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Edward Bunker on Poker

April 18, 2011
I’ve been writing and researching on crime writer Edward Bunker recently and in his excellent autobiography Mr Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade (published in the US as Education of a Felon: A Memoir) Bunker goes into some detail as how he became an expert poker player, particularly at lowball poker, during his many years in prison. His tutor at poker was fellow inmate and professional armed robber Gordon D’Arcy:

Day after day, ten hours of each of them, I watched the game through the bars. D’Arcy sat to Sampsell’s left, right by the corner of my cell, and he began to flash his cards to me. He showed me if he bluffed (not often) and got away with it. The bluff, he told me, was really an advertisement to promote getting called when he had a powerhouse hand. It was nice to bluff successfully, but getting caught was also useful. If you never bluffed, you never got called when you had a good hand. More than any other poker game, how one plays a hand depends on their position relative to the dealer. Raised bets and re-raises are frequent before the draw, and although there is a wager after the draw, and sometimes it is raised, an axiom of lowball is that all the action is before the draw. D’Arcy gave me another axiom: be easy to bluff, for it is far cheaper to make a mistake and throw a hand away, than to “keep someone honest” and call.

Bunker also expounds on how to cheat at poker, but adds the caveat that this should not be practised:

An old dope fiend confidence man taught me how to hand muck (palm cards) and deal from the bottom of the deck. Over the years I found that when I could cheat, I didn’t need to because I was a better poker player than that. When the other players were so good that cheating would have helped, they were also so good that they, too, knew the moves. Nothing illegal is seen, but there are telltale ways of holding one’s hand, or framing the deck. The primary thing was being able to spot a card mechanic. When I did I would give him the signal known to con men around the world, a clenched fist on the table. It signals he must play it on the up and up. A flat palm means go ahead and work. There are also standard signals for con men who play the match and strap, and for boosters and till tappers and other members of the vanishing breed of professional thieves who go back at least as far as Elizabethan England.

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