07 February 2006

Poker and Wonder Woman

We broke out the new Season 1 DVD set of Wonder Woman that I got my wife. With apologies to Felicia, Mrs. PokerSweetHome, Jennifer Harman, and probably any other American woman: WOW! The pilot was just the most bizarre mix of time warp meets sensual pleasure you can imagine. The pilot aired 7 November 1975 and who was this character? Glorian Steinem meets Bo Derek. This was the Spice Girls, Girl Power, and Baywatch before they were a glint in their parents' eyes. Set in WWII, American hero Steve Trevor is sent to intercept a long-range Nazi bomber. They shoot each other down (or crash into each other, I'm not sure which), both pilots parachute out, the Nazi guy shoots poor Steve as they are floating down, only to drop into a swarm of sharks. Trevor washes up on Paradise Island, where all of the Amazonians are working out in their best lingerie. Of course, I'm watching this the day after Super Bowl XL (incidentally, everyone on Paradise Island uses Roman Numerals), and all I can think of is instead of Grey's Anatomy, can you imagine the audience if they showed this after the game? How did this get greenlighted? "An island of the most beautiful women we can find, and we'll have them running in teddies throughout the show." All of these 70's TV shows seemed to run forever, but Wonder Woman only ran three seasons on two networks.

So from the pilot, what are the lessons that we can apply to poker?
  • Risk mitigation. The Queen Mother (Cloris Leatchman--pilot packed with alot of folks from Match Game and Hollywood Squares) begrudgingly lets her daughter, Princess Diana (Lynda Carter) fly Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner from Carol Burnett Show) back to Washington, DC. She makes this painful choice determining that the risk of sacrificing her daughter (both physically and emotionally) can't outweigh the risk of exposing Paradise Island to the outside world, ruining their female paradise. Poker is all about risk mitigation best illustrated in three areas: the big laydown, the big call, and bankroll management. One of Steve Danneman's best gems from the 2005 WSOP Main Event is, to paraphrase, a laydown is only a small mistake. You have to be ready to muck your cards at the right time, and it is one of the tougher things to really master: how to lay down a good hand without being transformed by it. The flip side of this is the tough, expensive call. Sometimes it is about pot odds and all that stuff, but sometimes it is a willingness to lose so that you can potentially win. The bottom pair, the under pair, the four-card baby flush, all of these calls and more start to distinguish the lemur from the lion. The Queen Mother used all of the information at her disposal, then made a tough choice.
  • Data collection. Another part of Princess Diana's mission was to visit this outside world, to live in it and understand it, to gather intelligence. Marcia, Steve Trevor's secretary, was doing the same, only as a Nazi spy. For premier players, all of their senses are constantly, habitually at work, logging tells, betting patterns, starting hands, position bets. They can sniff out weaknesses at its first hint. Most of us collect significantly less data that is freely available to us. Online, tools like PokerTracker provide great enablers, but how much time and energy do you spend on collecting and analyzing this data? There are some great bloggers that are open in how they collect and analyze data. Included in this list: Wes (aka boobie lover) and emerging pro Matt Matros.
  • Practice. These Amazonians didn't become proficient at self defense, athletics, and bullet-deflecting without alot of practice. One of the early scenes in the pilot shows all of the hotties hot at work, practicing archery or the 110 high hurdles in their best Victoria's Secret outfits (NOTE: use bonus code vday at check-out for 10-30% savings for your Valentine's Day purchase). This goes with any skill: practice, practice, practice. Whether your Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Antonio Tarver, Jeff Francoeur, JJ Redick, or whomever you can connect with, you have to not only practice but practice specific skills for specific situations you are confronted. Tiger doesn't pound balls: he works on the 215 yd low draw that he will need for a specific situation. There are tools available for us, like Turbo Poker or Poker Academy, but this is one of the must underutilized concepts for poker players today: the discipline of practice. How much time do we spend practicing each week rather than playing? And do you have a specific plan for practicing? Are you working on playing marginal aces, definding your blinds, middle stages of tourneys, reverse tells? I spend less than an hour a week practicing probably, and that is more playing on the simulator rather than practicing specific things that will help us later.
  • The Lasso of Truth. One of Wonder Woman's most powerful tools is the lasso of truth. This golden rope, when wrapped around someone, compels them to tell the truth. For mere mortals, we are left with our ability to listen using our senses, our brains, and our gut to make reads. Mike Caro and former FBI agent Joe Navarro are leaders in this area. For Wonder Woman, she knows she's heard 100% truth and then acts accordingly. One of my biggest problems, which may be one you share, is converting the read into action without waffling. The ability to execute, to convert the read into fold/call/raise is about backbone. It doesn't mean not being bullied, but it means believing in your read 100% then acting accordingly. I truly believe that this will not only be financially more rewarding in the long run, but your reads will continually improve because you will force yourself to make a decision.
  • Diana Prince. After exposing Marcia as a Nazi spy, Wonder Woman gets a job in the Pentagon as Steve Trevor's new secretary. He tells his boss, General Blankenship, that he doesn't want any pretty girls anymore, and then he sees Diana who is no longer pretty because she wears glasses and has her hair up in a bun. Men are scoundrels and have a limitless sexual desire, so glasses and a bun shouldn't slow ole Stevie down. The poker lesson? Be careful of the package the player comes in. We bring all of our individual socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and religious biases and beliefs with us in making our decisions, and the live poker table illustrates this well. It is actually one of the things I enjoy the most about the poker table: the diversity of it all. I just don't normally interact with the differences in background, education, nationalities in my normal life of suburbia. Maybe I see more of it in my travels, but sitting with others for six hours is different than sitting on a plane or subway with someone. Don't jump to conclusions based on your own poker stereotypes, or do so at the risk of your own bankroll. The old lady can't be bullied just because she could be your grandmother. The young Asian guy isn't always bluffing. The hottie isn't necessarily a newbie/dumb blonde. The businessman just may have game.
  • Beware of Easy Money. Wonder Woman figures out that outside of Paradise Island, she needs cash to survive (after inadvertently pulling a Winona Rider). A Nazi spy/theatrical agent specializing in dogs, dwarves, and daredevils convinces her to starring in a one-woman show demonstrating her bullet-deflecting skills. She gets a nice chunk of change, but she walks away as she realizes it's all too good to be true. Pursue rakebacks and bonuses, but be careful they don't steer you toward bad play or sitting at the wrong tables. Worse, don't cloud your actual performance by mixing these funds with your bankroll performance. Keep your metrics pure.
  • Pining for Steve Trevor. The Queen Mother sees her daughter's major leak: an all-consuming passion for Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman's relentless protection of Steve has to cloud her judgement and causes her to miss the greater cause. It is very easy to start focusing on the Tony G/ Matusow player at the table, as well as the Kanter-suckout artist. "I'm going to show him" is exactly what the tilter wants you to feel, clouding your perceptiveness and your ability to make good decisions. For the lucky chaser, you should keep them identified but don't become consumed. I've lost a good chunk of change trying to catch the loose chaser rather than understanding them and playing solid. Don't get dragged down in the muck.
  • Forms. Every time Wonder Woman interacts with the police or hospital, they tell her she needs to fill out forms. She never does, either out of a lack of understanding or a disregard for bureaucracy. Well, we need to fill out forms; specifically, keep good records, and be honest with yourself. What gets measured gets improved may not always be correct, but here you need to have good data and metrics to know how you're doing.
  • Paradise Island. Are they lesbians or not? Well, poker blogs are gay, and most men dream of lesbian kidnappings, so we're probably covered regardless. And when your mind drifts away next time you're out of a hand? Well, jogging on Paradise Island is alot better image to think about than Hellmuth ranting.
Nice aces cracked by Qs9s with a queen on board and one spade (you can fill in the blanks for why my cash went one seat to my right). Are there degrees of sin? Are there degrees of pain when losing your buy-in? I think the back-door runner-runner has to be right up there. The candidates for most painful ways to lose your chips in one hand:
  • Runner-runner flush/straight
  • Runner-runner trips
  • Gapped straight (58o with board of 467 and you raised with either 77 or QQ)
  • Bad kicker pairing on the river (AK v A3 with board of A97)
  • Big hand vs. flopped two-pair (KK vs J7s with board of J73)
  • Set over set (JJ vs QQ with board of QJ9)
  • Top set vs. flopped flush (TT vs Kd2d with board of Td8d4d)
  • Bottom pair calling your bluff (AcKc vs. 5d4d with board of QhTh4c9h6s)
  • Any pot where you lose everything
Bankroll management and controlling your stakes helps you deal with all of this, but the length of time you're queasy is proportional to the severity of the beat times the amount lost. So there.

ADDENDUM: Linda has a nice Bellagio post, including a whiff of controversy in Bobby's Room (involving a fistfight over the weekend).


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