Conversations with Gamblers: The Hannibal Lecter chapter

He’s widely regarded as a far superior poker player to anyone else in the home game circuit at the levels I play at. Therefore it’s pretty much impossible for him to play there. Sometimes he deals cards at games. Sometimes he plays in AC or Vegas. Mostly I think he plays online where an alias and a computer make everyone who sits down at your online poker table the same: non-threatening except for the size of their bankroll, which is displayed under their name.

Jeff (not his real name) is the real deal: a guy who makes his living from poker. Between the rake of home games, his online winnings, and what he takes home from casinos, the only 9 to 5 that happens in Jeff’s life is the highway that he takes to Atlantic City. Jeff is never working. Or maybe he’s always working. Some people don’t take well to a life without structure and have to create it. He seems very at ease with it.

Jeff has the weekly rhythm of his three weekly home games that he deals at, where gamblers of all sorts come into a couple’s home to pit their wits against the other players and, don’t forget, the luck of the cards. Perhaps this is a structure enough.

I think Jeff’s career was almost pre-ordained: poker player or confidence man. Last night Jeff told a story about being a host for prospective students at his college. Jeff would study the information about the unsuspecting high school student and profile them before their arrival.

They showed up on campus thinking they had found a long lost friend who talked like them, liked the same things, and yes, even dressed like them. Jeff says his “Mr. Ripley” act was remarkably effective on the students. More impressive still was the fact that he didn’t find himself den mother to dozens of high school seniors away from home and pushing life without boundries their first year at college. After their first “big” breakup and the inevitable night of drinking, I would expect that they all would have called Jeff, the one person that they first identified with at the school and who must understand them.

Or perhaps Jeff did all this in his last year at college so he didn’t have to see the students he recruited, I didn’t ask.

These days Jeff’s profiling skills are still in use, just at poker. I once was sitting at a table where Jeff was dealing a shift. He was in a punchy mood and so after all the cards were out and all the bets were in, he’d announce the winning hand.

“Show me…um…Ace-five hearts”

Someone would dutifully turn over a hand close to or exactly like it. He did this for about ten minutes and when he realized it was making everyone uncomfortable, grew bored with it.

Whereas most people spend their time playing online at one table or another, Jeff tells me how he has found a pocket of poor players who play a particular kind of table. (No, I won’t tell you where they are. He didn’t give me permission to blab.)

He and a friend have been studying the flaws in their profiled player and their strategy has been yielding two and three figures of profit about every half hour. When I leave Jeff for the evening (with over $300 of his friends’ loose change from a successful night at pot limit Hold ’em) I see him sit down for his break from dealing for a half hour of profitable online poker.

Since I don’t have Jeff’s skills, I’ll be going to work on Monday. But I think Jeff will be working too.