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Biography and Luck

While we are on the subject of poker books, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of my favorite sub-genres: poker biographies. I've read a handful in my day, and really, only a handful, but they are probably some of my favorite poker books to read. Usually, you get a good story, interesting characters, a touch of poker history, and a smattering of strategy. Frankly, I think I just really love the insight into the world of a professional poker player.

Amonsg my favorites are the biographies of Stu Ungar, Amarillo Slim, Mike Matusow, and, surprisingly, Chris Moneymaker. For anyone truly interested in poker as it exists today, I highly recommend the Moneymaker book.

I was reading a piece by Change100 at PokerNews and it reminded me of one aspect of the Moneymaker book that has stuck with me to this day. Change100's article goes through the different possible 2009 WSOP Champions with a very astute analysis of the what each win could mean for poker. When discussing Ivey, she recalled a hand on the final table bubble of the 2003 WSOP:

If there ever was a single card that changed the game of poker, it came on the final table bubble of the 2003 Main Event. Holding {A-Diamonds}{Q-Clubs}, Chris Moneymaker flopped trip queens and led out for 70,000. Phil Ivey called with pocket nines and hit his gin card on the turn with the {9-Clubs}, making him a well-disguised full house. Moneymaker did his bidding for him, firing out 200,000. Ivey moved all-in and Moneymaker called. Although Ivey was better than a 4-to-1 favorite to win the pot, Moneymaker rivered an ace for a higher full house, winning the hand and sending Ivey to the rail in 10th place.
This hand has been played so many times on TV, it's hard not to remember it. Regardless, what always amazed me about Moneymaker's book was his analysis of the hand.

Moneymaker's win was widely regarded as a fluke in most poker circles. He hasn't had much success since the win, so most people write him off as a guy who got lucky to win the WSOP.

Clearly, Moneymaker's book was meant, in part, to address this belief. Whether or not he successfully defeats his own luckbox image is another story, but he does make some great points about his "luck".

People looked at his AQ v. 99 hand with Ivey and said, "Moneymaker is so lucky to have hit the 4-outter on the river." But that isn't the full story, as explained by Moneymaker. And Moneymaker is right.

The hand started as a basic cointoss. But once the flop was dealt, Moneymaker took a commanding lead with trips against two pair. Ivey then needed to hit a 2 outter to take the lead on the turn. He hit his two outter, shifting the odds well in his favor and giving Moneymaker a meager 4 outs. Moneymaker then hit his four outs.

Some people think that makes Moneymaker a luckbox, and in a way, it does; just not in the way that they think. The story is not about how many outs Moneymaker rivered, but about the luck throughout the hand. Moneymaker was somewhat lucky to flop good, but no one can argue that he played incorrectly when he played AQ preflop with a solid stack. On the turn, Ivey was the one who got lucky; in fact, he got very lucky. Moneymaker may've finished off the hand with his own luck, but that's the thing about luck: it gets spread around.

This is not a hand about a lucky river. It's a hand about a fortunate setup. That's a key difference. In the first scenario, Moneymaker is a donk who called an all-in from behind. In the second, Ivey got coolered by getting "lucky" on the turn when he was way behind and then having Moneymaker retake the lead with a monster hand on the river. In scenario one, Moneymaker is a loser (not in a literal sense); in scenario two, it's Ivey.

Of course, I never meant to go into such detail. But I do recommend Moneymaker's book, if nothing else because it gives a novel view of the events that really brought upon the poker boom.

And while you are at it, if you enjoy self-destruction, check out Ungar's biography and Matusow's biography. If you like to get a feel for the old school gamblers' lifestyle, check out Amarillo Slims. All are great reads.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 2:03 PM,


At 3:54 PM, Blogger WillWonka said...

loved the Moneymaker book.

I also like the Matt Matros book.


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