Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Total Information Control

Poker is infowar.

The person who gathers and correctly evaluates information about opponents while simultaneously emitting as little useful information as possible has a huge edge. These two tasks are theoretically separate, but in practice one almost always generates information for others while trying to obtain it for oneself. (The classic "see where I'm at" bet is a great example of a less-than-optimal approach to the problem.*) And sometimes we give away information by trying NOT to give away information. This stuff is tricky.

At the poker table, Big Brother is indeed always watching. (Well, okay, to be fair, not always. Sometimes Big Brother and his buddies are drunk off their asses and just donking it up, paying attention only to their own cards ~ if that ~ and nothing else. Or maybe they're all too stupid or inexperienced to see the value of learning about other people's play or disguising their own. Need I explain why these are the tables you always want to be at?) It is your job to be a better observer than Big Brother, while giving him absolutely nothing helpful to work with.

I will point out that, although quite difficult, TIC is much easier in poker than it is in the rest of life. Which is to say: in the rest of life, it's well nigh impossible. Arguably, this is a good thing, although it may sometimes prove embarrassing, inconvenient, or awkward.

Without further ado, a little case study for your amusement...

When I began this blog six months ago, I was bathed in the warm waters of virtual anonymity. There were a very small number of friends who knew of its existence. Everyone else who dropped by was someone who had an interest in poker and no particular reason to have heard of or met me before. I quite enjoyed having my own private sandbox to build my little castles in, and I felt utterly unselfconscious about what I wrote. Sort of a Garden of Eden pre-apple environment, I suppose. Security through obscurity.

It turns out, however, that unbeknownst to me, my walled garden was breached in mid-October. A writer for the Boston Globe wrote a one-paragraph blurb mentioning this site. And here's where it gets good.

A woman in Boston read the blurb. Her thought process then apparently went something like this: "This woman lives in D.C. and plays poker. My single son lives in the D.C. area and is a fanatical poker player. I must get the two of them together! I will alert him immediately!" And so she did.

The son looked up Raise or Fold. Saw the picture in the sidebar. Read a few posts for confirmation, and immediately realized that he knew me already.

Single Son is the Esteemed Commissioner for my A League.

But it gets better! The Commish shared his discovery with three other players in the A League. For months they followed along, saying nothing, while I happily prattled away here about this and that, including my progress in the league. I thought I was operating incognito, and they cheerfully conspired to let me keep right on thinking so.

This was entirely reasonable and, in retrospect, pretty damned funny. Good for them! (Hoist and re-hoist for me. Oops! :-) )

And then, unexpectedly, a person with a whole lot bigger readership pointed the poker-blog-reading public in my direction. The very next morning my voicemail and email contained several messages of the "Aha! Busted!" variety. I found myself making a bunch of phone calls, hoping that people wouldn't be too cross with me.

One of them was to an A League player, another woman, whom I consider a close friend. It had always been a challenge to me to NOT mention my project to her. Pause here to imagine my mortification when, in an attempt to pre-empt her hearing about it first from another source, I make my confession only to have her say, "Oh, I know all about it. I've known for months."

Oy. It seems we all have pretty good poker faces!

To my great relief, just about everybody to whom I've either "come out" or been outed has been really positive, generous, and supportive of both my writing and my adventure. I consider myself very fortunate indeed in that respect. I think that there are still a fair number of people I play with regularly who are NOT aware of my secret identity, and to the extent I can, I prefer to keep it that way. But, should you wish to let me know that you know, by all means drop me an email or tap me on the shoulder one evening and we can share a laugh at my expense.

So that's where things stand now. It somewhat changes the intended shape of my project. In my fondest dreams, I hoped I would finish the book, cash deep in a big tournament, get a publishing and/or sponsorship contract, and then do the big reveal: TA-DA!

Reality to Cardgrrl: "Not so much." Total Information Control ~ it is, in fact, a pipe-dream.

Oh, and I still have to finish the book, cash deep in a big tournament, and get those contracts. So, yeah, not THAT much has changed at all.

*If you're wondering why this is not a good idea, strategically, consider this familiar nugget of poker wisdom: "Every bet you make should be designed to elicit a call from a weaker hand or a fold from a stronger one." (Can anyone help me track down the origin of that one?) [back to top]

Labels: , ,


Blogger JD said...

As one of your regular league competitors that was recently made aware of both this blog and your serious commitment to poker, reading your blog entries and following your ups and downs over these past few months has been very informative and entertaining. I've only come to respect your game and your friendship even more. You are an excellent writer and poker player and I look forward to seeing where this project leads you in the future.

2/24/09 9:15 AM  
Blogger Cardgrrl said...

Thanks, JD! Your kindness is much appreciated.

2/24/09 10:07 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home