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Roy Brindley, Degenerate Gambler

I promised to introduce you to some of the more interesting characters who wander through my world. Here’s one. I don’t know him personally, just through his autobiography — but I have known one or two of his soul-mates. This essay was first published in Poker, Life and Other Confusing Things which will soon be out in print form and, until then, can be downloaded from Amazon by chlicking here.

Roy Brindley has written his autobiography, Life’s a Gamble. It’s a book about life – with a little poker tossed in along with booze, broads, dogs, racing, a couple of bouts of “where the fuck am I?” and of course, a dollop of redemption when our hero discovers that his totally bat shit crazy life style just happens to work at the poker tables. We like to say stuff like, “Hey, man, poker is life.” Right? Right!

Brindley is a gambler, as the title tells you. He is a sick, demented, compulsive, self-destructive gambler with a deep streak of insecurity, an almost pitiable desire to be loved and accepted, a crazy longing for what he thinks is the “good life,” the “cash in pocket” life style: fast cars, big houses, booze, women and it’s all wrapped up in an ego the size of Ireland, which is where he now lives with the loyal Meg, their two children and a Ferrari with a blown engine and maybe, just maybe, the life he thinks he wants. Who knows? I, for one, wouldn’t put much loose change on his future. But I am rooting for him. He’s now got a contract with a major management firm, is sponsored by Ladbrokes, and does sports commentary on the BBC. But you can’t shake the sound of hoof beats in the distance….

Brindley gives us an insightful, sometimes painful tale of a working-class bloke from Southampton struggling: an unloved child in a family of emotionally distant compulsive gamblers, a reasonably successful greyhound trainer who blows it all on various hopeless bets, a life dropout living rough, begging on street corners with a cardboard box as his home and, 300 pages later, a successful poker pro with over a million dollars won in tournament and live play.

Brindley’s a compulsive gambler, of this there is no doubt. He knows it and you will too. But, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the real problem isn’t gambling in any simple way. It’s losing. And as he loses he dreams, romanticizing about the big one, the “life-changer” of a win that will fulfill the fantasy.

Back in the ‘80’s Howard Sartin developed the ‘pace’ method for handicapping racehorses. Sartin was a psychotherapist who, frustrated over his lack of success treating problem gamblers, decided instead to teach them to win. The pace handicapping he claimed to have developed with some of his patients revolutionized the game. Sartin became something of a legend among horse players (count me among them). He was the first to break a race down into segments and to analyze the amount of energy a horse exerted in each. His major contribution was to point out that closers don’t really “close” – they merely slow down less than the horses in front of them. This might not seem important but if you bet the ponies you better understand the implications. His clientele, now playing with positive EV, were “cured.”

And so it was with Brindley. Poker took a pathetic loser betting the dogs, horses and sports and made him a winner. He is now in his forties, has his family and considerable wealth, but the reader knows that he could, in a New York minute, succumb to that irresistible tug to unwrap his bankroll and mix it up.

 ‘Roy the Boy,’ (his poker moniker) is another of those mugs in this game who pull me in. I just can’t resist a quick analysis of him – any more than he can pass a bookmaker without tossing a couple of quid on a nag at Epsom. At the core, Brindley seems to be a deeply sensitive fellow, albeit a rather fragile one. He is also ingenuous and open about his failings and honest about them to a fault, a tendency that often has unhappy consequences. He is so emotionally vulnerable that sessions of poor play, tournaments that end short of his goals (and hopes) can totally derail him, shake his confidence and wreck his game. He lets remarks that are simply one-offs from frustration get to him. A cavalier remark from Howard Lederer denigrating his play sets him off in a spiral of angst and depression. Simply getting needled by opponents in Vegas, a tactic designed to put players off their game, does just that.

There are cultural elements Brindley doesn’t seem to recognize. He learned the game in Europe where decorum rules, where even talking at the table is frowned on and he despairs over boorish Americans. But then, while doing poker commentary for British TV, he insensitively makes religious and ethnic slurs. He also ends up good friends with Tony Guoga (aka ‘Tony G’), one of poker’s most notorious trash talkers.

For someone who spent so much of his life in betting shops, at race tracks, casinos and poker rooms, he can be astonishing naïve. At Binion’s for the WSOP he spots a single-deck blackjack table, a card-counter’s wet dream. He starts betting $2 a hand, wins consistently, boosts his bets way up and then is astonished and appalled when he gets that fatal tap on the shoulder from a large gentleman telling him his action is no longer welcome. How this can be a surprise to someone who developed his own card counting system (apparently never having read or even heard of Thorpe, Uston or Snyder[1]) and was so successful that he got barred from every casino in England is beyond me.

He is also proud that he has survived this life without ever doing drugs. He seems not to realize that alcohol is a drug. He drinks copiously, explaining in a painfully defensive way that he likes to drink while playing poker, especially tournaments, because it calms him and allows him to focus. The tale of winning a tournament so plastered that he couldn’t make out the cards and then passed out leaving the loyal Meg to bag up the prize money should be a warning. It appears not to be.

He ends upbeat, believing he has vanquished his demons, mended his ways, overcome his insecurities and doubts. One can only hope….

A note: The book is written for a British audience. The old line rings true about the US and the UK: “two great lands separated by a common language.” Many passages will be cryptic to a North American reader and many words will be strange. But that’s okay. Just plow through; they’ll start feeling familiar after a while. You might wanta ‘ave a couple o britneys to help you work yer way t’rough the bits and bobs, then Bob’s your uncle.


[1] Three of the legends of the world of the professional blackjack player. Thorpe was a mathematician who first worked out the statistical properties of the game that made card counting possible. Uston was a former stock market executive who developed some of the more intriguing ways of staying under the radar of casino bosses who were looking to quash the counters. Snyder developed some of the more sophisticated counting techniques and championed subtle strategy-shifts that they entailed. Snyder has, more recently, become active in the poker world.

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