Sheriff of Nottingham: Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it? That's it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas."Robin Hood: Prince of Theives"
"How to cheat your friends at poker: the wisdom of Dickie Richard" is a book suppositively co-written by Penn Jillette and a man going by the pseudonym "Dickie Roberts" – a man who has made his living by cheating at poker.
When I first saw this book, I was hoping it was full of funny poker anecdotes and tricks you could play on your friends over a few beers and a few cards. Being that Penn was attached to it, and he has been known for a practical joke or two in his time, I was really looking forward to some good poker related laughs with this title. After all I am a big fan of all his other work.
As soon as I received the book, it became obvious that I was very wrong. The title is a lot like "Snakes On A Plane" – it tells you exactly what you are getting. This book is about how to cheat at poker – well, it sort of is how to cheat at poker.
With that knowledge now secure, I thought since I paid for it I should read it anyway. Besides, the fact that the hard cover of the book displays a fake title gave me a giggle so maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by the contents, or at least entertained by his stories a few times.
There is always the ethical and moral questions that you may ask of a poker cheat. Dickie deals with them with the usual "Everyone cheats" mentality. In a way I can see what he means, as nobody is a saint in life and some may take the moral high ground when it comes to cheating at poker, but they are happy to forget to add some numbers on their tax return or lie to get out of a social event they have no desire of attending. Funnily enough, I had no real problems with his chosen profession and rationalisation of it, I think more so because I just wanted to read the book and try to enjoy it rather than hate the narrator from the outset.
So lets begin – with this caveat. I have no idea if Dickie Roberts even exists. This could be a completely made up persona for all I know, but for the sake of this review lets assume he is real, he did help Penn Jillette once in the past, and he wanted to put something down on paper about his life with the help of his friend.
The book is really about two things: Tips on cheating at home games and a few of his stories of the road. I will address these two parts separately.
Firstly, his tips on cheating. For the most part it is pretty basic stuff, but to say he just scraps the surface is an understatement. Some of his tips no more than telling you to learn how to deal seconds from another book. Great, now practice it to no end. Do it once, twice, a million times until it is perfect. He harps on this point, which I'm sure is very important in the context of mastering any trade – that practice is important – but really he is very scarce on details and more or less points you to other reference points.
Marking the cards with his nails seemed to be his favourite way of tracking cards, and this seems to be explained better but still without great detail. If you were to attempt to make a living of this, you would need several other reference materials to make the actions worth while. Having those other reference materials would make this one redundant.
While this is a manual on cheating, his work ethic must be admired. He no doubt mastered his chosen craft and could use his tools to supreme effectiveness. And he tells of how boring the practice is, and repetitive, but that is the price to pay for making his living from the turn of the pre-arranged card.
The other major part of the book is stories of his trials and tribulations on the road plying his trade. While they are arrogant and shallow at times, astonishing at others I have one major point to make about these: SHENNANIGANS!
Dickies brags of playing in home games across the country, and being able to coerce his victims into raising the stakes higher and higher. This always suits him, since he knows he will walk out in the black no matter what.
Some of the tricks are quite clever, while others are just ludicrous. On the ludicrous side of things, he had marked cards so that when viewed through a green visor they had in big bold lettering the value of the card. So when he let another player wear them – who decided not to say anything to the other players (included one who obviously knew the method of the visor) and use them to his advantage, Dickie slipped in a cold deck that had one or two cards marked incorrectly on the back to deceive the would-be cheat. Even in his own words, he said he thought the player would more than likely yell a bit when he found out he could see the values of cards (Dickie said the visor belonged to another player at the table, not himself) and they would have a good laugh about it – but instead the guy decided to try to use the visor – even though someone else at the table was obviously aware of the trick. I just can't see that happening.
Other stories about ripping off hookers, cheating with the hosts' wives, scouting for home games all sound plausible if not a little far fetched. If a friend told you these stories, you would think he was bending the truth slightly. It comes off sometimes as school yard boasting. And then there is other times when it just seems like one of the most blatant lies ever.
I have no doubt there are thousands upon thousands of poker games going on anywhere in the USA. I have no doubt that people from all walks of life, from all demographics and levels of wealth partake in these games. Dickie weaselling himself into some big money games is not unlikely, and I would argue almost a certainty if you believe everything else he has said in his book. But one goes a little too far. When he tells of a big game he got into, and how he got the players to raise the stakes higher and higher. They raised the stakes to a level where only Andy Beal would feel comfortable – and I don't mean that as an exaggeration. They were playing $50K/$100K with upwards of $20M on the table. And this was 5 or 6 handed, not heads up like Mr Beal prefers. Oh yeah, and of course it was no limit.
Who were the players? The main guy, the real whale and host of this game was a county judge. Not some Texan Billionaire, but a wealthy judge. I have no doubt the veterans in the law profession have made some serious coin in their day. But I find it hard that when Andy Beal raises the stakes so high that a group of 10 or so of the best poker players in the world can not afford to go it alone against him, Dickie can find 5 or 6 players in a semi-regular home game that are willing to play at that level. Dickie says he dropped a few million in that game on one hand which he called his Big Mistake, and that game broke for good after that day.
While some of the stories are far fetched, this is where I drew the line.
In the back of the book Dickie provides a few tables with calculated odds – nothing you haven't seen before. But the last column got me to laugh – Odds of hitting the flush on the river – 1 in 5. Odds of hitting the flush on the river if you are cheating – 1 in 1. And that 1 in 1 continues down the page no matter what draw you have.
In the end, it is a pretty average book. It is one thing to believe that Dickie Roberts exists, it is another thing to believe he tells the truth. Even if he does exist, how can you believe a man who makes his living by cheating? And why would he lie in the book, he may claim? Well how about $24.95 a pop – why not?
I was pretty disappointed as you can guess. I can't really recommend this book for anyone. Even if you are looking to make a career out of cheating at cards, the lessons you could learn from Dickie are minimal and I think I could summarise them in a few words: Practice, and don't get caught. If you are looking for some good reading on poker and a few laughs, it will probably fall short of your expectations too.