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Irrational Reactions to the Indictments

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Apr 19, '11


Hi Everybody,

The DOJ’s indictments were an abomination, but they are a fact, and we have no choice but to adjust to them and their horrendous effects. We should handle them just the way good players handle nasty surprises at the table, by dispassionately analyzing the situation and making good decisions.

Unfortunately, far too many players aren’t even trying to remain analytic and objective. They are whining, ranting, and calling for silly, counter-productive, emotional reactions.

I’ll compare it to a poker experience that’s not too unusual. Two drunken idiots have given you three bad beats. They have huge stacks, and you’re down two and a half racks. You’re controlling yourself, playing solidly, just waiting for a chance to bust them. With no warning they leave, and their seats are taken by two tough pros.

Do you stand up and shout, “You can’t leave with my money. Get back here?”

You may want to shout, but you keep your mouth shut. If you’re at all rational, you look around the table, estimate your chances of beating the new, tougher game, and decide how to adjust to it. That’s the kind of thinking we normally do while playing, and we need to do it now about much larger decisions.

Poker is an extremely situational game. When you ask questions, experts’
standard answer is, “It depends upon the situation.” They tell you to set aside your hopes, fears, anger, and other emotions, analyze the situation dispassionately, and then make the best decision for this situation.

Some players – including ones who apply that principle well at the tables – are ignoring it when reacting to the indictments, closing of websites, etc. Their emotional reactions are understandable, but irrational.

Instrumental Versus Expressive Actions

Many actions include both instrumental and expressive elements, but I’ll focus on pure cases.

Instrumental actions are taken to cause a specific result. For example, before raising, you should know which result you want and why raising is likely to produce it: You may want to thin the field, build the pot, or get a free card. If you don’t know the result you want or are unlikely to get that result, don’t raise.

Expressive actions are taken to relieve emotional pressure. The stronger this pressure is, the more likely people are to act without carefully analyzing the probable results. In fact, the need to express their feelings can be so intense that people take actions they know or expect to have negative consequences. “Steam raises” and playing bad cards “because I can’t win with good ones” are obvious and fairly common examples.

Because most people don’t want to admit that they are acting foolishly, they often rationalize. They give good reasons for their emotionally-driven actions, not the real reasons. For example, have you heard people justify really dumb plays by saying, “I’m mixing up my game to keep people off balance?”

The worse a situation is, the more important it becomes to be calm and rational, to resist the desire to express your feelings, analyze situations calmly, and make intelligent decisions. Because the DOJ’s actions are so outrageous, many people have “lost it.” They are so intent on expressing their anger that they aren’t thinking clearly about their probable effects.

Some Emotional Actions

I’ve read many rants about “extortionists,” “criminals,” and “traitors.” I’ve read even more recommendations that we call or write to newspapers, Representatives, Senators, and the President. Calls and letters let people to blow off steam, but won’t have any immediate effects. They won’t let you play or get your money from a website.

Some reactions were essentially hysterical. In an online forum hoosiergambler wrote, “good news for you Americans is you can go down to the local gun store, arm yourself to the teeth, and take up the battle in true American style… remember America is the home of the free!! (freely brain washed and exploited).”

PokerXanadu wrote: “how about a mass call-in for 9-5 M-F for the entire upcoming week? I think if we jammed the phone lines all day for five days of every member of Congress, the White House, the FBI and the SDNY, we would make a tremendous impact. With so many players affected and unable to play, there should be plenty of people willing to spend the week making phone calls for eight hours a day. Just provide everyone a list of all the phone numbers to call and let everyone just go down the list calling each every one…rinse and repeat for five days.”

His idea would be insane at any time, but it’s particularly crazy now. The economy is terrible. The world is even more chaotic than usual with earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, and revolutions. Congress and the President are bickering over our crushing budget and debt problems. And he wants to harass everyone – our friends and our enemies – to express his anger. If we made all those calls, we would alienate our friends. And we need every friend we can get.

He reminded me of the Berkeley students. I was there when it first blew up in 1964. The students expressed their anger with demonstrations, marches, speeches, sit ins, and so on.

What did they accomplish?

They made people so scared and angry that they voted Ronald Reagan into the California governor’s mansion and then The White House. I’m not saying whether Reagan was a good or bad governor and president, but electing him was certainly not the result the students wanted.

If we act out our anger, we play right into the hands of our enemies. Lawyers do everything they can to scare and anger opposing witnesses and their attorneys. They know that emotional opponents are stupid.

Exactly the same principle applies at poker: If I’m emotional, and you’re not, you’ll kick my butt.

By reacting emotionally, many poker players are helping our enemies. We need friends, and scaring and angering people reinforces the negative stereotypes, thereby reducing our chances to legalize online poker.

I Don’t Want To Cope!

When I made these points and encouraged people to emphasize coping, someone wrote, "If people want to learn how to cope with this, they need to see a shrink. I don’t want to cope with this.”

I replied, “People trying to learn how to cope usually don’t need shrinks. They are acting like adults. When you say, ‘I don’t want to cope with this,’ you’re really saying, ‘I want to act like a child, expressing my anger, regardless of the consequences.’"

He also rationalized by claiming, “I want to help fix the problem. That is done by joining groups for a bigger voice, and by voting."

Of course, voting the right people into office is the best long-term solution, but nobody knows who the right people are:
• Bush was president, and the UIGEA was primarily supported by Republicans.
• But the DOJ now reports to Obama, the man many people hoped would help to repeal the UIGEA. Nobody expected him to allow the DOJ to take such extreme actions.

So how do you know who will support us?

More importantly, nobody can solve the immediate problems. Even if we tied up the phone lines, marched on the streets, and built a massive voting bloc, nothing would change quickly. The indictments would remain in force. The websites would stay closed to Americans. Your withdrawals would still be processed slowly.

Let’s Focus on Solving Your Problem

If you’re an online pro, semi-pro, or wannabe, none of the “let’s change the system” approaches will replace your locked up money and lost income. You should focus on replacing your lost income because:
• You need the income now.
• You can get some of that income fairly quickly, if, but only if, you act rationally.

Obviously, if you’re an online pro or semi-pro, you probably can’t get much income from a new job, not in this bad economy. The only realistic place to replace your lost income is B&M poker rooms. But, if all or nearly all of your poker success has come online, you can’t beat live games without making huge changes in your play.

It won’t be easy to switch. Many players do switch successfully, but it usually takes time and hard work. Here’s a partial list of the differences between online and B&M (brick and mortar) rooms. B&M rooms:
1. Cost more than twice as much (in rake, tokes, and jackpot drops).
2. Are even more expensive for small tournaments.
3. Have a constantly changing number of players.
4. Don’t have six-max or heads up tables (with a few exceptions).
5. Have far more distractions.
6. Can’t let you use hand-tracking, SharkScope, or other software.
7. Require protecting your cards.
8. Don’t count the pot for you.
9. Require controlling your body language so that you don’t give away information.
10. Require reading your opponents’ body language.
11. Deal far fewer hands per hour (about thirty).

In addition, virtually all serious online players multi-table, which is obviously impossible in B&M games. To get the same income from one table with only thirty hands per hour you must play in much larger games. Since the swings will be larger, you need a much larger bankroll, but much of your bankroll may be locked up. Even if you have enough money to play in bigger games, you may be unable to handle the stresses of large swings,

Adjusting to so many differences can be overwhelming, but – if you don’t adjust – you can’t win. If you want to win, you must adjust well.

Unfortunately, emotional people don’t adjust well. On the contrary, the more emotional you are, the more rigid you’re likely to be. So your first and most important task is to calm down.

My Solution to My Own Problem

Even though I rarely play online, the indictments and closing of online rooms will greatly reduce my income. Book sales will drop; so will seminar and coaching fees. Instead of whining, ranting, and making telephone calls, I’m working with Chris (“Poker Fox”) Wallace, Adam Stemple, and Jan Siroky to design and deliver seminars and coaching that will help online players to switch to B&M games.

In addition, my next few Card Player columns will focus on switching. I’ll soon submit the first one, and others will follow every month. I hope you read them and comment here. If we calmly and thoroughly discuss ways to cope with this terrible situation, we will all be much better off.

Am I sure that the work that Chris, Adam, Jan, and are doing I will pay off?

Of course not.

But I am absolutely certain that thinking positively and looking for ways to build a business that fits this terrible situation will increase our chances to solve our problems. And that’s all that poker players can do. There are no guarantees, but we should do everything possible to increase our EV.

I’ll close with an old saying: It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

If you have a question, please add it in any comment section, or e-mail me Before emailing, please check my first blog, “What is poker psychology coaching?”

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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