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The Self-defeating Nature of Poker

It takes a special kind of person to survive in the poker world, and it takes an even rarer type of person to thrive in it. As the late Stu Ungar is credited with saying, “Think about what it’s like sitting at a poker table with people whose only goal is to cut your throat, take your money, and leave you out back talking to yourself about what went wrong inside.” Because of this mentality poker players are often cynics, and prone to bouts of Shadenfreude, where other people’s misery often means their gain.

A decade ago this wasn’t such a big deal. The poker world had its pro players, players that would incorrectly be called “Sharps”, but bore more of a resemblance to professional gamblers who were wizened and experienced, and looked for every angle –sometimes legal and sometimes not depending on the player—as well as it’s true “Card Sharps”, AKA cheaters, hustlers, scammers, and degenerates.

Nowadays the poker world still has these two groups of players, but there is also a third group that has been added to this eclectic cocktail, the young pro. The younger players that have grown up in the Internet era of the game have two distinct disadvantages to players from years ago:

  • They are marks
  • They haven’t been out in the real world and don’t have the experience to separate the apathy they need to display at the poker tables from the rest of their lives.

So what we have is a bunch of kids who were practically raised by PokerStars and Party Poker. They don’t differentiate the EV calculated gambling they do at a poker table from their regular life, and they end up making foolish mistakes, and even worse, not seeing why other people might be upset with their decisions. The current ranks of poker pros are filled with people who have been dedication their lives to poker since High-School and College: They haven’t worked regular jobs, developed relationships, or had to deal with basic responsibilities or hardships.

So what we end up with is a culture clash that is about as toxic as a conversation between Ann Coulter and Keith Olbermann. N one said we have wizened gamblers and hustlers who have uneasily coexisted for decades, and on the other side we have naive kids who are battling with the pro gamblers and unsuspecting victims of the hustlers. This makes these young players cynics, disillusioned with the game and the people in it –these somewhat impressionable and very apathetic young players.

This was alright when money was being printed at poker tables in the mid-2000’s when you could laugh it off “Haha, I got scammed for $5k, I’ll just go play some poker and get it back”, but in today’s poker world there is less and less profit to be made, and these kids are getting more and more disillusioned as they see and hear about their friends getting swindled, or another online poker site taking their money. They don’t have the life experience to see that not everything is an EV equation and their frustration leads them to start thinking in the same way the people who took advantage of them did.

I’m not sure if this is a solvable problem, other than the cautionary tales people tell, but right now it seems like the poker world is in a vicious cycle of cynicism and scandals.

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