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Where the Card Sharks Feed
In 2011, the Justice Department targeted online-poker operators for violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Since then, many guileless amateurs, known to poker pros as “fish,” have been moving back to casinos.

By David Samuels

Dan Saelinger

fish all start out the same. They are bad at poker yet continue to play. By the time they reach the limits of their endurance, emotional or financial, they are poorer but seldom wiser. Those who do learn from their mistakes may climb a rung or two on the evolutionary ladder. Some even evolve into sharks.

Fish abound at Maryland Live, home to the hottest new poker room on the East Coast. Maryland Live is a casino-and-entertainment complex in Hanover, Maryland, adjacent to the Arundel Mills mall. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it offers thousands of slot machines and 177 table games, including blackjack, roulette, craps, and mini baccarat. The poker room, which opened on August 28, 2013, has 52 tables, making it one of the biggest rooms outside of Las Vegas. According to Bravo Poker—an app that tells you how many tables are open for business at any time of day or night in nearly every room in every casino in every state in America—there are usually more high-stakes games running at Maryland Live than at the world-famous Borgata, in Atlantic City. Even pros from Florida, who like to boast of their state’s sunny weather, low taxes, partying tourists, and self-renewing population of old white guys, now come to Maryland Live in the dead of winter. The fishing is that good there.

Like any complex ecosystem, a poker room offers much more than a binary relationship between predators and prey. John Calvin (not his real name) swims somewhere in the middle. He is a grinder, a cautious type who doesn’t bluff that often or do anything hair-raisingly spectacular in tight situations, and who makes his living by doggedly adhering to the odds against lesser players. He got his start making a few dollars a hand on the Web site PartyPoker, then graduated to long weekends of live play at the Borgata before taking up residence at a casino poker room in Charles Town, West Virginia. These days, he commutes from his home, in Washington, D.C., to Maryland Live, where he feeds on fish who are happy to lose a few hundred dollars an hour playing No Limit Texas Hold ’Em—the poker player’s game of choice since 2003, when the great American online-poker boom of the aughts took off.

In January, just after the start of the new year, I visited Maryland Live with Calvin. In a gray sweatshirt and jeans, bald and wearing thin-rimmed black glasses, he looked like a leisure-time version of the corporate strategist he had been in a former life, before he ditched the full-time number-crunching gig and took up poker. As we entered, he rubbed his head, as if for luck, and peered through his glasses at the biggest kettle of fish in North America—which on any given day might include local small-business owners, bored retirees, college kids, and the occasional big-name donator, or “whale.” Among the whales we spotted that afternoon were a red-faced, choleric guy who runs a local charter-boat business, and a shaky-looking Asian guy in an Orioles cap who I was told had donated well over $100,000 during the past few months. Explaining the presence of the Asian guy, Calvin gestured over to a sweet-looking kid in a gray hoodie at the next table and said, “Merson must have got him here.”

Gregory Merson, 26, the winner of the 2012 World Series of Poker, was the biggest shark in the room. He fiddled with an uneven stack of chips and unzipped his hoodie to reveal a black T‑shirt with a hand grenade emblazoned across the front. Every kid in every poker room across America who dreams of playing live on ESPN at the World Series of Poker instead of working some soul-crushing cubicle job would love to have even one day of Greg Merson’s life—playing $10/$25 or $25/$50 No Limit for $300 or $400 an hour, and jetting off to big-money tournaments in the Bahamas and other foreign but civilized places where you can plunk down your credit card and play online poker. (Without getting too technical, $10/$25 refers to the bets that the first two players are required to make before even seeing their cards.)

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Merson is a volatility hawk, which means he enjoys levels of risk that make grinders like Calvin fold. His loose style of play is enabled by a scary ability to read other people’s hands based on the way they portray them through their bets, on other patterns in their play, and sometimes on physical responses, known as “tells,” like rubbing their eyes or looking away. Now that he’s a star, his fat bankroll allows him to drop $20,000 on a single hand without blinking. When Maryland Live first opened, Merson’s table was hosting $100/$200 No Limit games that required a minimum $20,000 buy-in. The table was drawing whales from up and down the East Coast, and pros from all around the country. A quality pro with a nice bankroll could make an average of $1,600 an hour by sitting at the table, and a few of the more serious actors have made upwards of $100,000 in a single day. Merson was the most famous poker star at Maryland Live when I was there, and the most fun to watch, but trying to emulate his game would be like trying to shoot three-pointers with Manu Ginobili.

We found a table Calvin liked. “There are no good pros here,” he said. It was easy to identify the other players at table 24 as fish—the older white guy with gray hair and horn-rimmed accountant glasses was one, and the clean-cut young black guy pushing seven Ben Franklins out of a bank envelope was another. Calvin licked his chops. One of the basic rules of thumb in live poker is that clean-cut young black guys play like older white guys, meaning they are cautious and rarely bluff, which in turn means their hands are incredibly easy to read. According to a handy app on his iPhone called Poker Journal, Calvin has been earning an average of $120 an hour at Maryland Live since the poker room opened. Leaning back in a red-leather-padded chair, he began to figure out whom at the table he should spend his afternoon angling for. “Today I’m going to make my money from those two guys,” he said, nodding first at the black guy, in seat 4, and then at the charter-boat guy, who was in seat 9.

Calvin admitted that there are moments when he feels a little dirty taking other people’s money. He also admitted that such moments are rare. “You need people with money,” he explained. So far, he is winning more than enough to cover his mortgage and car payments, which keeps his wife from getting nervous. “I want to keep those guys in as many hands with me as possible,” he said, “and isolate them in heads-up pots”—one-on-one matchups. “That is my goal for today.”

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After three hours of steady losing, the charter-boat guy, whom I’ll call the Captain, was staring down at the eight and nine of hearts—which could have, and by his calculations should have, given him a winning hand. Instead, he lost yet again. “I got the nuts!” he said. “And I still can’t win! Goddamn!” The Captain slapped his cards down on the table with the plaintive cry of a flawed man whose desire to think well of himself is frustrated by realities that defy his understanding. He stared accusingly at Calvin before objecting in a loud, pained voice, “He done got me too many times!”

A scene from the new 52-table poker room at Maryland Live, a casino in Hanover, Maryland. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the room is one of the largest in the country outside of Las Vegas. Usually, more high-stakes poker games run at Maryland Live than at the Borgata, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Maryland Live Casino/PRNewsfoto)
most games in which large amounts of money are won and lost require a basic acquaintance with the laws of chance. But poker requires skills that transcend simply knowing the odds of completing any particular hand. It requires a split-screen ability to read the other people at the table while maintaining an awareness of how they are reading you. It requires what is called “leveling”: the ability to move fluidly and accurately in one’s imagination from the hands that all the other players are representing, to the hands that they probably have, to the hand that they think you have, to the hand that they think that you think that they think you have. The acute awareness and processing ability required to quickly go through a complex checklist and get it right—while controlling your thoughts and behavior so that others can’t read you with any equivalent degree of accuracy—is what separates poker pros from casino operators and other crude types who profit from the fact that large numbers of people are dumb or drunk and can’t do math.

Tom Wang is a pro who has lately been spending a lot of time at Maryland Live. A sleepy-looking guy who has the temperament of a born poker player, he is a model of consistency who channels his intensely competitive spirit into studying his own behavior, to spot and fix holes in his game. He is kind and considerate to other pros, and to anyone who sits down at his table. On the day we met, he wore a black sweater and a leather jacket and was in a particularly welcoming mood, having recently returned from a five-star beach vacation in the Dominican Republic with his photogenic girlfriend.

The traits required to win at poker mean that most pros are fun to talk to: they are normal enough guys with a misfit streak. Wang fits that bill. “I used to have an office job,” he said of the dark years before he turned pro. “I was a budget analyst for the government. It was the most mind-numbing, humiliating job I could imagine. I was humiliated every day by how boring it was.” To relieve his boredom, he started playing poker every day after work, on an online site called PokerStars. In 2008, the quality of his play attracted the attention of Merson, who fronted him $2,000 in exchange for a share of his winnings. It was a wise call: within a few months, the money Wang was making in a three-hour session of play was equal to or greater than his weekly paycheck. So he quit his job and went fishing.

There are plenty of simple poker truths that pros like Wang intuit but that fish find impossible to recognize. One is that strong is weak, and weak is strong—meaning that players who are obviously trying to suggest that they hold, say, four aces, by betting large sums of money and raising at every opportunity, are most likely holding air, whereas players who act poor and meek while still staying in a hand are probably the ones holding the cards. Another truth is that nearly all fish signal the real strength of their cards through the timing of their bets: when fish bet fast, for example, they’re almost always trying to discourage other players at the table from betting, by falsely portraying a weak hand as strong. At a higher level of play, the most common way that fish reveal their true position is by failing to tell a consistent story about their hand, through their pattern of betting, as new cards are added to the board.

Being a poker pro means that you make the majority of your income from playing poker. In the olden days, that meant becoming a kind of multidimensional grifter like Amarillo Slim, the World Series of Poker champion who made his bones by instituting home games with super-wealthy Texas oil barons, and who wrote the first truly insightful book about the game, Play Poker to Win (1973), while mastering the lures of prop betting and other devices for extracting ready cash from suckers.

The two or three dozen pros who swim among the fish at Maryland Live are the children of the online-poker boom of the aughts, which was halted in its tracks in 2011 by two things: the fears of casino operators and various other guardians of public morals, who ginned up legislation based on dubious legal theories; and the government’s drive, post-9/11, to more closely monitor and control global cash flows. Poker sites were chased out of the U.S. market and forced to pay huge sums. Hundreds of their most avid clients exited their dorm rooms and suburban basements and headed for the bright lights of America’s casinos, where poker was still legal.

Not all the online-poker players found the experience of live play congenial. While the rules are technically the same, online poker is, or was, its own world—a place where competitors with online monikers like ka$ino, CrazyMarco, and Potripper lived out their poker lives on Internet time, mining a data-rich universe of pseudonymous suckers with credit cards for buckets of spare change. Playing six or 12 or even 24 hands at a time, they could play 800 to 2,000 hands an hour. For the most highly skilled players, who saw more cards by their junior year of college than Amarillo Slim saw in his lifetime, this meant the winnings added up fast, even at 50 cents a hand.

Greg Merson, the winner of the 2012 World Series of Poker, in Las Vegas, contemplates a bet during the event. When Maryland Live first opened, Merson's table was hosting games that required a minimum $20,000 buy-in. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
john calvin’s trajectory, from online-poker sites to casino poker rooms, is typical of the new generation of pros. He started playing on PartyPoker in 2003, in the early days of the online-poker boom, while working as a management consultant. “The games then were ridiculously soft,” he told me. “It was to the point then where anybody could pick up a poker book, read a chapter on starting hands, and probably immediately make $30 to $40 an hour, after 15 minutes of study.” Playing 10 to 15 hours a week, on nights and weekends, he saw thousands of hands, and started making real money. In 2004, still playing 10 to 15 hours a week after hours, he made more than $100,000. In 2005, he made even more.

The first sign that Calvin’s wildly lucrative hobby was in trouble came on October 13, 2006, when Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which declared it to be a federal offense for a gambling business to “knowingly” accept payments “in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.” While this somewhat broadly defined offense was made punishable by up to five years in prison, the statute did not define unlawful Internet gambling. Preexisting federal law had declared sports betting unlawful, but not poker. Still, everyone seemed to recognize the intent of the statute, and federal prosecutors went after poker operators, who were pressured to pay enormous sums and shut down their U.S. sites in exchange for their continuing freedom. The owners of outfits like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker made millions by stepping into the vacuum left by the wholesale retreat of more-cautious operators who could afford to retire. But the poker sites had been warned.

On April 15, 2011, a day known among online-poker players as Black Friday, the Department of Justice unsealed United States v. Scheinberg, a federal criminal case that targeted the founders and key associates of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet. The government alleged that the defendants had violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and conspired to commit bank fraud and money laundering to process transfers to and from their customers; a civil case filed alongside the indictment targeted assets that were valued at upwards of $3 billion.

Black Friday forced the online-poker players to choose between poker and their real-world lives. Many, like Calvin, chose poker. He estimates that learning to control his body language at the table took about 40 hours of live play. In his first six months playing live $5/$10 No Limit in Charles Town, West Virginia, according to his iPhone app, he made an average of about $150 an hour, which was more than he made as a consultant. He enjoyed his work more, too. He got friendly with the other pros, whose passage through the looking glass, from the online-poker world into the casino poker rooms, had been similar to his own. “It’s kinda almost like we’re co-workers, really,” he said when I asked him about the bonds that have formed among the pros at Maryland Live. There’s Brandon, a clean-cut guy in his 20s who speaks with a gentle southern drawl, and Nate, who looks like the captain of a prep-school squash team. Along with the other pros, Merson and Wang included, they eat the bad food and endure the late hours while taking money from the fish. “We’re very friendly with each other,” Calvin said. He is quick to deny that there is any kind of formal collusion within the group, but they all understand that staying out of heads-up pots with other pros is another basic rule of winning poker.

“It’s common sense,” Calvin told me with a smile. “I don’t want to get in marginal spots against someone who’s good. I want to get in marginal spots against someone who’s bad.”

It’s all relative, though. For a pro like Tom Wang, who occupies a higher position in the food chain, the way Calvin plays is entirely predictable. “He’s married, and has a kid and a mortgage,” Wang told me, in a matter-of-fact, only mildly condescending tone. “It’s a very formulaic way of playing, unimaginative and uncreative. It’s common among grinders like Calvin. But you don’t want to play against him. You want to play against the fish, who are bleeding all over the place.”

even the biggest sharks have to obey the moral order of the poker room. Except when they decide otherwise. “I have Gregory Merson on my table,” a middle-aged floor supervisor with a modified Denny’s-waitress-type beehive of long black hair complained to her manager. “He jumped the line.” Merson ignored her. At this table, Tom Wang and Calvin were sitting together with John, a baby-faced pro with slicked-back hair who was wearing a red vintage windbreaker emblazoned with a name patch from Eli Lilly’s hospital division. “It’s a piece of history,” John explained when I asked him about the jacket, which he had bought off an old fish named Gil for $60. The lure of this particular table for the pros was the presence of two of the bigger whales in the room—the Asian guy in the Orioles cap, whose name was Lee, and an older business owner named Alan, who, a few of the pros told me, had lost a lot of money in Las Vegas and was now losing less sizable sums here.

Calvin licked his chops. He has been earning an average of $120 an hour at Maryland Live. Leaning back in his chair, he began to figure out which fish he should angle for. “Today I’m going to make my money from those two guys,” he said, nodding at seats 4 and 9.
Sitting down at the table next to Alan, Merson took a rubber-banded wad of high-denomination chips from his pocket and cashed them in for smaller chips, which he shuffled and wove together into unsteady towers that wavered above the baize. Across the table, Tom Wang stacked his chips to build a geometrically perfect castle, with three towers that contained exactly the same number of chips. Seeking out volatility wherever he could find it, Merson isolated Alan at every opportunity, three-betting him on nearly every raise (that is, putting a third bet into the pot, to signal strong cards and aggressively drive up the cost of the hand). His decisions were always right, but at no time was he an overwhelming favorite. Alan, despite playing in a notably careless manner, won a number of decent-size pots—after which, gloating, he bought Merson a massage. Yet only a fool would interpret Alan’s success to mean that poker is primarily a game of chance. What’s sure is that Alan will come back to the tables and play the same way again, and the cards will be different, and Merson will win two or three times as much, or eight or nine times as much. In the meantime, Merson was free to enjoy his massage.

Later, he had time to talk. “I love poker as much as I did when I was 17,” he told me when I asked him whether he is ever tempted to put his wizardry into a more lucrative, long-term line of work, like options trading. In fact, he said, before he won the World Series of Poker, he was offered a job on a hedge-fund trading desk—as an intern, which shows that the hedge-fund guys maybe aren’t so smart. Merson turned down the offer.

One of the biggest adjustments you face when moving from online play to live play, he said, sounding exactly like a hedge-fund trader, is that although you have many more types of information about each player when you play live, “tendency information”—information about how players behave in specific situations, which enhances your reads of what they are holding and about to do—comes in at a much lower rate. We talked about a high-stakes private game in New York that had recently made it into the tabloids, to which Merson had been invited. “I drove up to Manhattan and stayed in this great condo near Central Park,” he said, still sounding amazed. “There were four TVs in the living room, a massage girl, and a chef making food. The night before, this guy had lost $1.1 million. The biggest winner made $700,000.” He also told me about a famous private game on the Strip in Vegas, in a 16,000-square-foot house that, when he visited, featured 20 women, self-professed models, as decoration. When the game was over, the girls put on bikinis and jumped in the pool.

Merson remains a poker kid at heart. He is not part of the high-stakes nomenclatura, which includes Phil Ivey, who has his own poker room at a Vegas casino called Aria, which Merson recently targeted in a series of outraged tweets, objecting to being kept out of a high-stakes casino game where the table was stocked with fish. Merson’s ethos is entirely democratic, whether it comes to private games in casinos or online-poker sites that rig their seats. “I started at the bottom, at 17 years old,” he said. “I think that the games should be fair, and everyone should have a chance to play.”

every once in a while, even the most cautious player gets stuck in a heads-up pot with a player like Greg Merson, no matter how aware they are that the odds are unfavorable. Calvin is no exception. Toward the end of the night, during a $10/$25 No Limit game, holding the jack and the 10 of spades, pre-flop, he raised to $75. His bet elicited three callers, two of whom happened to be the best players at the table: Merson and Tom Wang. With $300 in the pot, the flop came six, four, deuce, with two spades, giving Calvin a flush draw. Merson, acting first, bet $275, a nearly pot-size bet that, when a fish makes it, almost always indicates a weak hand or a draw (the aim being to scare away other players and win the hand immediately); coming from Merson, the bet could have meant those things as well, but it also could have indicated a very strong hand or a pure bluff. Calvin’s pre-flop raise suggested a starting hand such as an ace-king or an ace-queen. In Merson’s eyes, Calvin was prey—and Calvin knew it.

Calvin’s decision to call Merson’s bet was entirely logical and didn’t reveal too much: to Merson, it might look like he held a big pair, like nines or jacks. He didn’t know what cards Merson held, but Merson couldn’t see his cards yet either. With both Merson and Calvin portraying strong cards, Wang and the other player in the hand dropped out. Luckily for Calvin, the fourth card—the turn—was the queen of spades, completing his flush.

What Merson made of the situation became apparent a few moments later, when he bet $700, a sizable amount that suggested he had either a set—three deuces, three fours, or three sixes—or a flush, the hand Calvin actually held. Any of these hands might have led Merson to call Calvin’s pre-flop bet, but not to raise it: both Calvin and Merson were telling consistent stories. If Calvin now raised—in many ways, the most prudent and straightforward play—he would likely win the hand then and there, unless Merson held a high flush. But Calvin, mortgage be damned, just called, hoping that Merson was bluffing, and that he might continue his charade by making one last bet after the final card was dealt. That card—the river—was the four of spades.

In a split second, Calvin went from feeling that he had a near-lock with his flush to being scared shitless because a fourth spade had fallen, and the board had paired: Merson might now also be holding a full house, another hand that would beat Calvin’s flush.

To Calvin’s relief, Merson checked. Calvin quickly did the same, and the game was over. Merson, it turned out, was holding nothing but a busted gut-shot straight draw—the seven and eight of hearts. Once the queen of spades hit on a turn, he was drawing dead. Merson said the last card was lucky for him: if it hadn’t been so obviously bad, he would have continued to bluff.

Forgivably, Calvin saw the hand a bit more heroically. “I just outplayed Greg Merson the 2012 WSOP champ,” he texted to his wife when the hand was done. He knew he possessed nothing close to Merson’s level of skill and intuition, but still: he’d won. It was the kind of moment, he admitted to me, that made life as a mid-level pro feel like something more than just a way of saying no to boredom.

But the truth is, even without such moments, Calvin is more than at peace with his chosen profession, however disreputable it may seem to lawmakers, prospective employers, and others who think that poker is a game of mere chance. It’s satisfying, the hours are flexible, and above all, it’s challenging work, even for someone who went to business school. “All I want,” he told me on our drive home, “is to do something smart, and get paid.”

David Samuels is a regular contributor to The Atlantic.

2011年,司法部以违反《非法互联网赌博实施法》为由,将在线扑克运营商列为目标。从那时起,许多听话的业余爱好者,也就是被扑克专家称为 "鱼 "的人,纷纷回到了赌场。

作者:David Samuels

Dan Saelinger

鱼 "开始时都是一样的。他们不善于打牌,但仍继续玩下去。当他们的忍耐力达到极限时,无论是在情感上还是在经济上,他们都会变得更穷,但却很少有智慧。那些从错误中学习的人可能会在进化的阶梯上爬一两级。有些人甚至会进化成鲨鱼。

在东海岸最热门的新扑克室所在地--马里兰现场,鱼很多。马里兰现场是一个位于马里兰州汉诺威的赌场和娱乐场所,毗邻阿伦德尔米尔斯购物中心。它每周七天、每天24小时营业,提供数以千计的老虎机和177种桌面游戏,包括21点、轮盘、骰子和迷你百家乐。扑克室于2013年8月28日开业,有52张桌子,是拉斯维加斯以外最大的扑克室之一。根据Bravo Poker--一个可以告诉你在美国各州几乎每个赌场的每个房间在任何时间都有多少张桌子在营业的应用程序--马里兰现场通常比世界著名的大西洋城的Borgata更多的高风险游戏在运行。即使是来自佛罗里达州的职业选手,他们喜欢吹嘘自己州的阳光明媚的天气、低税率、狂欢的游客和自我更新的老白人人口,现在也会在寒冬时节来到马里兰现场。那里的钓鱼活动就是这么好。


今年1月,新年刚开始,我和卡尔文参观了马里兰现场。他穿着灰色运动衫和牛仔裤,秃头,戴着细边黑框眼镜,看起来就像他前世的公司战略家的休闲版,在他放弃全职数字计算工作而从事扑克游戏之前。当我们进入时,他揉了揉自己的头,似乎在祈求好运,并透过眼镜看了看北美最大的鱼缸--在任何特定的一天,这可能包括当地的小企业主、无聊的退休人员、大学生,以及偶尔的大牌捐赠者,或者 "鲸鱼"。那天下午我们看到的 "鲸鱼 "中,有一个红脸的、脾气暴躁的家伙,他经营着当地的租船业务,还有一个戴着金莺队帽子、看起来摇摇欲坠的亚洲人,我被告知他在过去几个月中捐出了超过10万美元的资金。在解释这个亚洲人的存在时,卡尔文向邻桌一个穿着灰色连帽衫、长相可爱的孩子打了个手势,说:"一定是默森把他弄到这里来了。"


亚瑟-布鲁克斯(Arthur C. Brooks
莫森是一个波动性的鹰派人物,这意味着他享受的风险水平让加尔文这样的磨练者折服。他宽松的游戏风格是由一种可怕的能力促成的,即根据他们通过下注描绘的方式,根据他们游戏中的其他模式,有时还根据身体反应,即所谓的 "告诉",比如揉揉眼睛或看向别处,来解读其他人的手。现在他已经是个明星了,他那丰厚的银行存款让他可以不眨眼地在一手牌上扔下2万美元。在马里兰现场娱乐公司刚开业的时候,默森的赌桌正在举办100/200美元的无上限游戏,要求最低买入2万美元。这张桌子吸引了来自东海岸上下的鲸鱼,以及来自全国各地的职业选手。一个拥有不错银行资金的优质职业选手坐在牌桌上,平均每小时可以赚到1600美元,有几个比较认真的演员在一天之内赚到了10万美元以上。我在马里兰现场的时候,莫森是最有名的扑克明星,也是最有趣的人,但想模仿他的游戏就像想和马努-吉诺比利一起投三分球一样。

我们找到了卡尔文喜欢的一张桌子。"这里没有好的职业选手,"他说。很容易辨认出24号桌的其他玩家是鱼--留着灰白头发、戴着角质眼镜的年长白人是一个,而从银行信封里拿出7个本-弗兰克林的干净的年轻黑人是另一个。卡尔文舔了舔自己的脸。现场扑克的基本经验法则之一是,清一色的年轻黑人玩得像年长的白人,这意味着他们很谨慎,很少虚张声势,这又意味着他们的手非常容易读懂。根据他iPhone上一个名为 "扑克杂志 "的便捷应用,自从马里兰现场扑克室开业以来,卡尔文平均每小时能赚到120美元。靠在一张红色皮革垫的椅子上,他开始盘算在牌桌上他应该用下午的时间去钓谁。"今天我要从这两个人身上赚钱,"他说,先是向坐在4号座位的黑人点了点头,然后又向坐在9号座位的租船人点了点头。



经过三个小时的持续输钱,那个租船的人,我叫他船长,正盯着红桃8和9--这本来可以,而且根据他的计算,应该给他带来胜利的牌。相反,他又一次输了。"我有坚果!"他说。"但我还是赢不了! 该死的!" 船长把他的牌拍在桌子上,发出一个有缺陷的人的悲鸣,他想把自己想得很好的愿望被违背他理解的现实所挫败。他指责地盯着卡尔文,然后用大声而痛苦的声音反对说:"他已经害我太多次了!"

马里兰州汉诺威的一家赌场--马里兰现场的新52桌扑克室的一个场景。该房间每周七天、每天24小时开放,是全国除拉斯维加斯之外最大的房间之一。通常情况下,在马里兰现场赌场进行的高赌注扑克游戏比在新泽西州大西洋城的博格塔赌场还要多。(Maryland Live Casino/PRNewsfoto)
大多数赢得和输掉大量金钱的游戏需要对机会法则有基本的了解。但扑克需要的技能超越了简单了解完成任何特定手牌的几率。它需要一种分屏的能力,在读懂牌桌上的其他人的同时,保持对他们如何读懂你的意识。它需要所谓的 "水平":在自己的想象中流畅而准确地从所有其他玩家所代表的手,到他们可能拥有的手,到他们认为你拥有的手,到他们认为你认为他们拥有的手。迅速通过一个复杂的核对表并使其正确,同时控制你的思想和行为,使其他人不能以任何同等程度的准确性来读懂你,所需要的敏锐意识和处理能力,是将扑克高手与赌场经营者和其他粗鲁的类型区分开来的原因,他们从大量的人是愚蠢的或喝醉了,不会做数学的事实中获利。

Tom Wang是一个最近在马里兰现场花了很多时间的职业玩家。他是一个看起来很困倦的人,有着天生的牌手的气质,他是一个一致性的典范,他把他强烈的竞争精神用于研究自己的行为,以发现和修复他游戏中的漏洞。他对其他职业选手,以及任何坐在他桌前的人都很友善和体贴。在我们见面的那天,他穿着黑色毛衣和皮夹克,心情特别好,最近刚从多米尼加共和国的五星级海滩度假回来,和他那上镜的女友在一起。

在扑克中获胜所需的特征意味着大多数职业选手都很有趣:他们是足够正常的人,有一种不合群的气质。王健林符合这个条件。"我曾经有一份办公室工作,"他说到他转为职业选手之前的黑暗岁月。"我是政府的预算分析员。那是我能想象到的最令人头疼、最羞耻的工作。我每天都因为它的无聊而感到羞辱。" 为了解除他的无聊,他开始每天下班后在一个叫PokerStars的在线网站上玩扑克。2008年,他的游戏质量吸引了莫森的注意,莫森为他垫付了2000美元,以换取他的赢利份额。这是一个明智的决定:在几个月内,Wang在三小时的比赛中赚到的钱相当于或超过了他每周的工资。于是他辞去工作,去钓鱼。





2012年拉斯维加斯世界扑克大赛的冠军格雷格-默森(Greg Merson)在比赛中考虑下注的问题。在马里兰现场赛刚开张时,默森所在的桌子上举办的游戏需要至少20,000美元的买入。(Julie Jacobson/AP)
约翰-卡尔文的轨迹,从在线扑克网站到赌场扑克室,是新一代职业选手的典型。他于2003年开始在PartyPoker上玩牌,那是在线扑克繁荣的早期,当时他是一名管理顾问。他告诉我:"那时的游戏软得令人发指,"。"当时的情况是,任何人都可以拿起一本扑克书,读一章起手牌,经过15分钟的学习,可能马上就能赚到每小时30至40美元。" 每周在晚上和周末玩10到15个小时,他看到了数以千计的手,并开始赚取真正的钱。2004年,仍然是每周下班后玩10到15个小时,他赚了10多万美元。2005年,他赚得更多。

2006年10月13日,国会通过了《非法互联网赌博执行法案》,宣布赌博企业 "故意 "接受 "与他人参与非法互联网赌博有关的 "付款是联邦犯罪,这是加尔文这个利润丰厚的爱好陷入困境的第一个迹象。虽然这种定义宽泛的犯罪行为可被判处五年以下的监禁,但该法规并没有对非法互联网赌博进行定义。先前的联邦法律已经宣布体育博彩为非法,但没有宣布扑克为非法。尽管如此,每个人似乎都认识到了该法规的意图,联邦检察官对扑克牌运营商进行了调查,他们被迫支付巨额款项并关闭其美国网站以换取持续的自由。扑克之星(PokerStars)和Full Tilt Poker等公司的老板通过介入更谨慎的运营商全线撤退后留下的真空,赚取了数百万美元。但这些扑克网站已经被警告过了。

2011年4月15日,一个被在线扑克玩家称为黑色星期五的日子,美国司法部公布了美国诉Scheinberg一案,这是一起针对扑克之星、Full Tilt Poker和Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet的创始人和主要合伙人的联邦刑事案件。政府称,被告违反了《非法互联网赌博执行法案》,并密谋实施银行欺诈和洗钱,以处理与客户之间的转账;与起诉书同时提交的民事案件针对的是价值超过30亿美元的资产。




即使是最大的鲨鱼也要遵守扑克室的道德秩序。除非他们另有决定。"我的桌子上有格雷戈里-莫森,"一个中年的楼层主管,留着改良版的丹尼餐厅服务员式的黑色长发蜂巢,向她的经理抱怨道。"他插队了。" 莫森没有理会她。在这张桌子上,王汤姆和卡尔文与约翰坐在一起,约翰是个娃娃脸,头发向后梳,穿着一件红色的复古风衣,上面印有礼来公司医院部门的名字补丁。"当我问及这件夹克时,约翰解释说:"这是一段历史,他用60美元从一个叫吉尔的老鱼那里买的。这张桌子对职业选手的诱惑力在于房间里有两个大块头--戴着金莺队帽子的亚洲人,他叫李,还有一个叫艾伦的老企业主,有几个职业选手告诉我,他在拉斯维加斯输了很多钱,现在在这里输得不那么多了。

坐在艾伦旁边的桌子上,莫森从口袋里拿出一包橡皮筋绑着的高面值筹码,并把它们兑成小的筹码,他把这些筹码洗干净,编织成不稳定的塔,在牌面上摇摇晃晃。在桌子的另一边,Tom Wang将他的筹码堆积成一个几何上完美的城堡,其中三座塔的筹码数量完全相同。为了寻找任何可以找到的波动性,莫森一有机会就把艾伦孤立起来,几乎每次加注都给他下三注(也就是在彩池里下第三注,以示强牌,并积极地推高手牌的成本)。他的决定总是正确的,但在任何时候他都不是一个压倒性的热门。艾伦尽管玩得很粗心,但还是赢了不少像样的彩池--之后,他幸灾乐祸地请默森按摩。然而,只有傻瓜才会把艾伦的成功理解为扑克主要是一种机会的游戏。可以肯定的是,艾伦会再次回到牌桌上,以同样的方式打牌,而且牌会有所不同,而默森会赢两三倍,或者八九倍。在此期间,默森可以自由地享受他的按摩。


他说,当你从在线游戏转移到现场游戏时,你面临的最大调整之一是,虽然你在现场游戏时有更多关于每个玩家的信息,但 "倾向性信息"--关于玩家在特定情况下的行为的信息,这增强了你对他们持有什么和将要做什么的解读--进入的速度要低很多。我们谈到了最近在纽约举行的一场高赌注的私人比赛,该比赛被小报报道,默森被邀请参加。他说:"我开车到曼哈顿,住在中央公园附近的一个很棒的公寓里,"他说,听起来仍然很惊讶。"客厅里有四台电视,一个按摩女郎,还有一个厨师在做菜。前一天晚上,这个人输了110万美元。最大的赢家赚了70万美元。" 他还告诉我,在拉斯维加斯的大道上有一个著名的私人游戏,在一个16000平方英尺的房子里,当他访问时,有20个女人,自称是模特,作为装饰。游戏结束后,女孩们穿上比基尼,跳进了游泳池。









David Samuels是《大西洋》杂志的定期撰稿人。
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