’m so bad that for years I carred a “Tip Chart” in my wallet to spare me this torture.

I remember one time at Penn State, there were a half-dozen or so of us having dinner at Baby’s, which is this Fifties diner-style place. We had a nice supper, got the bill…and spent a half-hour trying to figure it out. Who owed what. What the tip should be. Who owed what to whom because four of us only had twenties the others couldn’t break. Sitting at the table that night was a future CPA, a doctor, a stockbroker, a hotel exec and an MBA, and for all our calculating you might’ve thought we were trying to break the German naval code. I’m pretty sure I still owe Gary a buck-fifty.

I wonder if Sklansky is taking any grief on the 2+2 boards about the AK he laid down to T.J. Cloutier’s AQ. Certainly not an unreasonable play under the circumstances, but when the viewing public knows what hands both players hold and that the player in dominating position laid it down, hooting soon follows.

If you read Mike Sexton’s CardPlayer columns you knew he got knocked out first, but even if you don’t you knew he was doomed from the moment he appeared on camera. He was the only guy at the table wearing a suit–in fact, he looked like he was dressed for his normal duties as the WPT play-by-play man. A psychological gaffe, perhaps? Sexton was dressed for broadcasting, not poker, and within 30 minutes that’s where he was, seating right next to Vince Van Patten, looking and sounding genuinely embarrassed and upset that he was out.

Many mock and slam VVP, but I’ll hear nothing against his impersonation of Sexton. Hilarious and frighteningly spot-on. Loved the hair.

In virtually every picture I’ve seen of Mike Caro it’s looked like his handlers released him from his straightjacket just long enough for the shutter to snap before bundling him up and returning him to his cell. And his performance about if the aliens landed tomorrow and offered to play poker against one human for control of the galaxy, that HE should be the one selected to play, because he’s that good? It indeed takes a special kind of genius to come up with that.

Phil Hellmuth was…Phil Hellmuth. He let us know that right off the bat as the first hand was dealt when he jumped up, raised an hand, and shouted out a hello to Van Patten. “Look at me, look at MEEEEE!” he was saying, which got me to thinking. There’s a reality show my wife is hooked on called “Super Nanny”. You get your typical American family with a few out-of-control little bastards and this British nanny comes in and whips the beasts into shape. The nanny is this brisk, stern plumpish young woman with her hair pulled back in a severe bun and she shows up and puts the wood to these little kids with extreme predjudice (brief aside–am I the only one who finds her strangely arousing? Maybe its because I’m a bad little boy, and I need some discipline).

It would be DELICIOUS to see the nanny come to the Hellmuth household and put the fear of Albion into Phil. Get him to stop the grandstanding and the pouting and the incessant clamoring for attention. This could be a pay-per-view event, it’d be bigger than Duran-Leonard or Steamboat-Savage.

Phil talked a bit about his book, which I read and remember little of. Other than the fact that he uses animals to describe the tight-loose / passive-aggressive matrix, which I find silly. I don’t know how useful it is to classify a player as an animal, especially as I don’t remember which animals he uses or what they stand for. Stoat? Gnu? Unicorn? “I’m none of those,” Phil says modestly. “I’m an eagle”. No, Phil, if I had to compare you to a bird, I’d pick the one we eat around Thanksgiving with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

He did play well, though, catching Caro making a move and trapping Brunson for all his chips. But Doyle hit his ace, and soon Phil was talking to Shana and bemoaning his bad beat. Which is what his latest book is about, by the way. Wonder how it’s doing? Actually, no I don’t.

I can’t say much about the game itself because my sickness has morphed nicely into bronchitis and I felt like I was gonna die most of the night. But it came down to Sklansky and Brunson, the authors of perhaps the two most important books about poker, “The Theory of Poker” and “Super/System”. Brunson had a huge chip lead and lost every hand they showed heads up. I don’t know if any hands were edited out, but it was almost like Doyle was late for a meeting (or a card game with more than a measly $25K buy-in at stake) and went all-in every hand. And so David Sklansky won his first WPT event. Wonder how that goes over with Hellmuth–he has zero WPT titles, Sklansky one. He’ll probably eat his shades.

Good to have the WPT back, though it might have been more entertaining to have these authors discussing their books rather than playing. Actually…it would’ve been A LOT more entertaining if they’d discussed each OTHER’S books. How much fun would it be to have these six guys ripping each other’s theories and maxims to bits? Almost as fun as jumping into a flame war.

The first “real” new WPT show is next week, with actor Gabe Kaplan among the final six. What’s the over/under on “Welcome Back, Kotter” jokes Vince Van Patten tells? I’m setting it at 13.

And now, back to work and DayQuil. I may actually miss volleyball tonight, which means I may miss beer and wings afterwards. What’s worse, I’m sick enough that this sounds like a rational course of action. Woe is me.

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5 Responses to “It Must Suck Being David Sklansky”

  1. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Great post, Gene.

    Next time I see a blogger all in on a hand, I’m going to shout “What are the odds?!” every chance I get.

  2. Gary Says:

    Hey Gene I think it’s $2.50 that you owe me.

  3. iggy Says:

    great write-up. now i’ve gotta find a way to watch that wpt episode.

  4. Joseph R. Jones Says:

    Dude, I’ll take the over on VVP making more than 13 welcome back kotter jokes any day. It’s more +EV than pocket aces vs 7/2 offsuit.

    — JRJ

  5. Drizztdj Says:

    Excellent post Gene!

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