When we follow the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and other Texas Hold’em games, we root for Antonio Esfandiari for the obvious reason: Dude is a professional magician who worked restaurants before breaking into the game. He’s a great reminder of something we think is a given: Magicians are better poker players.
But not for the reason you think. It has nothing to do with cheating or sleight of hand. We do not need it.
Sure, you might think we can work some sleight of hand past you and unfairly gain an edge. But the truth of the matter is that it is nearly impossible to cheat at a casino or professional poker room. Casinos hire magicians to instruct them about sleights of hand, so they know exactly what to look for.
So why are we taking your money like you’re giving it to a busking magician at the state fair? We can think of five reasons.
1) We are willing to devote serious time to practice.
We’re not talking about just chip tricks (although we will practice the CRAP out of those). Magicians have no problem practicing something repetitive for hours, and we love to memorize things. The practice of magic and the performance of magic are two completely different things, and we can treat poker the same way. We know the odds and probabilities of all the common hands and many of the tricky ones. And we love trying to figure out puzzles. Chances are you are not willing to practice as hard as us.
2) We are better with people and know how to be likable.
It’s no surprise that we know how to lie like the best politicians, said Rich Ferguson, a magician with Ellusionist and poker player from San Luis Obispo, Calif., who has performed for Full Tilt Poker events. But it’s our people skills that help us out more than our excellent bluffing skills.
“Many poker players have a hard sports attitude about them,” Ferguson said. “They do not have the sparkliest personalities and try to just bully or silence their way through a game. A good magician can be a chameleon and take advantage of situations and types of people.”
3) We are better at controlling our reactions.
Chances are you’re not going to get under our skin. Our business is all about faking it until we’re making it, and the better among us know the value of taking theater classes. We are not fooled by your icy stare, your impressive chip tricks or your fancy sunglasses. And we know that, just like a trick is bound to fail, we’re going to suffer bad beats. We’ll forgive ourselves faster than you will.
4) We can read you and your reactions, and adjust ours.
Successful magicians are always gauging their spectators: We watch for your reactions, to see who among you is trying to catch us and who wants to cause us trouble. We know how to spot those people and deal with them. This goes way beyond Teddy KGB’s Oreos.
“Besides reading body language, a skilled magician might be able to read verbal framing, traps, intimidation or false conversation to break static traction and focus,” Ferguson said. That means we won’t play pocket aces, or deuce-seven offsuit, like everyone else. We’ll play the best thing for that situation, even if defies conventional wisdom.
5) Most important: We don’t want to cheat.
We want to beat you with our skills alone. As magicians, we cringe inside whenver some reacts to one of our killer card tricks by saying, “Whoa, I won’t be playing cards with you.” We take that personally. We don’t need trick cards, sleeved gimmicks or other arcane methods to win a pot. We’re ready to do it the same way everyone else does — above the table.