06/20/2006 11:00PM

That whining you hear is the sound of money


When horseplayers examine flaws in their game they often will see that it is a waste of time to blame jockeys, racing officials, and the gods of racing for their own faulty plays.

When poker players complain about their game - especially on the Internet - they frequently direct their anger and disappointment toward the player that made a score against them.

"How could you call with those rags?"

Or, "How could you risk all your chips on a flush draw?" after getting sucked out of a winning hand by a lucky card on the river.

When they get into rants about the game itself, it usually borders on paranoia or some conspiratorial view of the world, as in: "same old pokergobble.com," as if pokergobble seems to have it all set up so that a big, bad river suck-out is just part of the usual routine.

These players seem convinced that the poker website has a vested interest in making lucky straights and flushes. It's as if players who suck out are playing to the master plan of the offending web site.

This line of thinking is very stupid.

It also is the single most revealing characteristic you will ever see about a player on the Internet - a "tell" if you will - a tell that gives away no information about a particular hand, but accurately reveals something more important: a very bad player.

Frustration in defeat is a natural thing. But, blaming the site for a conspiratorial effort to change the natural mathematics of the game - to look more exciting - is so weak-minded that you should make a note about any player who does that. I can almost guarantee that this inevitably will manifest itself in plenty of weak-minded plays.

Persistent complainer-blamers are almost as bad. Blaming a defeat on everything under the sun except one's own bad play, or a simple miscalculation, hints at a flaw in judgment. It will pay dividends down the road if you can identify such players.

Likewise, at its most basic level, it reveals the player's unwillingness to accept a simple but important fact of poker life: You may enter the flop as the favorite, you may enter the turn as the favorite, but favorites get beat and hold 'em poker is not a two-card, a five-card, or six-card game.

Horseplayers know that good luck usually is required to cash with a 20-1 shot, just as betting on a 3-2 favorite means a losing parimutuel ticket 60 percent of the time. Bad beats sometimes will go to the second or third betting choice, sometimes to horses much higher than 20-1.

From what I have observed in poker play, far too many of the young turks populating the Internet sites have no such reality-based appreciation for the immediate risks inherent in gambling. Even worse, too many of them may make a sharp play based on good insights, but cannot handle a tough beat or a lucky suck-out without pointing out how stupid the winning player was to call or raise the bet in the first place.

This, too, is an important tell.

Finger-pointing at players that make bad plays, even when the bad play works out, reveals an inflated sense of superiority. It is a characteristic to be exploited when you can deceive such players into thinking they have much the best of it, when actually they are up against the nuts. You can win big pots from players that think they are God's gift to the table.

On the big televised poker shows, the often seen Mike Matusow regularly berates opponents for their lack of skill, or lack of heart in tough moments. Phil Helmuth, a World Series champion, excessively cries about his litany of bad beats, especially when the TV cameras are on. This is different than the weak-minded behavior seen so often on the Internet.

At the professional level, on TV and in live games, a handful of top players - especially verbal types - regularly project various forms of intimidation towards amateurs that venture into their lairs. These pros know that so-called "dead-money" players can be moved off good hands or turned into calling stations when extra pressure is applied. Rarely does a good pro take on another good pro with such tactics, except perhaps when Matusow and Helmuth are at the same table rubbing each other the wrong way.

In virtually every televised game when these two shrewd but loud-mouthed professional players have hurled invectives at each other, both made mistakes that should have or did cost them plenty. Competing head-to-head for the unofficial title of the Bad Boy of Televised Poker can damage these professional players as much as the hits less talented players take when they blame cosmic forces or the poker gods for their own poor play or arrogance.

Steve Davidowitz plays as "StevenLD" on various Internet poker sites and is the author of the handicapping book "Betting Thorough-breds."