Jay Caspian Kang has a gambling problem.
Twelve thousand dollars lay wadded up in the glove compartment. I was trying to decide if I had what it took to drive home. To help delay a decision, I remember turning the radio to a Dodgers game. I don't know how long I sat there listening to Vin Scully sing his nasally song of balls and strikes, which, even in the age of digital radio, still sounds as if it is being transmitted through a tin of victory cabbage. I remember thinking some nostalgic, self-pitying thoughts about my younger days. I forced myself to say out loud, "You are a degenerate gambler," but doing so only made me giggle. I opened the glove box, pocketed the cash, and walked back through the sliding doors of the Commerce Casino, back to my table in the Crazy Asian 400 No-Limit Game and to the eight friends at my table who had kindly managed to save my seat.
Some time later, I drove home. All the money, of course, was gone. As I drove home through the network of highways that tie up a concrete bow just east of downtown Los Angeles, I felt no compulsion to slam the Outback into a guardrail. In fact, losing almost all the money I had in the world in six hours stirred up only a cold, scraped-out feeling of knowing-the calm that freezes out your brain when you watch someone younger make the same mistakes you made at their age. Staring out at the empty skyscrapers, I tried to figure out what might be the right reaction to losing $12,000. At the 7-Eleven on Venice and Sepulveda, I bought a bottle of Nyquil, drank half of it in the parking lot and drove the rest of the way home in a warm, creeping fog.
Poker, a game of "constant pricing and repricing of risk", is fast becoming a younger and more lucrative game. To wit: a 19-yo Norwegian woman won the most recent World Series of Poker and $2 million (to add to her $800,000 in internet poker winnings). Also of interest: John Wayne once won Lassie at a poker game. (??!) The article mentioned 3-time poker champ Stu "The Kid" Ungar (most poker players seem to have nicknames); his Wikipedia page and NY Times profile are interesting reads.
Ungar won or finished high in so many gin tournaments that several casinos asked him to not play in them because many players said they would not enter if they knew Ungar was playing. Ungar later said in his biography that he loved seeing his opponent slowly break down over the course of a match, realizing he could not win and eventually get a look of desperation on his face. "It was fucking beautiful," he noted.
Interesting story from Steven Levitt: stuck in a Vegas poker tournament with a $3000 first prize but needing to go to the airport to catch the last flight of the night, he starts playing very aggressively in order to win big or lose everything so that he can leave. (via gulfstream)
In 2005, 34 poker players earned $1 million playing tournaments, compared to 78 golfers earning the same playing their sport.
Looks like the popularity of poker might be fading. "It may be reducing down to the niche market, which would be people in their 20s, macho-man type of people"
Pokernomics: Steven Levitt is researching the economics of poker. If you send him statistics from your online games, he'll share the results with you.