Lessons I Learned at the Poker Table–Part 2

Homer Simpson Poker

In my last article, I discussed the life lessons I learned at the poker table. You can read it at http://www.gamingtoday.com/columnist along with my previous columns. Because I have been playing poker nearly 50 years, I have a few more stories to share.

You meet some of the best people at the poker table. However, you cannot judge a player by the persona he projects at the table. Many players are completely different away from the table. One great example is Phil Hellmuth. His image at the table in no way reflects Phil off the table. He is a caring, sincere gentleman and a devoted family man. He is nothing like the man at the table. Of course, there are some bad actors, and what you see at the table is what you get in real life, but that’s rare. Poker is filled many wonderful characters.

But poker can also put you in dangerous situations, and one extreme example almost cost me my life. I was playing in a friend’s game in Guntersville, Alabama in a beautiful city located on a lake. The idyllic setting is in stark contrast to what happened next. I had played poker all day in a small hotel suite and quit around 9 p.m. to play gin on the bed next to the door. A few moments later, there was a knock at the door that caught everyone’s attention. It sounded like someone was tapping metal on the door. The gentleman running the game asked, “Who is it?” The man identified himself as Johnny. The door didn’t have a peephole, so the host of the game opened the door a crack.

As he did so, the person tried to push the door open. My friend pushed back, but a shotgun barrel came through the door near my shoulder and fired. It was so close I could smell the gunpowder. As everyone dove to the floor, the suspect ran off. Someone hollered, “Is anyone hurt?” One of the players was shot in the arm and permanently lost the use of his arm.

After this close call, I kept asking myself, “Why, with a young daughter at home, did I put myself in this situation?” In Alabama poker players feared three things: the police, cheats and hijackers. I determined right then I would move to a place where poker was played in a structured, safe atmosphere, so I went out to California. It was the best decision I ever made.

On a lighter note, the money you make in poker can sometimes seem like play money. This story puts it back in perspective. In one of my regular games a player named TJ normally lost every day. He owned a construction company that generated a lot of money. On this particular day, he won a huge pot around $20,000. In those days when you stepped away from the table, you took your money with you.

TJ folded up the wad of $100 bills and said he was going to the bathroom. We kept playing and about 20 minutes later we noticed he hadn’t come back. I went looking for him and couldn’t find him. He actually slipped out the door and left.

About an hour went by, and we heard someone honking a horn outside. I looked out the window, and there was TJ in a brand-new yellow Cadillac. He said, “Get Ray Hall out here.” Ray was the one he beat out of the money. He said, “How do you like this new Cadillac you bought me, Ray? Would you like to go for a ride?” Ray didn’t mind losing to TJ because he usually won it back. But not this time.

Every day from then on he would say to Ray, “Look at this car you bought me.” And every day he would lose, but we never forgot the day he locked up his winnings.

The Cadillac story illustrates how quickly fortunes can change in poker. This next story shows how actual fortunes are won and lost. James Roy, one of the best No Limit players nicknamed Shany, was a good friend of Jack Binion’s and travelled with another player nicknamed Chicken Man. James would often tell the story that Chicken Man’s daddy left him a saw mill and he turned it into a toothpick. James continued, “I only used to have a toothpick, now I have a saw mill.” That story shows how dramatic the swings at the poker table can be.

Like I said in my first article, you can learn from whoever or whatever is in front of you in poker and in life. I have many other stories to tell. Share your stories with me at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.

Lessons I Learned at the Poker Table–Part 1

Poker Game

While I was reading an article from the Boston Globe titled “Lessons Learned in a Pool Hall” by Carlo Rotella, the last line in particular stood out to me. Rotella writes: “If you pay attention, you can learn something of value from whatever and whoever you find in front of you.” His words inspired me to write about the lessons I learned at the poker table over the years.

The first thing I learned is that all players are in control of their destiny; a bad run cannot be blamed solely on bad beats. If you are managing your bankroll properly, a string of bad beats will not affect your bankroll because you are playing within your limits and making adjustments as necessary. Say if you have a bad session, you may need to drop down in limit until you make it up before moving back up. The decision is all yours. That is one of the beauties of poker—you are in charge, but it is also one of its pitfalls. If you make mistakes in money management and get completely broke, you have only yourself to blame for playing above your means and jeopardizing your whole bankroll.

This leads me to my second point. I learned that the hardest thing in gambling is dealing with your own demons. We all have a dark side that affects our play and controlling those demons is such an important part of gambling. I have seen sports betting and other forms of gambling take a toll on many poker players’ lives throughout the years. These players get tired of grinding at poker and give in to the urge to do something more exciting. They seek the adrenaline rush that games of chance such as craps and blackjack gives them. If poker was that easy, there would be many more successful poker players.

One of the greatest skills a poker player can possess is the ability to read opponents. An extreme example of this happened in a home game I was running. I had two players who kept needling each other. Both were drinking. All of a sudden it got out of hand, and one of the players named Wayne reached across the table and slapped the other player called Doc. He got up without a word and left to go home, or so I thought. As I was addressing the issue with Wayne, there was a knock at the door, and to my surprise Doc was standing there. He walked back to his seat and said, “Let’s play poker.” I went to get a towel to wipe the blood from his face, and as I walked back to the table, I noticed he had a gun under the table with the hammer back aimed at Wayne’s stomach. I was in shock. I walked over to Wayne and whispered to him, “Wayne, you better go. Doc has a gun under the table pointed at your stomach.” Wayne said, “I’m not leaving. If he was going to shoot me, he would have already shot me. Let’s play poker.” I learned that night that reading people might not just win you a pot but save your life.

The most important thing we all should remember is nothing is as important as family and friends. One of my best friends and one of the greatest people I have ever met at the poker table was an attorney who sometimes let poker interfere with his family. He was always making comments about the time like, “I should have left a long time ago. I don’t know why I’m still here. My wife is going to be so upset.”’ We didn’t take it literally until one night about 11 p.m. he was involved in a big pot when all of a sudden two diamond rings were thrown into the pot. Everyone was startled and looked up to see his wife standing behind him. She said, “You guys want to win it all? You might as well win these.” It created quite a problem for the dealer. Of course, we gave the rings back, but after that we were always looking over his shoulder for his wife. We saw her one more time. She suddenly appeared and slapped him across the face and turned around and left. Blood was streaming down his face. He didn’t miss a beat and just kept on playing. He always struggled balancing his real life with what he loved to do, which is play poker.

Poker can be exciting and life changing, for better or worse. You can meet some of the best people and some really bad actors. In my next article, I will share more stories about life lessons from the poker table.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.

Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.