Notes on Public Poker

John Finn made the following notes while playing poker in the Gardena card clubs and in the various Nevada casinos:

  1. Advantages of private poker over club and casino poker: (1) No house cut to drain away available cash and profits. (2) The same players are available week after week for the longrange manipulation necessary for increasing money extraction and a growing poker income. (3) Generally weaker players.
  2. Advantage of club and casino poker over private poker: The constant supply of fresh players allows maximum aggressiveness and ruthlessness without fear of destroying the game. If best strategy dictates, unrestrained action can be directed toward upsetting opponents. No need to mollify losers. Establish psychological dominance early. Only limitation -- avoid excessively obnoxious tactics that might alienate club or casino management and result in banishment from their establishments.
  3. The six card clubs in Gardena, California, provide simultaneous action for up to 1680 poker players. Over 400 licensed card clubs in California and more than 80 Nevada casinos continuously offer thousands of fresh poker players for money extraction, every hour of every day and night, all year round.
  4. Major poker clubs and casinos always offer a selection of games and players. Carefully select the most advantageous game with the weakest players. Keep aware of the other games, and promptly abandon any game for a more advantageous game (e.g., more profitable stakes or weaker players).
  5. Seek games with careless players, nervous players, women players, drinking players, players with tattoos or unkempt beards, and especially players wearing religious crosses or medals, good-luck charms, astrology symbols, or other mystical amulets. Avoid games with high ratios of calm, controlled, or intelligent-looking people.
  6. Because of his initial confusion and inexperience when first learning public poker, the good player's statistical game (the mechanical aspects--the figuring of odds and money management) is weaker than his strategical game (the imaginative and thinking aspects—the strategy and bluffing). Conversely, the statistical game of most public-game professionals is stronger than their strategical game because of their greater dependence on mechanical routines and rules designed to yield statistically maximum investment odds on every play.

Their more rigid consistency makes them more readable and predictable. The good player, on the other hand, does not strive for maximum investment odds on every play; thus he is more flexible and unpredictable.

  1. Collection fees or time cuts in public games range from $2 per hour per player for a $1-$2 game to about $24 per hour per player for games with blind bets and, raises of $100. The casino rake (from every pot) can range from a 5 percent maximum up to a 25 percent maximum--or even higher for snatch games designed for naive tourists. Maximum rakes in casinos are usually posted in the poker area. And in most snatch games, the casino dealer immediately drops the raked chips into the table slot rather than stacking them on the side for all to see until the hand is over.
  2. House cuts are less harmful to the good player's profits in the faster-moving, higher-stake, time-cut games (versus the slower-moving, lower-stake, pot-raked games).
  3. In public poker, lowball games are generally less flexible (more mechanical) than equivalent highball games. Therefore, the good player can usually use the Advanced Concepts of Poker more advantageously in highball games. But the faster betting pace of lowball can outweigh this advantage. Professional players, however, cheat more frequently and more effectively in high-stake lowball.
  4. The narrow and fixed betting ratios (e.g., $10-$20) in all public club games and in most casino games diminish the effectiveness of the good player's poker abilities, especially in executing bluffs and power plays. Casino table-stake games usually offer the best profit opportunities for the good player experienced enough in public poker to be highly aggressive.
  5. Most casino and club shills (house players) play conservative and predictable poker (especially women shills), making them dependable decoys and unwitting partners for manipulating other players.
  6. In public poker, women are generally weaker players than men. Many women lack the aggressiveness necessary for good poker. They play more mechanically and more predictably than men. In Gardena, during weekdays, up to 40 percent of the players are women. (The percentage of women players drops by half by nightfall.) Many are poor players--some are desperate players gambling with their Social Security checks and grocery money. Still, an estimated ten to twenty good, tough women professionals work the Gardena clubs. Successful women professionals are rarer in the Nevada casinos, but are increasing.
  7. Opponents generally play looser and poorer poker on or immediately after paydays (e.g., on the first of the month and on Friday nights).
  8. Best to enter games fresh and rested at 1:00 a.m.-5:00 a.m. (while faking tiredness, nervousness, or drunkenness) in order to work over groggy players, drunk players, loose winners, and desperate losers.
  9. To conceal poker abilities and to throw good players off guard, wear a religious cross.
  10. Rattle opponents through physical invasions of their "territories" (e.g., by using elbows or hands, by pushing poker chips or money around, by knocking over drinks). Foist feelings of outrage, guilt, inferiority, or fear onto opponents through personal verbal attacks. Temper bad-boy behavior only to avoid physical attacks or banishment from games.
  11. Never give opponents a break. Make them sweat. Grant them no mercy.
  12. In highball, elevate height with extra chair cushions to see more carelessly exposed hands. In lowball, diminish height and sit low in order to see more cards flash during the shuffle and on the deal and draw.
  13. Highly visible and self-publicized professional poker players, including those who play in and have won the World Series of Poker, reveal a composite character (with individual exceptions) of a prematurely aged, physically unfit heavy smoker who is prone to boasting, gross exaggeration, and gambling. Yet he is a character who is basically intelligent and shrewd -- though vulnerable to manipulation through his flaws. He is a character who can be exploited and beaten by the good player.

In six days, John Finn put both public club and casino poker under his profitable control--at least for the lower-stake and medium-stake games. For the higher-stake games, John had an additional major problem to deal with--the problem of professional cheating.

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