Wednesday, June 17, 2015

“Trust everybody, but cut the cards”

Found myself earlier today involved in one of those click-click-click loops that might’ve begun as “research” but devolved into the usual mix of curiosity and voyeurism internet surfing usually represents.

It wasn’t fruitless, however, as one of the items I ended up lingering over had to do with the origin of that often-cited pokerism “Trust everybody, but cut the cards.”

I’ve always liked that quote because of pithy way it combines both the social or “community building” aspect of poker and the fact that at its core poker is a game of self-interest. We have to “trust” others to some extent if only to get a game going, but once hands are dealt we necessarily are each looking out for number one.

You’ll see vague references to the quote as being an “old cowboy saying,” which is probably more or less a correct way to refer to the origins of a lot of similar folklore surrounding the game. In this case, though, the phrase actually should be credited to the American satirist Finley Peter Dunne.

Dunne became an editor at the Chicago Times in the 1880s, and not long after created a character named “Mr. Dooley” who would author short pieces that served as an entertaining brand of social commentary. In some respects Dunne was following the tradition of the old 18th century essayists Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Johnson. He gets compared to Mark Twain a lot as well, of course, having been a contemporary whose concerns, use of humor, and even worldview tended to overlap with Dunne’s.

The stories touched on a wide variety of subjects, all told from the point of view of Dooley, a pub-owning Irish immigrant. In 1899 a collection of the stories was published as Mr. Dooley in Peace and War, and there would be about a half-dozen more such compilations as Dunne would ultimately write over 700 “Mr. Dooley” stories. It was Dunne’s character of Dooley who uttered the phrase, although I’ll need to click around some more to figure out the exact story in which it appeared.

The sentiment it expresses I’m also seeing linked occasionally to the famous “Prisoner’s Dilemma” puzzle I once took a crack at discussing here.

That gives me an excuse to point you to a neat article by Robert Woolley from a couple of days ago over on PokerNews titled “Got GTO? The Connection Between ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and Perfect Poker” in which he shows the recently-deceased John Nash’s relevance to game theory and poker -- check it out.

Meanwhile, thanks for clicking over here again. If I pinpoint the story in which Dunne’s Dooley utters the phrase, I’ll come back and share it. You can trust me.

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