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Remembering Paul Magriel: Part II

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Apr 25, 2018


There are many lessons to be learned from Paul’s life. As I mentioned in the previous column, he became the best backgammon player in the world, and stayed at or near the top for 40 years. He became the best by working hard. He studied positions and subjected them to careful mathematical analysis.

I presume most readers of this magazine are poker players. Try to follow X22’s example and increase your ability by hard work. If you uncover something that gives you a big advantage or find a niche where you are clearly better than everyone else, put in your hours and make as much money as you can while the opportunity is there. Don’t follow in Paul’s footsteps and give away your secrets for free.

Money management was one of Paul’s biggest weaknesses. Sometimes he was overly cautious. There was a large, annual backgammon tournament at the Plaza Hotel, with big cash prizes. Some of the prize money came from the entry fees, similarly to most poker tournaments. Here the best players had a huge advantage since everyone paid the same entry.

There was also a Calcutta pool. For this, players were auctioned off. Obviously the best players sold for the highest prices, and this premium often negated their skill advantage. Paul, who was very short of cash, entered the tournament. He owned all of himself in the player pool and some of himself in the Calcutta pool. He realized that people would pay a premium to buy a piece of him, so he decided to sell off most of himself. After making some carefully calculated deals, he had guaranteed himself a profit of a few thousand if he lost. Sounds great? But he had sold so much that he would make about the same few thousand if he won. After four exhausting days of play, he won the tournament, but instead of cashing for hundreds of thousands, he won the $2,000 he had locked up. You have to admire his ethical perseverance. He could have lost quickly and pocketed the same $2,000, but he knew that playing his hardest to make money for his backers was the right thing to do.

At other times, he went the opposite way, and gambled like a maniac. One year in the main event at the WSOP, the money bubble was fast approaching. No one likes to go broke just before the bubble bursts, and big stacks can take advantage of this. I think the blinds were 2,000-4,000, and he was sitting comfortably with around 250,000. A loose, aggressive player with a 200,000 stack, raised to 10,000. Everyone folded to X, on the button. He saw A-J offsuit. What should he do?

Three plays seem possible to me. My first choice would be to make a raise to 40,000 or even 50,000. Your opponent doesn’t want to go broke close to the bubble and will fold all of his marginal hands and bluffs. If he calls, you are in position with a reasonable hand. If he four-bets, you can assume you’re beaten and fold, maintaining a 200,000 stack. My second choice would be to call and try to play properly after I see the flop, although A-J can be tough to play with deep stacks. The third choice is to quietly fold. I am probably letting a little equity slip away, but I might find a much better spot later.

What did Paul do? He decided to put maximum pressure on the raiser. He shoved for 250,000! Was this a brilliancy or rashly foolhardy? His opponent had kings and called. Nothing wonderful happened, and Paul was left with 50,000. This was enough to get him into the money.

Takeaways: Work hard and study a lot. Don’t give away your secrets. Don’t be too cautious. Don’t be too reckless or too creative, especially in situations where the money means a lot to you. Try to take sensible actions. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 50 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library and DBA.