The following episode took place a few years ago. A respected poker pro (who shall be nameless to protect the guilty) cashed out for a shade over $150,000 in a major tournament. He took the cash but, as he turned around, he found a bunch of his creditors standing there waiting to be paid.
Despite the size of the win, it wasn't enough, and the last guy in line, who got shortchanged, slugged our hero. Not many make the final table and get a crack in the jaw as part of the prize.
His problem? Sports betting, where he has lost astonishing amounts. Others bet the horses or shoot craps or wager on their ability to smack a small, white, dimpled orb of gutta-percha around a manicured park.
Of course, some of this is "just fun" between gamblers. But much of it isn't - it has a markedly pathological feel to it.
I've got some thoughts to share with you. First, there is an ironic, Shakespearean element here. In many of Shakespeare's tragedies the traits that made characters successful and heroic were the very ones that ultimately brought about their downfall.
Brunson: Known to wake up on the wrong side of the spread.
And so it goes with many poker greats. The skills that enable these guys to rise to the top of the poker world are the very ones that drag them into the financial abyss elsewhere.
They hurl themselves into games with a devil-may-care attitude. They don't care about the money. They crave action, they know and love the game and they're ruthless. They don't just want to win; they want to crush their opponents.
Jack Straus put it best, "If my own grandmother sat down at the table, I'd break her." As English essayist, poet, mountain climber and poker player Al Alvarez noted, for these guys the chips aren't money in any ordinary sense; they're just a way of keeping score, a measure of one's status.
When these world-class, high-stakes poker players go to the sportsbook, the race track or the craps table, they take their skills, talents and personality quirks with them. Their knowledge of statistics and probabilities is useful, but their lack of concern for money, their massive egos and their dependence on reading their opponents are daggers in their hearts.
A thoroughbred horse doesn't give a fat flying fig who you are or how inflated your ego is. You can't intimidate a pair of dice with an all-in bet. A tipped pass in overtime will doom your bet on the Cowboys no matter how big your wager.
: Smart enough to be on the MIT blackjack team, but frequently gambles by dressing in the dark.
The psychology of the poker table is different from other gambling domains. The drive, the ability to read people, to out-think them, to win the wheels-within-wheels maneuverings that comprise the bluffs and traps - all these aptitudes that work at the poker table are useless in other gaming venues.
You'd think they'd figure it out, but they don't - they don't care about the money, their egos goad them on and, at the bottom of their mortal souls, they are action junkies.
Are there winning poker players who are also successful elsewhere? A few, but they tend to be laid-back types who approach both games with a quiet, studied manner. Mickey Appleman is a legendary sports bettor and Andy Bloch was a member of the famed MIT blackjack team.
There are also poker professionals with no leaks at all. Next time we'll take a look at one, and try to figure out what makes him tick, how he avoids the plumber and what we all can learn from his approach to the game and to life.
Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies. Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.
Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semi-retired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
More strategy articles from Arthur S. Reber: