Friday, June 23, 2006

Shaddup and Play Already

It’s early on in Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, when the Continental Op (Hammett’s nameless protagonist) pinches the bank teller, young Albury, for the murder of Donald Willsson. Various clues lead Hammett to conclude Albury to be the trigger man. More than anything, though, it was the young man’s eagerness to tell the Op everything about himself (including his infatuation with femme fatale Dinah Brand), that heightened the detective’s suspicion. Just before the Op coaxes Albury to confess his guilt, he spells out for him where the young killer went wrong: “You talked too much, son. You were too damned anxious to make your life an open book for me. That’s a way you amateur criminals have. You’ve always got to do the frank and open business.”

Low limit poker players are also, in their own way, amateur criminals. We try to deceive and mislead and out-clever each other. Sometimes we get away with it. Sometimes we give ourselves away. One of the worst mistakes we can make is the same one Albury makes -- to talk too much. With every word we offer free information about ourselves. Not to mention divert our attention in potentially detrimental ways.

When I first started playing online for play chips, I greatly enjoyed the socializing that went on in the chat box. Made some fast friends there. Even met one in Vegas last year when we both happened to have trips planned at the same time. Once I moved over to real money, though, I quickly discovered fewer players seemed interested in the barbering. I soon lost the urge to engage others, and now largely avoid the commentary altogether. Sure, I’ll concede a good play with a “gh” now and then. Mostly I’ll zip it, though, keeping dormy and letting the cards do all the conversatin’.

I realized this week how non-purposeful the jabber can be when I sat down at a table on PokerStars and saw a fellow whose screen name included “Fjodor” sitting to my right. On Stars, of course, you get to upload a picture for your avatar, and his icon happened to be the head of Dostoevsky, taken from the same famous painting of him by Vasily Perov that I had included in an earlier series of posts about one of the Russian writer’s novels. After ten hands or so, I couldn’t resist and so typed in the chat box “hey Dostoevsky . . . just read The Gambler.” No response. Did he speak английско . . . ? I think his hometown may well have been in Russia, actually.

In any event, for some reason talking to Fyodor inspired me to chat more than I usually do during the day’s play. No lengthy conversations, just things like asking a player from Jackson which state he was from or handing a good-natured dig to the fellow who cracked my kings with 42-offsuit. By the end of the day I had broken even, but felt certain that I’d played less well because my concentration had been scrambled unnecessarily by all the banter.

I know some players can handle the chat and in fact make it a fairly significant part of their game. Not me, though. I gotta remember to button up. Save the “frank and open business” for the blog. Less apt to get me in trouble there.

Image: Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1927), Amazon.

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