The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King

Professor Banker Suicide King poker book

My last post dealt with the concept of Reciprocality, which refers to differences in how you handle something and how your poker opponents handle the same thing.  The difference in your approach either adds to or takes away from your bottom line (when considered over the very long term).

One aspect of that is Bankroll Reciprocality.  If you partition your money better than your opponents do, you gain another small edge.  You may not see it, but it’s still there.

I was reminded of this last night at a table with two players who appeared very well bankrolled and played with a hyper-aggressive, borderline maniac, fearless style.  The house policy at this private game allows players to top off their stacks up to the biggest stack on the table.  Early on, these players bought more chips several times to keep up with whoever was fortunate enough to build up a deep stack.

In a cash game, this style wins over the long haul by putting other players to frequent decisions for all of their chips… with monster hands, medium strength hands, missed draws and total air.  Their all-in and bluffing frequencies are so high that you have to call with lighter and lighter holdings.  Once I called an all-in river bet by one of them – for purposes of this blog I’ll call him “Gabe” – with JT on a board runout of T85-A-3 to double up through a busted flush draw.  Do I really like putting my whole stack at risk with less than top pair?  The really interesting part of the hand was rewinding back to the pre-flop betting, where Gabe had open-raised in middle position with 7h 3h.  If we have to put hands like 73 suited in his pre-flop raising range, we might as well not even try to develop a range at all.

Eventually they will make big hands and will get paid off more often than the rest of us.  With such deep stacks, those payoffs put them in a position to run all over the table.  Gabe had earlier called a pre-flop raise from the big blind with T2 (the “Doyle Brunson” hand) and saw a runout of K62-T-2 to make a full house and crack my pocket AAs.  Later the other guy playing a similar style woke up with his own AA when I had AK.  Given the high frequency of his having something weaker, I decided to push my AK extra hard and got flattened.

That’s poker.  With their bankroll leverage, every time they make a winning hand, they’ll with take someone’s entire stack or double up what is already a deep stack.  That increased their leverage and other players who aren’t comfortable playing for large pots with draws or medium strength hands start surrendering more and more often.

Michael Craig’s book The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time, tells the story of a billionaire Texas banker, Andy Beal, who went to Las Vegas in the early 2000’s to challenge the top professional poker players.  Beal insisted on heads up matches and repeatedly insisted on raising the stakes. Before long, the pros decided to pool their bankrolls as they realized Beal’s bankroll edge offset part of their poker skill edge.  He could force them into tough decision after tough decision, and with a run of good cards push we would present an existential threat to each of the pros’ personal bankroll.

It’s a fascinating story, well researched and written.  The pros, led by Doyle Brunson, Howard (the “Professor”) Lederer, Chip Reese, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harmon, Todd Brunson, Chau Giang and others, referred to themselves as The Corporation.  Beal’s bankroll edge forced the top poker players in Las Vegas, each accustomed to operating as a lone wolf, to pool their money and acknowledge that some of them performed more poorly against Beal than others did.

The real lesson is that deep pockets matter, especially when combined with a reasonable amount of skill (which Beal worked hard at developing in between his battles with The Corporation) and fearless aggression.  This concept plays out at all levels, and the power of the deep pockets should never be underestimated.

Bankroll Reciprocality.


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