Friday, December 27, 2013

The Absent-Minded Poker Player

By now the story of the poker player who left a brown paper bag containing $300,000 in cash in a Las Vegas cab has no doubt made it to your usual news feed, whatever that may be. This is one of those that quickly spilled out from under the usual “poker news” heading and into mainstream reporting, in fact.

I imagine I wasn’t the only one having conversations with family members about it during the Christmas visits. The story was one of those “page two” items in our local papers around here where all of the “weird but true”-type stuff usually lands. I was asked if I knew who the player was -- “a famous 28-year-old professional poker player, whom officials weren't publicly identifying” -- and I said no but I imagined the answer to that question would be coming sooner than later.

The angle highlighted most prominently, of course, was the cab driver’s decision to return the money to the office of his cab company and their ultimately successful effort to get the cash back in the owner’s hands. The company then rewarded the driver $1,000 for his action. Not a bad fit at all for the “’tis-the-reason-for-the-season” narrative.

Meanwhile, within the poker community it sounds like a couple of less crucial subplots are occupying the thoughts of those responding to the story.

There’s the “how much did he tip?” question which makes the story into a version of the tourney-tipping debates that come up now and again regarding the relative generosity or stinginess of those earning big tournament paydays. The lucky player apparently tipped the cabbie $5 for a relatively short trip, but there’s no postscript as of yet noting whether there was any additional tipping after getting his cash returned.

Then there’s the question of who exactly the “famous 28-year-old professional poker player” actually is. I was amused yesterday by some of the guesses as well as 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Jay Farber’s impatient denials after several seemed sure he must’ve been the one.

Sort of interesting to follow the latter discussion, in particular the sleuthing some are employing when narrowing down possible candidates. On one level it’s just another bit of problem-solving, not unlike that which poker itself provides for us in the form of considering available (and incomplete) evidence in an attempt to guess opponents’ possible holdings.

But there’s also that sense of schadenfreude that characterizes a lot of railbirding happening here, too, I think, wherein people want to know where to direct their derision. After all, if one of the great pleasures of watching poker is to witness players make especially clever strategic decisions, a close second has to be watching them mistakes, too, right?

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