Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Tiltboys

In my earlier post, I mentioned Perry Friedman as a member of the infamous Tiltboys and it reminded me that I should write something about them and get the word out about some hilarious reading you can do. If you have any interest in poker at all, I guarantee that you will enjoy reading about this group of guys. Even casual poker fans may recognize Phil Gordon, the ring leader of the bunch, as the expert commentator on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown (it’s a very bad show, actually, amusing only for the behavior of the celebrities once in a while). Phil has also finished 4th in the World Series of Poker main event and won a World Poker Tour event.

So who are the Tiltboys? Imagine the guys from Animal House with high SAT scores. They’re a bunch of buddies who went to Stanford together and began a weekly poker game there that led to weekend trips to Las Vegas (which they call pilgrimages) and, for a few of them, to a life of playing poker professionally or semi-professionally. Phil Gordon and Rafe Furst both made a fortune in the computer business, sold out and are now living the good life in the poker world. Perry Friedman won a World Series of Poker event a couple years ago. And Dave (Diceboy) Lambert is, according to the other tiltboys, the luckiest human being on the planet.

First, a little background is required. For those of you who don’t know what “tilt” means in poker, I’ll let the Tiltboys themselves explain:

For the poker-parlance purist, we tend to overuse/misuse this term, we like it so much. “Tilt” simply means to be in a state of mind (depressed, angered, vengeful — even joyous or ecstatic) that obscures optimal rationality. As I’ve said before, each of us receives a deep, abiding satisfaction from successfully putting another of the group on tilt, especially if we are able to take monetary advantage (cha-ching!) of their tilted state. Every action we take seems to have this goal at it’s core.

The entire Tiltboys way of life revolves around putting each other on tilt, and they will devise elaborate schemes to do so. The Tiltboys are a living testament to just how amusing a life devoted to excess and debauchery can be.

The excess begins, of course, with gambling. And not just on poker, on everything. They’ll place bets on whose luggage will come down the turnstile at the airport first, or on how many hours of sleep they’ll each get on their pilgrimages and, most importantly, on Roshambo – the famous game of rock, paper, scissors. Yes, this childhood game has been elevated to the status of religious faith for these guys and they decide everything with a game of Roshambo. If they’re out to eat, a game of Roshambo decides who has to pick up the check, if they are driving somewhere, Roshambo determines who gets to ride shotgun, and so forth. One of them even wrote a computer program that allows you to play Roshambo against a computer. For them, the holy trinity of rock, paper and scissors provides the solid foundation of their wayward lifestyle.

To give you just a brief introduction to some of the stories these guys have to tell, we should start with Dave (Diceboy) Lambert. Here is how they describe him:

Six Sigma man himself (to be explained later.) He’s the dice boy and knows it. Lives it is more like it — his expectation is better at craps than at poker, and it is positive at both. Hell, dice boy probably has a positive keno expectation, but doesn’t play because it isn’t challenging enough and there’s nobody he can put on tilt. The original smiley-boy; you’ll rarely catch him sans the smug grin.

And here is how they describe his most famous personality quirk:

It all happened one night during the Wednesday home game. Lambert managed to catch his one card out to scoop a high-low pot. He was so excited, he stood up and took an arms-clenched-down-and-in muscle-man pose, stared at each of us in turn and gave us an aggressive “grrr!”. Now, Dave is about 5’10”, weighs about 150 pounds, likes to sport a straw hat when playing cards, smiles a hell of a lot, and is generally not the kind of guy you picture threatening you with a muscle pose. That night the group could barely breath for laughing, as Dave persistently looked for suck-out opportunities that would allow him to model his new signature pose. Of course, Dave gets more opportunities than anybody to use this pose, being the original one-out boy (Perry also often has one or less outs, but Perry doesn’t get there.) Dave now uses this pose to induce massive tilt in the players he snaps, and believe me, it works. Occasionally a non-Lambert Tiltboy also strikes the pose, but somehow it just doesn’t work as well for us.

Okay, so you’ve got a mental picture of Diceboy. Let’s look at what happens when you release him into the wilds of a Vegas poker room. In the words of Rafe Furst:

Some people will argue with you over whether the best show in Vegas is the Cirque Du Soleil or Sigfried and Roy. These people are all misguided if you ask me. The best show in Vegas is watching Dave ‘Dice Boy’ Lambert play poker. Dave can drive a table from zero to mega-tilt in 10 minutes flat. Observing him in action has even lead us to extend the poker-theoretical concept of implied odds to its more useful form of “implied tilt odds.”

When asked “Dave, how could you stay in with bottom pair and only the runner-runner flush draw against the local rock who will obviously not pay off your flush more than one bet even if you make it — haven’t you ever heard of implied odds?” the smug-grinned (Diceboy grins a lot) reply is “The implied tilt odds were huge. Did you see how he hemorrhaged his last $600 after I sucked out on him?”…

Sitting at a 10-20 table in Vegas on Saturday night at the Mirage I was playing and watching the Dice Boy Show in rare form. As usual he had everyone on tilt with his antics. Everyone was after him and he just kept racking up the chips. Snap after snap after snap. This one poor local grind-it-out pro was taking the brunt of Dave’s high-variance style and was not very happy about it. Lambert kept getting extra bets out of him with lines like, “Boy you are paying off just like a slot machine tonight. Let me pull the handle here one more time…” Dave bets, guy steam calls, Dave goes “…cha-ching” and turns over the suckout nuts. Shortly thereafter, Dave is up about $1500, everyone else at the table is stuck, and he announces that he’s going to go play some craps. Later I met up with him and he asked, “Should I be insulted that the game broke up as soon as I left?”

In poker parlance, when someone starts with a great hand and ends up getting beaten by a lesser hand that turns into something with a highly unlikely flop of the cards, they say the hand is “snapped off”; the person holding the lesser hand is said to have “sucked out” a win. Here is a sterling example of how this is done and what it can do to people at a poker table. Rafe tells the story:

Diceboy and a Brit are head’s up on the river in a hand which the Brit raised preflop under the gun. Flop had come AA2, turn 2, river 2. Dave leads into him every round, the guy raises every time, and Dave calls, except the river which he reraises. The Brit now is thinking what to do.

Dave: You have an ace? I thought so. I started 3-2 off, and just sucked out, so you should probably fold. Unless you want to donate, in which case you should probably raise again.

Brit: [frown]

Dave: Ahh, that frown is a tell. I think you are going to fold. Nice laydown.

Brit: Listen up you young hooligan, you might be able to get away with coffeehousing in the colonies, but here in Great Britian we frown on that sort of thing.

Dave: Aha! I put you on a stuffy British attitude. I just won another 5 pounds in a side bet with my friends. I could tell just by looking at you that I was locked.

Brit: [tilt]. Raise!

Dave: Well, I guess you’ve got me. I should probably lay down, but instead I’ll pop it back once more. If you call, I’ll muck though. I’ll even show you one card. [exposes the 3]. If you have pocket aces, you should raise.

Brit: [mega tilt]. I raise, you imbecilic twit.

Dave: Did you know that ‘imbesilic’ and ‘besilic’ actually mean the same thing? The cabbie on the way here told me. I’ll just call.

Brit: [flips over AK]

Dave: Nut full house no good! Runner-runner quad deuces! [flips the 2, does his body-builder's clench]. Grrrrrr!!!

Brit: [hard power tilt, wings the cards at Dave and says] How can you bet and call me the entire way with that fucking trash, you bloody fool?!?!?!

Dave: Didn’t anyone tell you? I live about six sigmas out on the tail of the normal distribution. My adjusted odds makes me a 3-1 favorite to win with 2-3 offsuit. I can’t believe you called me with AK suited.

Floorman: [Hears the Brit screaming and comes over]. I’m sorry sir, but we have strict rules against throwing cards and using profanity here. I’m afraid I’m going to have to have you removed.

Brit: [froths at the mouth and screams unintelligible profanities at the top of his lungs as the security guards drag him out]

Dave: [to the rest of the table]: Geez, that guy should take it easy, he could burst a blood vessel in his brain. Kinda reminds me of the time I was in India and was playing a no-limit karmic freezout with the Dalai Lama. Good player, the Dalai, but has a tendency to go on tilt. So anyway, I put him all-in with 3-2 and snapped his pocket kings. He wanted to pay me cash instead of karma, but I didn’t fall for that trick. I’ve got good karma for the next twenty years now. So I’ve got that going for me…

And the conclusion stands. Dave is Diceboy, and Six-Sigma-boy, and has proved and will continue to prove that there is no such thing as a “negative-expectation game” where he is concerned. He’s already beaten the Normal Distribution to a pulp at poker, craps and the stock market. I personally refuse to buy a lottery ticket whenever Dave does, choosing instead to take a piece of his action. I wait with eager anticipation for the day Dave appears on the Big Spin, rolls five consecutive “doubles” followed by the top prize, then turns to the camera in a muscle-clench and “Grrrrs” at 50 million people. If anybody can bankrupt the California Lotto, it’s Dave.

Ah, but that’s just poker. How does he do at craps? Let’s take a look:

The very next night, Dave dropped by the poker room and casually mentioned that he was thinking about going and shooting the dice a bit. Four Tiltboys immediately dove out of their chairs and grabbed him, dragging him to the nearest craps pit. We find a $10 table, and eagerly wait for the dice to pass to Dave. They first have to pass through the hands of some rather dangerous looking black dudes. (No I’m not prejudiced. These guys had the jewelry, the attitude, the pagers… let’s just say that if you were looking for some stimulants, I think there’s a pretty good chance these guys could have provided them.) The bad dudes shot horribly, and dropped a couple grand before passing the dice to Dave. So they weren’t in very good moods, while we, knowing that Dave was about to shoot, were. As soon as the dice touched Dice’s hand, we started in with our craps chant. This creative and poetic mantra had served us good stead at many previous sessions, and we weren’t about to stop now. “Dave is DiceBoy, Dave is DiceBoy, (ad nauseum).” Beautiful, ain’t it? Somehow our table companions didn’t think so. “What the fuck is this dice-boy shit?”, says one. “Cut out that dice-boy crap”, says another. “Fuck dice-boy,” says a third. At least, that’s what they said at first. 10 minutes later, when they were all up a couple grand, they were singing a different tune: “Dave is da dice-boyyyyyy!” No, I am not making this up. 3 bad-ass dudes joined in the chant until Dave sevened out after shooting for 15 minutes, and accepted a high-five from each of them. Soon we were all feeling pretty chummy, smoking stogies and just waiting for the dice to come around again.

Okay, one more funny anecdote. On one of their pilgrimages to Vegas – okay, probably on all of them – they took a trip to a local adult entertainment establishment. Here’s how Phil Gordon remembered it:

After a couple of private dances (go Johnny!) and the mandatory drinks, we walked over to the stage to watch the girls dancing around those poles any man would love to take the place of. A girl walks up and asks if we would like another private dance.

Well, I had had about enough of this (believe it or not) so I said no. She looked a little disappointed, so I caved in a bit…

Me: “How about we Roshambo for it. If I win, you give me a free private dance. If you win, I pay for a private dance.”

Unbelievably, she went for it, but had to go talk to her manager about the arrangement… While she was gone, Stern and I discussed the most probable Roshambo strategy of a strip dancer:

Stern: “I’m sure she’ll go rock — she want’s you rock hard”

Me: “Yeah, but did you see her do those splits? I’m sure she’ll go scissors, it’s what she’s most familiar with.”

Stern: “Is paper even a consideration? I don’t think so, not with her. It’s either Rock or Scissors, so your best strategy is going Rock — you’ll either tie or win, no loss possible.”

I had to agree with his logic — it had to be Rock. No doubt about it. So, she came back and said that her friend wanted in on the deal as well — if I won, I’d pay for 1 dance but get two dancers, if I lost, I’d have to convince Stern to pay for a dance as well. Okay, that’s not too difficult. Next thing, we’re making a big deal about getting ready to Roshambo, when over walks this huge hulk of a bouncer who says that “the boss” has nixed the deal. Shit, we were 10 seconds from the ultimate LOCK Roshambo and then the deal got overruled…

Oh yeah, before we left I asked her which way she was going to go. She didn’t say a word… just slowly spread her legs apart and slid all the way to the ground in the most incredible show of going scissors I’ll ever see in my entire life.

For the rest of the stories, go to the Tiltboys homepage. Read about the time they crashed a ladies only poker tournament in drag, and other bits of fun and frivolity. But I warn you, if you’re at work, your boss may catch you goofing off because you’ll be laughing out loud at the computer screen.