Table Talk: Money Matters, Even for Poker Players

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Happy New Year!

Some may have noticed that I took a hiatus during the month of December, partially due to the holidays, but I also needed some time to reflect and refuel. Writing an opinion column – one that is worth reading – is not as easy as it sounds. The rest was helpful, and I feel ready to tackle 2014 with a wide range of opinions.

One story that caught my eye over the holidays was that of the Las Vegas cab driver who returned $300,000 to a customer who left it in his cab. Three hundred thousand dollars. All of it. At the holidays. In Las Vegas.

Gerardo Gamboa was the Yellow Checker Star cab driver who did the deed. Along with the help of his company, he was able to track down the professional poker player who left the money in brown bags in the back of his cab. The driver picked up the player at the Cosmopolitan on the Las Vegas Strip and dropped him at Palms Place, and some detective work provided the answer and the return of the funds. Why?

Gamboa told a CNN affiliate, “I don’t care from $10 to higher. My dignity is not for sale, and that’s the way I am. That’s the way our parents taught us when I was a kid.” He also added, “This is the only chance I have to show cab drivers in Las Vegas are not bad people.”

The identity of the poker player has not been revealed. Some players, like recent November Niner Jay Farber, adamantly asserted that they were not the mystery player. The name may matter to a lot of people out of pure curiosity, but the lesson remains the same no matter who may come forward to admit to the lapse of judgment.

The lesson is about money. It’s simple to most people, but poker players are a bit different. Successful poker players often play, act, and live as if money doesn’t matter. But when push comes to shove, it does. Money matters.

On one hand, poker players must possess the ability to detach from money at the tables. The money on the table or used to buy in to a tournament should only be a small portion of that player’s bankroll, according to proper money management rules, and they cannot focus on the chips representing anything resembling a dollar amount. The game is muddied when players “need” to cash in the tournament or “need” to win in order to get out of makeup or otherwise pay debtors. The focus must be on the cards and opponents, on the psychology and odds of the game, and not on the potential profit or loss.

On the other hand, poker players must also stay grounded enough to know the value of money. Their bankrolls must be maintained properly, and they must keep accurate records.

Sadly, many players who win big or have a significant upswing in cash games often forget the very basics of money management. Some enter every tournament they can buy in to, even if they’ve never played at such high stakes in the past. Others move up in stakes to the point that they are completely out of their element. And some young players indulge in parties, limousines, private jet flights, elaborate vacations, and other expenses that deplete their winnings faster than they made the money in the first place.

Since the forgetful poker player in Las Vegas is unknown, we don’t know that any of these qualities – positive or negative – are true of the person.

One thing is for sure, however. That person was so caught up in thought about something else that he forgot about a bag of $300,000 that he was carrying. Even in the high stakes world in which some professional poker players, that amount is significant.

Perhaps the idea of forgetting such an amount of money is so foreign to me because I’ve never had anything remotely close to $300,000 in my personal world at any given time. I get nervous when I have a few hundred dollars on me at once, so much so that I may request that a security guard walk with me to my vehicle from the casino.

So, to those who dabble in these kinds of figures regularly, please tell me if I’m overreacting.

Until I hear a good argument for forgetting a $300k bundle of cash somewhere, I will say this: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS, PAY ATTENTION! GET A GRIP! WHO FORGETS $300K?!

In all fairness to the poker player in question, he did give a reward of $10,000 to Gamboa. In addition, Yellow Checker Star gave him a $1,000 reward, a restaurant dinner for two, and the honor of Driver of the Year.

Gamboa said, “I did the right thing, that’s it.