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Mike Caro: Today’s word is... QUARTER

I heard from a friend of forty years, Art Sathmary, last year (2012). He phoned me unexpectedly to touch bases. Art, with his famous “ASQ” waiting-board initials, remains one of the true legends of Gardena poker.

 Gardena? You had to be there to understand. That small Los Angeles suburb was poker central in America for decades. In fact, it billed itself as the “Poker Capital of the World.” This self-interview is about that and about a small event involving Art and me that changed my way of thinking about poker.

 Question 1: Before you explain why today’s word is “quarter,” tell us about Gardena. What was it like?

 First, Gardena still lives as a poker hotspot. The old Normandie Casino still thrives at a new address and Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino has a significant poker section.

 But let me take you back to the old days. I grew up in Denver, where my first semi-serious excursions into poker happened. There were rumors, vague and gossipy, about a place far away in California where poker was legal. Nobody was quite sure where it was and no specifics were supplied.

 Still, I remembered those rumors when I moved to Los Angeles in 1965. And about a year after settling in Pomona, another Los Angeles suburb, I did something strange. I was young, confused, and bewildered. I didn’t really know how to find out where poker was legal. I tried the library of course. Nothing. Tried asking friends and neighbors, too. No help. The information age of googling from your personal computer was 20 years beyond the horizon.

 Then I had the monumental brainstorm of visiting the Pomona police station to ask. Wrong place. Wrong idea. Not only was I given no information and told I’d have to find out for myself, I was treated quite rudely, something I had been unaccustomed to in Denver.

 Oh, well. Eventually, I figured it out. And I was astonished! Within an hour’s drive, I found poker’s big secret, which also remained a secret to most people in the Los Angeles area, it turned out. Poker clubs couldn’t advertise their games. This was Gardena. Six poker clubs, all legal, all moderately lavish when compared to the smoky games you found in taverns and saw in movies. And each club had 35 tables, which was the maximum allowed by city ordinance.

 Question 2: Were these clubs open 24 hours a day?

 Actually not. When I first visited, about 1966, they were required to close at about four in the morning. I think they were allowed to reopen about six hours later. I might be slightly wrong about the times, but it was something like that. Over the years, the closing time was moved later by law and eventually the clubs did operate around the clock.

 But during the time when they had to pick up the cards early and close down, I learned something important about poker.

 Question 3: What did you learn?

 I learned that average players have a primal urge to get even before they go home. They don’t understand that tomorrow will be a continuation of one endless poker session, and that what’s about to happen is just an intermission – like taking a long coffee break. Instead, they look at it like a baseball manager might view a single game during a 162-game season.

 My opponents seemed to have a drive to win tonight as if it were a single game. It didn’t matter whether they played poorly in a desperate attempt to “get even.” A loss was a loss, no matter what size, and they wanted a win.

 So it was that they played ridiculously loose and reckless poker in the final minutes – at least losers did. And, as an added bonus, winners seemed to cash out early, securing their victo-ries, leaving me often alone with panicked weak players. It was a gold mine, those final minutes before closing. And I learned that on days when I’d accumulated massive stacks of chips midday and opponents wanted them back, I could simulate those pre-closing moments of panic in some opponents by stating that I had to leave soon. “I can only play another round or two.” But, of course, if the game were good, I’d change my mind and stay. Meanwhile, I’d used powerful psychological weaponry to induce poor, desperate play.

 Question 4: What poker games were offered?

 Only five-card draw poker, with a choice of playing either standard highhand wins or lowball. There was a joker added to the deck, which had restricted use as an ace, to complete a straight, or to complete a flush. There was also a form of rummy, called panguingue or just pan, that was legal, but the number of players was small compared to poker.

 In the eighties, hold ’em and seven-card stud were added to the venue, and I played my part as an expert witness to argue the legality of those games. But, that’s another story for another day.

 Question 5: So what happened to Gardena?

 Surrounding communities, and more cities statewide, voted to allow poker as a revenue source. Bigger casinos were built. Native American casinos arrived. But, as I said, two major poker venues remain in Gardena today.

 Question 6: Can you take us to today’s word?

 Sure. It’s “quarter.” I was struggling to win in small draw poker games. I had no other job. Art (ASQ) and I were walking into a 7-eleven store. Feeling giddy, for no apparent reason, I reached into my pocket, then flipped a quarter onto the roof.

 Art, who prided himself on disciplined money management seemed both amused and aghast. “Why did you do that?” he prodded. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know.

 Then things got very bad at poker. I’d been just starting out and operating on a shoestring bankroll. That’s when Art, trying to soothe my misfortune over coffee, quipped, “Don’t you wish you had that quarter now?” Really, Art. Really?

 His rhetorical question made me think, though. And it eventually led to the foundation of one of my money-management teachings. Don’t be concerned with protecting a small bankroll. It’s only after a bankroll grows that you need to defend it.

 Most players act in opposite ways. They incorrectly take bigger chances with bigger bankrolls. But they don’t want to go broke, so small bankrolls are nurtured and sheltered from risk. That’s backwards. You more easily can replenish a small bankroll through real-world interaction if you go broke. But once you’ve gotten jump started and built a substantial bankroll, you want to use it wisely. You need to protect it. That’s because if you lose a big portion of it, or all of it, you won’t find it easy to use the everyday world to put a bankroll of that size together again.

 So, don’t be afraid to take risk with a small bankroll. Poker is about risk. You should always be seeking to put your money at risk when you have an advantage. Just don’t risk a big bankroll in reckless ways. In short, small bankrolls aren’t worth protecting. Big bankrolls are.

 And a quarter isn’t really worthy of your worry. Throw it on a roof and you might buy great memories at a bargain price.

 Mike Caro is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. A renowned player and founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy, he is known as “the Mad Genius of Poker,” because of his lively delivery of concepts and latest research. You can visit him at www.poker1.com or e-mail him at mike@caro.com.

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