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The current coronavirus crisis has reminded me of an important concept. It is one that I have written about and talked about for nearly 50 years.
It begins with a story. I had a friend, Howie B, who was the best stud player in several games on the upper east side of New York during the 1970’s. He had played with Stu Unger and Eric Drache when they were still on the East Coast. We called him Howie the Horse both because of his size and his habit of going out to Aqueduct or Belmont race track each day.
He usually lost whatever he had won the night before. In fact, he occasionally lost more than he had won the night before, and came back in debt. For a while, it didn’t matter. Every day he’d lose at the track, but every night he’d win at the poker game.
But over time, the games got tougher. Some of the really horrendous players went broke or got tired of losing and quit. Their places were taken by guys who played reasonably well. Some of the other weak players got better.
Finally, the inevitable happened. The Horse went on a losing streak at poker. And things at the track didn’t get any better. He got an afternoon job tending bar at one of the local joints. This served the dual purposes of providing a little cash and keeping him away from the track.
One afternoon, I stopped in for a few beers. I gave him a lecture about money management and playing only when you have the best of it. (To this day, I continue to give a similar lectures to talented games-players who are periodically broke.)
He said, “When I used to win every night, I thought those games were a candy store. Now I realize, the candy store isn’t always open.”
I laughed, had a few more beers and left. On the way home, it dawned on me that he had made a really profound comment on gambling, or perhaps even life in general. It is crucial to realize that the candy store isn’t always open!
What do I mean? I mean that there are times when you get into a very good situation. When that happens, make your money and enjoy some of it. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can blow it all because the situation will never end.
Let me give you some examples of times the candy store was open for me:
• When Atlantic City casinos first went into operation, they dealt blackjack with early surrender counters that had a huge edge. On top of that, there were some very inexperienced dealers, whose mistakes in the player’s favor were seldom corrected.
• When Los Angeles poker clubs won their lawsuit and started dealing a variety of games, not just draw poker, and when Atlantic City put in poker, ‘Candy Stores’ opened up.
• When I first began to bet on sports, local bookmakers had radically different lines in different cities. The 49ers might be favored in San Francisco while their opponent, the Giants, were favored in New York.
• When sites like Full Tilt, Doyle’s Room, or Ultimate Bet were booming and soft before Black Friday.
I could go on and on with examples of gambling Candy Stores, but let’s look at times in the financial arenas when this concept applied:
• The first option traders to apply the Black-Sholes model on the American Stock Exchange had a temporary ‘Candy Store.’
• From about 1990 to 2006 buying real estate was a ‘Candy Store.’ Suddenly the game of musical chairs ended, and those holding houses or condos were in big trouble.
This happens even in personal situations. The first month of many relationships are full of wine and roses. Things start to go sour, and it may end a few months (or years) later when the miserable couple splits. The recent film Marriage Story portrays this well.
Prior to Covid-19, live poker and poker tournaments had been booming again. The games may not have been as great as they were after Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker main event, but until recently the poker ‘Candy Store’ was open. Likewise, business was great for bars, restaurants, casinos, airlines, cruise ships, etc. Not anymore. Those Candy Stores are closed. Now online gaming, especially poker, is flourishing as inexperienced players, trapped in their homes with nothing to do, start to play. Win their money while it’s there and buy stock in online poker if you can.
The lesson to be learned is that if you find a great situation and start making a fortune, don’t blow it on casino gambling, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Everything gets tougher. Big losers will quit or go broke. The average player will become more knowledgeable and more skillful. And no one ever knows what idiocy the government will perpetrate next.
If you catch yourself thinking, “I’m a great player, a big winner, and things are so good that it doesn’t matter what I do with my winnings. I can always win more,” remember that the ‘Candy Store’ won’t always be open.
Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 yearsand has two WSOP bracelets. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City – The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.
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