Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘poker

Losing is a winning game

with 2 comments

Not all gamblers are the same. I am told that very few know how to lose. Best poker players rarely tell stories about their winning hands. Why? Because winning is expected from them; knowing how to lose with dignity is what earns them respect.

Playing styles reveal much more than just individual preferences. The difference between embracing chance on the one hand and counting odds and probabilities on the other marked the end of an era: out went the aristocratic gambler and in came the rational player with carefully honed skill. The age of Enlightenment gave us a player who didn’t only play for fun: their ambition was to earn money. 18th century French aristocracy was shocked to see this new breed: educated bourgeoisie that played safe and showed neither heart nor interest in proving how much they can afford to lose.

Perla Casino in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) dubbed the European Las Vegas

Perla Casino in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) dubbed the European Las Vegas

Yet, the aristocratic gambler lives on. Stories about people losing half a million pounds on a roulette table impress us. Is it the amount being lost? Or their ability to survive this loss? Top gamblers say that only pure chance games count. They never know when they might lose and there is nothing they can to do influence that. For them, losing big money is where they build character. I was told by my casino informants in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) that a Russian high roller, after having lost more money than they had ever seen, requested the following: to thrash the private room to the ground and, of course, pay for the incurred damage. He still had money for such an extravagance. The equation is simple: the more you can afford to lose, the richer and more powerful you are.

Like a fledgling business, calculated gambling can earn you some cash here and there. Pure chance playing, on the other hand, is the game of big and old money. The more you don’t care to lose, the more you actually have: so I am told.


Written by Andrea Pisac

June 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm

All poker players are animals

leave a comment »

‘In poker, you don’t play the game; you play the player’,


said a friend of mine, a passionate poker player.We often use gambling language in everyday day communication. By using metaphors such as The odds are against us or We`ll have to take our chances, we actually perceive and experience our situation as structured like a game.

The language shapes our experience. And it goes both ways: life experienced as a game and a game inhabited by creatures from everyday life – animals!

A conceptual metaphor that people are animals is stretched in the game of poker: all poker players are animals. And if what my friend told me is true, a good player must know their way through the animal wilderness. They also must know which animal species they belong to; this orientates their actions, especially in terms of whether they imagine themselves to either be a prey or a predator.

The similarities between human and animal behaviour reflect fossilised, stereotyped beliefs, usually about undesirable traits in animals that serve to conceptualise people’s actions. So, which animals can be found at the poker table?

And what does that tell us about their play?

The most frequently used metaphor is the one of a fish playing against a shark. A fish is a beginner or ‘weak’ player: a food for the experienced predator player, a shark. A whale is as much food as a fish but  known to play with more money and easier to ‘catch’.

Lions and eagles, because they are predators with natural killer instincts, are considered successful players. Eagles even more so because they can spot their prey from further away. Elephants are mostly feared because of their size and strength: they have a lot of chips to play with and can crush a fixed amount a player is willing to invest. Jackals are known as loose players: they call, bet and raise in almost any hand. In nature, a jackal is a predator that hunts a variety of species, but never specialises in one particular. Contrary to them, a mouse does not play many hands and is very cautious: a reflection of their small size, fragility and short lifespan in the animal kingdom. Donkey describes a ‘weak’, almost unintelligent, player who calls, bets and raises a lot, even when the odds of winning are small.

I am wondering: is the poker wilderness neatly pre-set between predators and their preys? Or does perhaps ‘playing the player’ involve taking a gamble on the very nature of the opponent?

Written by Andrea Pisac

May 30, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Posted in News

Tagged with , , ,

Will the house win again?

leave a comment »

In a casino, the house always wins and players are bound to lose in the long run, unless they’re cheating or counting cards at blackjacks. I was repeatedly told this by gamblers since I did fieldwork research in London’s casinos in 2007 and 2008. Spending hours in their company and watching them play I could see by myself that winnings indeed never lasted long and were most of the time spent frivolously or recycled as stakes . So evidently any gambler who strikes unusually lucky, like winning £7.3 million in one night at Punto Banco, becomes the object of suspicion. Luck in a casino is not meant to make the punter walk away with the house revenue and make the casino bankrupt. When Phil Ivey a famous poker player hit such a jackpot at the high-end London casino Crockfords in August 2012, they would not, of course, let him disappear with the money. So far the casino is still winning. But Phil Ivey is determined to challenge this status quo and has filed a lawsuit against Crockfords, which is owned by the Malaysian Genting group. Phil Ivey is motivated by an unfair reciprocity: why did the casino not honour its commitments to him when he always did, losing many times huge amounts of cash to the casinos? The question is: will the house still win even in court?

Written by Claire Loussouarn

May 15, 2013 at 11:42 am

Should we train ourselves in risk intelligence by learning from gamblers?

with one comment

In a Wall Street Journal article, Dylan Evans argues that risk intelligence is higher in certain types of personalities than in others. Namely, there are people more able to predict – in numerical terms – events and trends in realms such as international relations, economics, public health and technology. Majority of us, the article claims, often either overestimate or underestimate: our own abilities as well as outside circumstances.

However, all is not lost.

Risk intelligence is not a fixed value we are born with. We are told we can learn from gamblers: who ‘keep accurate and detailed records of their earnings and losses and regularly review strategies in order to learn from their mistakes’.

I am intrigued by the very concept of risk intelligence.

It is interesting how, over time and with varying social trends, different types of intelligence have been introduced as necessary for personal and social success. It was first emotional intelligence, an upgrade from the basic IQ, followed by a strong focus on social intelligence and the ability to connect. Risk intelligence is the next big thing – a precondition to survive and thrive in the age of uncertainty. Here, just like in the overall strategy of gambling regulation and liberalisation, risk has become an individual responsibility: risk intelligence then must be our only tool.

Can we really learn from gamblers?

Reference to the way gamblers learn from their winnings and losses mostly depict poker-players’ behaviour. Majority of them would, however, strongly argue they are NOT gamblers. I am told by my poker-playing informants that the skill of risk assessment can indeed be learned, but ‘it has nothing to do with chance or uncertainty’. On the other hand, psychologists who work with problem gamblers in my field tell me that poor risk assessment is one of the biggest indicators of uncontrollable behaviour. One of them said: ‘if someone believes they can win the roulette by betting on their lucky number, they have no idea about what risk they are taking – they are gamblers.’

Written by Andrea Pisac

May 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Posted in News

Tagged with , , , ,