Showing by Nick Wealthall

Showing by Nick Wealthall

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

There’s a really big flaw at the end of the Wizard of Oz. I mean, clearly there are plenty of flaws up to that point. Like, why is the lion kind of plump? How would a lion without any courage get regular dinner? And who invented the Tin Man – a self-aware, self-sustaining cybernetic organism – and how come that person doesn’t rule Oz with an army of axe-wielding tin men? And why, after the Wicked Witch of the West cleverly exposes them to heroin, doesn’t Dorothy find it moreish and go back?

I mean, she’s a young, impressionable girl alone in a new country. I swear there’s another version where she and Toto end up as pimped out smack whores doing weird tricks with flying monkeys for more poppies.

None of those are as bothersome as the problem at the end where Dorothy and co pull back the big curtain and reveal that Oz is just an old man pulling a tonne of levers and scaring everyone. The problem I have with it is, doesn’t Oz still command an army? Why can’t he command his troops to have the four heroes thrown in jail or, if he wants, pimped out for weird flying monkey sex tasks? Or even take them on himself – I mean, it’s a little girl, a thick scarecrow, a scared cat and a slow-moving tin man who eventually stops if you just run round in circles?

The answer of course is that Oz is not just an old man, he’s a weak, scared old man, relying on bluster. Once his cover is blown, he’s nothing – not only will word get out and everyone will know he’s nothing, but worst of all, he knows it too. The jig is up and he can’t continue.

In poker, you have to keep the big curtain drawn. Poker is a game of partial information and the less information you give away the stronger your position. Part of this is factual and part of it is an intangible.

The factual part is that the more information you have on a player, the easier he is to beat. When you first play with an opponent, you have to make certain assumptions based on his physical or online image, the amount of hands he plays, bet sizes, etc. But this is all educated guesswork until you actually see some hands. Once you’ve seen some cards at showdown, you can confirm or revise your initial assumptions, start putting your opponent on ranges pre-flop, figure out whether he makes good decisions post-flop, and so on. The more information you can have, the more perfect your decisions can be.

The second part is intangible. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of an aggressive, confident player raising 50% of his hands, 3-betting 20% more and bullying the table. He’s dominating the table from the get-go, not saying a word, just raking chips. Then at some point someone calls him down. He makes a big bet on the river and gets called by top pair.

Sheepishly he taps his cards, maybe he mucks, maybe he shows his 8-high busted gutshot. At this point the curtain is raised. You may have thought he must be bluffing a lot but there’s a difference between suspecting this and actually knowing it. Now the jig is up – it’s not just that everyone knows he’s bluffing a lot, it’s that they’ve seen it, seen him taken on and beaten. Now he must change his game and adjust or he’s dead.

Given that this is all undeniably true (and you know this because it’s printed here and they wouldn’t print stuff in an actual magazine unless it was), it should be obvious that one of the most moronic things you can do at a live poker table is show cards when you don’t have to. There’s just no good argument for it. Stop making one in your head as you read this – there isn’t one. Got it?

Players usually show cards when they make a successful bluff and want to show everyone how clever they are, or when they “have it” and want to show it off, possibly to correct their loose image. Both of these impulses are very natural and both are horrible mistakes. If you want proof, next time you play live do it at a table with a couple of good players and watch their interest perk up. Suddenly they’ll look up from their iPhones and crane their necks to see what you’re showing, like vultures with a whiff of fresh meat in the air. You’ve lifted the curtain and now you’re just an old guy with a bad puppet show. Just ship them your chips right now.

The worst offence – one that you see time and again – is to fold a legitimate hand to a bet and then show it. There is simply no way to state how utterly stupid this is. I was exasperated by this time and again while doing EPT commentary, and if it’s happening at the EPT – with its €5k buy-ins – it’s clearly happening everywhere. Over and over, you’ll see players open-raise a hand, get 3-bet or shoved on, think and then fold, before showing one card – an ace. Let me tell you right now you might as well have taken every good player at the table to one side before play and said, “Hey fellas, I’m the soft spot at the table. Feel free to reach into my arse and pull out as many chips as you like. Seriously, beat me up.

Batter me over and over again. I fricking love it. I am here to help you!”
When a player shows a semi-strong hand he’s folded, his opponents don’t think, “Ooh, he’s so clever to make that big laydown,” they think, “Wow, what a pussy! I wonder what else I can make him fold.”

Dorothy had to walk hundreds of miles (I’m assuming), deal with flying monkeys, witches, storms, scary woods, fights and heroin addiction to finally reach the big wizard and then face him down to see what was behind the curtain. She had to earn it. And yet, every day, poker players routinely lift the curtain for their opponents, voluntarily, for free. Never be one of them.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, Columnist