Why Hustling Beats Rounding

“You’ve the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning. That can be heavy on your back too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.”
–George C. Scott, THE HUSTLER
Ok boys and girls, in the absence of the ramblings of Ignatius, today’s installation promises to be a long and arduous journey through the poker mind of yet another low-limit grinder. Lots to discuss today, so let’s quickly get through my terrible play in the last 2 days so we can move on to happier and more interesting things.
The $5-10 6 max games got me again. I really need to avoid these games, but I think reading DavidRoss’ posts on the two plus two forum has permanently warped my mind. Tired, not quite sober, and worn out from a long day of work, I decided to play a few orbits of 5-10 short. As I’ve said before, the psychological warfare that goes on in these games is a blast, and I always seem to turn into an overaggressive idiot the moment I sit down at these tables. Last night was no exception.
I found a wild table with none other than the $5-10 king himself, whose stack indicated that he was cleaning up the table. It turned out that there was a player at the table who played every single hand, and the rest of the table was doing their best to feed off of him. I still haven’t quite figured out these shorthanded games, and I found myself 3 betting preflop with any reasonable hand to try to isolate the big fish. I hoped that DavidRoss wouldn’t call in these situations, but he did end up handing my ass to me several times. Note to self: avoid playing many pots with DavidRoss.
Anyway, I found myself pushing marginal hands too far and my stack dwindled quickly. I succumbed to the dreaded subtle tilt and ended up throwing away $200 in a little over an hour of play. Possibly my worst play of the night: 87c a 5 way pot, I flop top pair (sevens), and 3 bet after DavidRoss bets out. This would have been a good play, if I had a decent kicker and 2 diamonds weren’t on the board. But for some reason the damn Sklansky chapter about “raising with the second best hand” took over my brain like some sort of Borg program, and I was unable to think rationally for a moment. To make things worse, Grubby, who has played about 300 times as much shorthanded as I have, witnessed the hand (he was waiting for a seat at the fishy table, of course). “What did you have, QQ?” typed Grubs into instant messenger. The truth hurts, and I admitted my monster hand, which probably generated disbelief in a DC apartment far away. Ah well, remember that hand in the next poker blogger tourney, Grubs.
Tonight I came back to my senses and ground out 18 BBs on the $3-6 tables in an hour and a half. I played 3 or 4 hands terribly, and it still stings thinking about the 6 Big Bets I could have saved had I not made stupid crying calls. It was a strange session– up $250 on one table and down $140 on another. Usually my $3-6 swings are much smaller, and I don’t go down more than $50 very often. But a few rough rivers put me down to the felt, forcing me into the hated rebuy. It was a good session, but I feel stupid after throwing away so much on the shorthanded games last night. If I could disable the $5-10 shorthanded games from displaying I would, but I’ll just have to stay disciplined and continue to grind away at the $3-6 (building the bankroll is the number 1 priority at the moment).
The Hustler vs. Rounders
I watched Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler last night. I was reminded just how great this movie was, and for the first time last night, I realized that Matt Damon’s character in Rounders is really just a poor man’s Fast Eddie. I like Rounders as much as the next poker player, but it leaves a lot to be desired as a movie.
My main complaint about Rounders is the lack of Mike McDermott’s development in the film. Yes, Mike “finds himself” and accepts that he is a poker player, but aside from that he experiences little growth. He struggles with loyalty to an undeserving friend, and ends what seems like a bad relationship. Mike takes a big step forward in the movie, but his life is really beginning at the end of the movie. And the most worrisome part is that he makes exactly the same mistake at the end of the movie as the fatal mistake that begins the movie (temporarily ending his poker career).
This seeming “mistake”– Mike leaving himself no outs in the final match with KGB– is actually the core of the movie. Mike’s belief in himself, his willingness to admit he was outplayed… the audience is supposed to believe that Mike’s skill (and more importantly, his character) make him unbeatable in the heads-up match with the horribly-accented Russian. Mike’s most heroic quality is the gambler in him– the willingness to risk it all, to go all-in on the belief that his skill is supreme.
Mike’s foil– Joey Knish– is presented as a grinder who is to be admire because he doesn’t have to work the typical 9 to 5. But although the audience is sympathetic to Knish, his final discussion with Mike suggests that he may not be as admirable as he is initially presented. Not only can Knish not lend Mike the necessary amount of money “in the clutch”, he gets angry when McDermott questions his “stones.” Knish’s final scene reveals him as an unhappy grinder with lots of baggage. In Rounders, the grinder is bad, the gambler is good.
Fast Eddie Felson, on the other hand, goes through the ultimate heroic journey in The Hustler. Rather than a half-assed KGB thug, Fast Eddie’s quest is to beat the best pool player in the country, the Johnny Chan of pool, Minnesota Fats. Like Mike, Eddie must first experience the fall before he can achieve greatness. Also like Mike, Eddie embodies the gambling spirit, choosing “fast and loose” over “playing it safe,” even though he knows the latter is probably the better percentage play. Eddie loses to the Fat Man to start the movie, after a clear demonstration that he outclasses Fats in talent. His lack of character does him in, and the remainder of the movie is spent trying to prove to himself that he’s not a loser, and build the character that cost him the match.
I won’t spoil it in case anyone hasn’t seen the movie, but Fast Eddie’s path along the traditional hero’s quest is far more inspiring than young Mike’s. We follow the hustler through the loss of innocence, to the depths of despair, and witness his climb to becoming a winner. Perhaps what is the greatest omission from Rounders was love. What or who does Mike love? Nothing. Fast Eddie, on the other hand, can only by set free through love.

Poker Blog Patrol
I’m not going to provide a direct link to it, but I spent plenty of time wandering around AlCan’tHang‘s photo album. Makes me want to make a trip back east… by the way, whenever I read that name, I can only think of “Alcan Thang”, so that’s Al’s name from here on out.
The rest of the list is dedicated to new bloggers, although I’m hesitant to add to my reading list, which already consumes plenty of my workday. First off is Helixx, a low limit player who is on the right track. We’ve all been here:
“I’m finding that either my instincts are pretty good, or I’ve played enough limit hold-em to see through people because I can usually sniff out what people have. my big problem is listening to my gut. I say to myself “he has a set of 10’s”. I know he does… but I still feel compelled to call… just to make sure.”
I did that twice tonight and have been kicking myself since then.
Next up is The Genius of Poker (not to be confused with prolific Boy Genius. Although the name is a bit pretentious, he backed it up by winning last week’s blogger tourney, so I guess he deserves some respect (even if he linked to the famous poker legend HAROLD Lederer).
Iceyburnz played in the last blogger tournament, a college kid from NJ. You gotta like a guy whose girlfriend has more money in her Party account than he does:
“So I asked my GF if i could borrow $50 from her Party account. She said she didnt care and now I have $50 which I will try to grind into a winning amount.”
I wouldn’t want to be around for those heads up matches. But seriously, Icey, I sometimes wish I could go back to grad school and play poker all day (and spend a couple hours writing a dissertation). Enjoy it while you can.
And lastly, I just finished sweating Grubby in a 1745 player multi. I’ll leave the storytelling to the playwright himself, but I can tell you that I’ve never had more fun rooting for somebody. Grubby played like a champ, and I can’t remember rooting more for anyone. His time will come, I guarantee it– the guy is just a pure poker player.
Thanks for reading and good luck this weekend… see ya at the final table Sunday night (I mean it this time!).

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