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Remembering Singer June Carter Cash

We remember singer June Carter Cash, who died Thursday at the age of 73. She was a Grammy-award winning singer, a songwriter, musician, actress and author. She was married to the legendary Johnny Cash, and she came from the Carter Family, the country music pioneers. June Carter Cash died of complications from heart surgery. (Original airdate: June 18, 1987.)

06:20

Other segments from the episode on May 16, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 16, 2003: Interview with Kevin Conley; Interview with Andy Bellin; Obituary for June Carter Cash.

Transcript

DATE May 16, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Kevin Conley discusses his new book, "Stud: Adventures
in Breeding"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

The winner of this year's Kentucky Derby was a horse named Funny Cide, a
gelding, which is a castrated horse. So Funny Cide won't be able to share the
destiny of many champion racehorses, the life of a stud. A good stud can earn
a fortune, and what a way to earn a living. As our guest, Kevin Conley,
writes, `The money is phenomenal, the sex is brisk and multifarious and the
settings are as green and unembarrassed as Eden.' Conley is the author of the
new book "Stud," all about the breeding of racehorses, from the intimate acts
to the big business. It's now in paperback. Conley is an editor at The New
Yorker. Terry talked with him last year. When he was researching his book,
Storm Cat was the top-paid stud, and he still is.

Mr. KEVIN CONLEY (Author, "Stud"): Storm Cat, the top stud in '99 and 2000,
was making, at the time I began this story, $300,000 for a date. And it's
currently up to 500,000 this year, which means at a conservative estimate of
50 such dates a year, he's making 20 million a year. That's not counting the
contracts that he has on the side, the long-term contracts with the farm that
he has to honor, and various outside farms who realized early on that this was
something worth getting in on.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Who would have suspected that sex could be quite that lucrative? How many
offspring has Storm Cat sired?

Mr. CONLEY: I'm not sure what the count is up to because this is foaling
season. But I think last year, it was somewhere around 720. And he's very
valuable because of those 720, 93 have become stakes winners. Thoroughbred
races are graded, and the top echelon of races are the stakes race. And those
stakes race winners are very rare, and he's sired 93.

GROSS: Gee, you'd think if you sire that many horses, that they'd become less
valuable 'cause there's so many of them.

Mr. CONLEY: Well, the value that Storm Cat can give is not necessarily at the
racetrack. This is kind of hard to grasp. You pay $500,000 really for the
chance to turn around in another year and a half, two years and sell that foal
at a yearling sale. And last year, Storm Cat's foals, yearlings, sold for an
average of 1.7 million. And that, I believe, was on a 250,000 or $300,000
investment. So people turned right around and made 1 million and change on
their 300, $250,000 investment. And that's really why he's valuable.

Now people who want to get into the horse racing game know that Storm Cat is
the horse to go to if you want to get a real runner. So there are rich people
lining up to get into the thoroughbred racing game. And that's another reason
why it's valuable.

GROSS: Why is a stud considered to be worth that much? I mean, I'm thinking
that the performance of a horse probably has a lot to do with that horse's
temperament, as well as its genetics. Maybe the temperament is part of the
genetics, but like for human beings, we think that the makeup of a human being
is part genetic but part a function of environment and chance. Wouldn't that
be true for horses, too?

Mr. CONLEY: Absolutely. That's the argument against cloning. If you were to
clone five Secretariats, who knows how many would make it to the track? One
might run into a fence, and the other might have lead paint fall down into its
feed bowl. And, of course, it's just like humans, that winning at the races
is not necessarily a matter of breeding the fastest horse. For a horse, the
race is itself a social event, and they're paying attention to a lot of
back-and-forth non-verbal signals about dominance and submission all the way
through the race. Sometimes the race is won before the horses even get in the
gate. And so breeding the horse to have that qualities is not just choosing
the fastest mare and the fastest filly. You often are breeding for
intangibles like temperament and aggressiveness, patience and intelligence,
ability to avoid problems.

GROSS: Does it matter to a horse in terms of its breeding and its ability to
race whether it was born through artificial insemination or through an act of
actual congress?

Mr. CONLEY: Yes. You can't be a thoroughbred unless you've been born by an
act of sexual congress. And all other breeds use artificial insemination.
It's very helpful. It means that you can take a horse in Ohio and impregnate
a mare in California or Vancouver. And what this does with thoroughbreds is
this prohibition against artificial insemination means that the mares have to
travel to where the stallions are. And in this country, the stallions, the
highest concentration of stallions, the most valuable studs in the world are
all in about a 60-mile radius centered around Lexington, Kentucky. That's
where Storm Cat is. That's where Point Given has retired. And I would bet
that 90 percent of the horses in the top 100 are in Kentucky.

GROSS: I know that you've been to the places where the breeding takes place.
Would you describe one of those places for us?

Mr. CONLEY: Well, they all look as beautiful as any English boarding school,
and at the top-of-the-line farms, they have a colonnade of trees, beautiful
Irish stone fences, slate roofs, oak barns. And when you get to, say,
Coolmore Ashford Stud, in Kentucky, even the hay seems to be art directed.
There's so much money in the business that they're selling you the dream, as
well as the barnyard experience.

GROSS: What happens when it's time for the mare and the stud to perform the
act of congress? How are they, like, introduced? How do they get together?

Mr. CONLEY: Well, before the mare and this stallion, the valuable stallion,
are introduced, there's a teaser stallion who has to come in and do his job.
Now the teaser stallion is there because the actual stallion is much too
valuable to get kicked by a mare who isn't quite in the mood yet. So they
bring some horse who hasn't been quite as good at the track--and the stallions
have these noble names, like Storm Cat or Dynaform or Conquistador Cielo or
Seattle Slew. And the teaser stallions have gas station type names, you know,
Earl(ph) and Honcho(ph) and Koop(ph) and Skitchy(ph).

And they'll bring old Koop in, and he'll try a jump. Often, he wears a
leather apron and something of the sort to make sure that he doesn't get too
intimate with the mare. But when it's clear to everyone in the barn that the
mare is not about to kick the prize horse flesh who's probably waiting in the
wings at this point, the poor teaser stallion is hauled off to get frustrated
again tomorrow or maybe later in the afternoon, and the stallion steps in.

The stallion pretty much believes that everything that walks through the
breeding shed door is his. And by this point, he's heard some of the
goings-on and he is ready to go usually, if he's a professional with a high
libido. And depending on his personality--different horses are different.
Seattle Slew seemed to be very gentlemanly in his address of the mare;
cautious, to make sure that the teaser stallion had done his job correctly, he
seemed to come up along the side and gently nuzzle her down her flanks and
then take a tentative jump himself on his own.

And, of course, all of this is going on in the presence of six or more
professionals who choreograph the event for efficiency, speed. And there is a
man or a woman holding the mare's lead shank, somebody holding the stallion's
lead shank. There's what's called a tail man who will pull the mare's tail
back at the last minute. There is a stallion manager ready to guide the
stallion home when he rears. And there are, of course, usually a vet or
several other grooms in attendance in case they're needed. Some stallions are
a little bit more leisurely about the act, and sometimes somebody will come
from behind and kind of give him an extra push if he seems to be a little slow
at his job.

And it's really, in its own way, a little like the New York City Ballet, very
highly choreographed. And when it's done well, which it almost always is, it
takes about 30 seconds, probably about an eighth of the time it's taken me to
describe it.

GROSS: Does there have to be any chemistry between the mare and the stallion?

Mr. CONLEY: Well, it's funny because there are definitely some stallions who
have their preferences. Seattle Slew seemed to like gray mares, I was told.
And when I went to visit a feral herd, which was a group of about 60 horses
who had arranged themselves into different harems, each of the stallions, the
harem stallions, seemed to have chosen according to his own preference. There
was a stallion they called Hershey, who seemed to prefer kind of chocolatey
brown horses. There was another one who liked the kind of paint variety with
dapple colors. And so, yes, they have their preferences often and their
moods, but the professionals in the breeding shed will make sure the job is
done. Sometimes it will take 40 minutes, and generally it's pretty quick.

GROSS: Does it seem like the mare or the stallion get any pleasure out of the
act?

Mr. CONLEY: It's hard to know exactly...

GROSS: I feel like such a voyeur talking about the horses doing this, but,
you know, it's odd to talk about.

Mr. CONLEY: Well, it is very odd to talk about it, and when I first went
down, I felt strange actually being there, but everybody there was so
comfortable. This is, you have to remember, million-dollar properties being
created. This is a business. And these are people whose job is to make sure
that it's done well. And actually, I was more embarrassed about my
embarrassment in the end than anything else.

GROSS: So do the horses get any pleasure out of it?

Mr. CONLEY: Certainly the stallions seem to enjoy it. The mares seem to have
a drive to reproduce that is quite strong. Most of the time, they could care
less about the stallion, pretty much 11 months of the year and 27 days. And
during those three days or so of estrus, they couldn't be more come hither in
their behavior.

BOGAEV: Kevin Conley speaking with Terry Gross. His book "Stud" is now out
in paperback. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back now to Terry's interview with Kevin Conley, the author of the
book "Stud: Adventures in Breeding." He's an editor at The New Yorker.

GROSS: How do the owners know when the mare is going to be ovulating?

Mr. CONLEY: Well, that's one of the reasons why in the past 30 years or so,
this business has become so much more lucrative than it used to be. For much
of this century, a stallion could only manage about 40 or so dates a year.
But with a lot of the increase in the accuracy of pinpointing the ovulation
that veterinarians can do, they've been able to know exactly when the mare is
ovulating and hustle her right over to the breeding shed. So they've been
able to double, triple, even quadruple in some cases, that 40 a year. Last
year's leading stud, Thunder Gulch, I believe had 216 dates; live covers they
call it in Kentucky.

GROSS: And will the mare almost definitely get pregnant?

Mr. CONLEY: I think the standard is 60 percent conception rate, so that
means...

GROSS: If your mare doesn't get pregnant, do you still have to pay the full
fee for the stud?

Mr. CONLEY: Most of the contracts--and there are definitely a variety of
contracts--most of the contracts are for guaranteed live foal, which means
they will give you another chance until you get pregnant, and you will pay the
stud fee on the delivery of an animal, four legs on the ground.

GROSS: Right. Meanwhile, let's back up a second. What happens to the teaser
stallion who is brought out to arouse the mare? Then the stallion's led away
in frustration, then what?

Mr. CONLEY: You know, I have to say that I really identified with the teaser
stallions through it. They seemed to have a lot of personality and, you know,
I was--in my own life I was more the guy who sat around and made the jokes and
then went off to get a drink for somebody and meanwhile the moody and
attractive man had left with the person I had been talking with. And so the
role of teaser stallions--I always wanted to follow them and find out what
they do. They pretty much have a life that's filled with frustration, but
when I visited the feral herd, I spoke with a woman who runs that research
center. And she was actually a therapist for the dysfunctional stallion and
used this feral herd as a kind of laboratory for the psychological health of
the stallion. The stallion in the wild is always potent, always fertile,
always healthy. And it's in the thoroughbred breeding farms that you find
these strange problems.

And one of the things that she told me was that as soon as a stallion gains
access to the mare, his testosterone levels skyrockets. And as soon as he's
taken away, within hours, his testosterone level drops. And teaser stallions
often spend the most time around the mares, and they spend a lot of their day
going around the brood mare barns and checking to see if the mares who live
there are ready to ovulate. Kind of giving a preliminary check. And so,
strangely, it's the teaser stallions often who have the highest testosterone
level on the farm.

The stallions who usually live in seclusion and by themselves often in a barn
housed at night with the other stallions--but they're kept away from each
other. They live like monks, on their own, because there is a belief that
stallions are very aggressive. They are in fact very aggressive. And left to
their own devices--and these stallions would fight to the death.

GROSS: So the poor teasers get no relief?

Mr. CONLEY: They very rarely do. I--the people who work at the barn often
work most with the teaser stallion. In other words, the stallions will come
and go, but the teaser is there for mare after mare. So they feel kind of
close to the teasers, too. So they will make sure often that he gets a little
fulfillment at some point. There are--there's a strange thing. Many of the
things that humans have, have a kind of analog in the horse world. And
thoroughbred mares are often so nervous that they reject their foal. And the
farm has to bring in a nurse mare, kind of like a nanny, to be a wet nurse for
the expensive foal. And those nurse mares contractually have to be returned
to their owner pregnant. And a lot of farms take pity on these teaser
stallions. And it's the teasers who do the job of getting the nurse mares
pregnant.

GROSS: Hmm.

Mr. CONLEY: So there is relief.

GROSS: Well, here's a question I need to ask: How did all this horse sex
affect your libido?

Mr. CONLEY: Well, now I have heard--I've spoken with a psychiatrist who
treats a lot of horsemen down in Lexington, and I've heard that there's a
certain jump that they get from being around a particularly pre-potent sire,
as they say. I can't really admit on national radio to any effect in my own
personal life. I do have a four-month-old baby.

GROSS: So did watching the process of horse breeding affect your interest in
horse racing?

Mr. CONLEY: Yes. I now pull for the young'uns of the sires that I've seen in
the breeding shed, definitely. It's very easy to get a kind of rooting
participation interest in thoroughbred racing because of that.

GROSS: Well, Kevin Conley, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CONLEY: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Kevin Conley is the author of the new book "Stud: Adventures in
Breeding." It's now in paperback.

One of horse racing's biggest races, the Preakness, takes place tomorrow. I'm
Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #1: I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere.
And here's a guy that says, `If the weather's clear, can do.' Can do. This
guy says the horse can do. If he says the horse can do, can do. Can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: I'm picking Valentine...

Unidentified Singer #1: Can do. Can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...'cause on the morning line...

Unidentified Singer #1: This guy says the horse can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...this guy has got him figured at five to nine.
Has chance.

Unidentified Singer #1: If he says the horse can do...

Unidentified Singer #2: Has chance.

Unidentified Singer #1: ...can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: This guy says the horse has chance.

Unidentified Singer #1: Can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: Has chance.

Unidentified Singer #1: For Paul Revere I'll bite. I hear his foot's all
right.

Unidentified Singer #2: Has chance.

Unidentified Singer #1: Of course, it all depends if it rained last night.

Unidentified Singer #2: I know it's Valentine...

Unidentified Singer #1: Likes mud.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...the morning works looks fine.

Unidentified Singer #1: Likes mud.

Unidentified Singer #2: Besides the jockey's brother's a friend of mine.

Unidentified Singer #1: This X means the horse likes mud.

Unidentified Singer #2: Needs race. Needs race.

Unidentified Singer #1: If that means the horse likes mud...

Unidentified Singer #2: My friend says the horse needs race.

Unidentified Singer #1: ...likes mud.

Unidentified Singer #2: If he says the horse needs race...

Unidentified Singer #1: Likes mud.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...needs race. Needs race.

Unidentified Singer #1: I'll tell you Paul Revere, now this is no bum steer.

Unidentified Singer #2: If he says the horse needs race...

Unidentified Singer #1: It's from a handicapper that's real sincere.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...needs race. Needs race.

Unidentified Singer #1: Can do. Can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: I go for Valentine...

Unidentified Singer #1: This guy says the horse can do.

Unidentified Singer #2: ...'cause on the morning line the guy has got him
figured at five to nine.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Andy Bellin discusses his new book, "Poker Nation,"
and being a poker player
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

Bluffing, betting, gambling and how to spot a cheat are just some of the
subjects Andy Bellin tackles in his new book "Poker Nation." He started to
play the game seriously when he attended graduate school in 1992. He was
studying physics and astronomy at Wesleyan University when he started to lose
himself at the poker table. He got so carried away with the game that he
dropped out of school shortly before he expected to flunk out. After giving
up on astronomy, he played semi-pro poker for several years and got a job at
the literary magazine The Paris Review, where he was encouraged to write.
"Poker Nation" is his first book. It's now out in paperback.

Bellin lives in New York City, where poker is technically illegal, but the law
is not enforceable unless a third party is benefiting, such as in games that
require a fee to play. Bellin used to belong to several underground poker
clubs, but he says they broke up when Mayor Giuliani started enforcing the
law. Terry asked Bellin what he liked about those clubs.

Mr. ANDY BELLIN (Author, "Poker Nation"): The one thing that I never
understood about closing them was that it was safe, it was reliable, there was
always a game. You knew that you weren't going to get cheated or robbed or
anything like that. And they were great games. They were competitive, yet
there were a lot of people there that shouldn't have been there that made it
sort of profitable.

TERRY GROSS, host:

No people for you to take advantage of.

Mr. BELLIN: I guess so. I mean, I hate to think of it that way, but--oh,
God, maybe I'll get back into therapy now, but yes.

GROSS: Now give us a sense of the range of people that would show up at these
games.

Mr. BELLIN: There, it is the most eclectic collection of people you could
ever imagine. You'd walk in at two in the morning on a Sunday, and it would
be, you know, a Park Avenue lawyer next to stripper next to Albanian prince
next to Brooklyn cabbie. It was just the most bizarre but most entertaining
group of people.

GROSS: To what extent do you see poker as a game of chance, and to what
extent do you see it as a game of skill?

Mr. BELLIN: Well, in any situation involving dice or a deck of cards, there's
always an element of luck. But what you have to remember is the theory of
probability, which basically defines all random activity, all random chance.
And what that basically states is that the more chances you take, the more
hands you play, the more times you roll the dice, the more likely it is that
the odds will hold true. So in the short run, when you sit down and you play
a hand or, you know, just for a night, there is a lot of luck involved in the
game. You can get terrible cards, or you can get good cards, which is the
worst thing to do, and have somebody get better cards, and you'll lose
everything. But if you look at poker as a yearlong endeavor or a lifelong
endeavor, then you're sort of taking the element of chance out. The theory of
probability, the more hands you play dictates that everybody will get the same
cards eventually in all the same situations, and the better players will make
more money and lose less money and, therefore, it's a lot less chance
involved.

GROSS: Where did you learn how to play, and who did you learn from?

Mr. BELLIN: Well, God, I'm going to give my family a bad name. My mother
taught me when I was very young, and we used to go up to--my grandmother had
this sort of haunted house way off in the woods of the Adirondacks, and my
mother used to take my brother and I up there. And this was like, you know,
early '70s, so there was no TV, no Internet, no cable, almost no telephones.
So, you know, it was two city kids out in the woods. I would do--terrified of
everything. I would just try and keep my family up as long as possible just
doing anything, and my mother taught us how to play poker. And I think my
first game, it involved mini marshmallows as chips, and, you know, my brother
and I would just play through till the morning when we could sleep then.

GROSS: So was your mother your poker mentor, or did you have a mentor more
from the poker world when you got a little older?

Mr. BELLIN: Forgive me, Mom. No, she was not my poker mentor. But when I
got into graduate school, I had a math professor who was just an absolute
statistics freak. I mean, he just loved everything, would quote these
bizarre death statistics about, you know, child mortality in Guatemala or
something and really just--that's the kind of thing that made him happy. And
the one thing that he was obsessed with more than anything was poker. And one
day he pulled me aside and said, `Do you play?' and I kind of chuckled and
said, `Yes,' and we sort of ran off like towards the Foxwoods casino to go
play.

GROSS: And so he was interested in probability and all that kind of stuff.

Mr. BELLIN: Yeah. I mean, whether he would have admitted this or not, he
loved the game for the same reasons that I do: the competition and thrill,
and there's sort of something sexy about it. But, I mean, the way he
rationalized it to himself was that it's this perfect statistical model. You
can just watch the law of averages at work any time you sit down at a poker
table. So that was--actually the best way to learn is to start with the math,
to start figuring out what the right thing to do is and what's the wrong thing
to do. And then you start learning the sort of subtleties along the way, but
it was a great poker education.

GROSS: If you're going to work with laws of probability when you're playing
poker, you need to have a good memory and remember what cards have shown up on
the table and what hands other people are likely to have, what cards are
likely to show up in the future. Did you already have a good memory, or did
you learn tricks to train your memory to remember what it is you need to know
when you're playing the game?

Mr. BELLIN: I think I had an average memory, and I had operated under the
assumption that memory was a birthright. You either had a great memory or you
didn't. And what I found out along the way was that there were certain--there
are tricks, there are mnemonics, there are ways to organize things by grouping
them that improve your ability to retain information. And I don't have a
great memory now, but, you know, it certainly helps to try and figure out what
works best for your mind, whether, you know, you see a series of cards laid
out on a table, you know, do you try and make up a story? Do you try and
spell something out with their first letters? Do you group them, you know, by
using patterns or something? And it's an amazing way to help your memory.

GROSS: What are the things you most want to remember when you're playing?

Mr. BELLIN: In a game like seven card stud, where there are a lot of cards
exposed, it really helps to--you know, if you've got a pair of threes and
you've seen one three in somebody else's hand, obviously, that's going to
change the way you play the game. You've just cut your odds of making three
of a kind in half. So memorizing the cards that have been played is very
important, but being able to--particularly because most of the poker that's
played in America is played, you know, in garages and around barrooms and
things like that, you're going to play with the same guys over and over again.
So you have to keep in mind the way they play, the things they do, their
tendencies, and, in that way, it makes them a lot more predictable. And 90
percent of the time, you can base your actions on more evidence, so that's
really going to help you in the long run.

GROSS: What kind of tendencies do you spot?

Mr. BELLIN: You're playing five card draw and somebody draws one card, the
classic question is: Does he have a four-card straight or flush or he's
drawing to a big hand, or does he have two pair and he's already got a decent
starting hand? There's almost no real way to tell, except there are a lot of
people that--my friend John is a good example. He's a guy who when he would
have a straight or a flush draw and he needed a fifth card to make a hand, he
would never bet it. He would always just call whatever was bet. He would
never initiate a bet. But when he had two pair, he would always start the
betting. So as soon as I figured that out--I've been playing with him for 10
years now--and when he draws one card, I know what he is doing. So...

GROSS: This is not something you would call to his attention, right? You
wouldn't say, `I've noticed that you have this habit.'

Mr. BELLIN: I think I just did call it to his attention.

GROSS: Yeah, right.

Mr. BELLIN: I am just so mad.

GROSS: He might not be listening. But, I mean, really, you obviously don't
want somebody to be conscious of the things that they're doing that betray
them?

Mr. BELLIN: Oh, of course not. I mean, these are these little--you create
your private little books on people, and you keep them your whole life. I
mean, like I said, I started playing with my brother when I was seven, so,
you know, for 25 years almost, and I never told him that he has a great
tendency to tell me what his cards are without him knowing it, until I wrote
the book and I let him find out by reading the book. So...

GROSS: His reaction?

Mr. BELLIN: He didn't believe it, and then I pointed it out actually last
night at a card game. But, you know, my brother's an incredibly sturdy sort
of--I mean, he's got these huge hands, and he's like this very macho guy, and
when he bluffs or when he does something out of the ordinary, he's absolutely
steady as a rock, but when he's got the best hand and he's trapped somebody,
he gets so excited that his hands shake, which is completely a dead giveaway.
So for years, I've known what he's had in his hands.

GROSS: So do you fold when you see his hands shaking?

Mr. BELLIN: Immediately, without a thought, in a second. I can't get the
cards out of my hands fast enough.

BOGAEV: Andy Bellin speaking with Terry Gross. His book "Poker Nation" is
available in paperback.

This is FRESSH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Andy Bellin, author of the
book "Poker Nation."

GROSS: Now how do you decide if someone else is bluffing? What are some of
the things you look for?

Mr. BELLIN: Well, people do the weirdest things. You know, we all get
drilled into us at an early age that lying is a bad thing to do, and all of
the deception we intend to bestow upon people at a poker table, it comes into
conflict with that. So people have the strangest reactions. People cover
their mouths when they bluff. Some people look away. Some people change the
tone of their voice. Some people bet way more aggressively, physically, and
they throw the chips in the pot when they're bluffing. Some people do it very
sheepishly, like they're embarrassed to be doing this. It all depends on the
person, but figuring out a tell like that is really--I mean, it's such a huge
advantage.

When I was in graduate school, I used to play in a game, and apparently--they
didn't tell me this until after I left school, note I said `left' and not
`graduated,' but after I left school. I was notified that I had a tell where,
when I'd be bluffing or be making a very reluctant call, if it was a $10 bet,
I would make the wager with small denominations. I would use 10 one-dollar
chips or 20 50-cent chips to get rid of my small chips. And when I had a very
good hand, when I was confident in it, I would use a big chip. I would throw
in a $10 chip, and it's an amazing tell.

GROSS: Once you realize you have a tell, is it difficult to get rid of, just
as it's difficult to break nearly every habit?

Mr. BELLIN: I think it is, but you sort of do it proactively in the sense
that you don't recognize the tell and then compensate for it. What you try
and do is whether you're bluffing or whether you're making a reluctant call or
whether you've got an amazing hand, you try and go through the process of
betting in the exact same way. You do it almost as mechanically as possible,
grab the chips in the same way. You throw them in the pot the same way. You
look at your cards in the same way. You bet using the same inflection. And
if you can do that, you're better off trying to avoid it proactively rather
than reacting to it.

GROSS: Have you played cards with people who you were sure or at least pretty
confident were cheating?

Mr. BELLIN: I tell everybody that if you've played more than five hands of
poker in your life, you've probably been cheated at one point or another,
which is not to say that every game you're in is crooked, but if anybody has
ever looked at, you know, the bottom card on a deck, they've cheated in a
sense. They've taken advantage of some inside information, and they've used
it without, you know, stopping the game and saying, `Re-deal the cards.' So
cheating can be, in very subtle and almost meaningless ways, you know, knowing
one card in a deck is an advantage but not a huge advantage, or you can have
people try and, you know, steal the shoes off your feet.

And I was in a poker game in a casino a long time ago where I found that--I
didn't even realize that I was playing with what they called a partnered team,
where two people sort of signal each other what their cards are, and they try
and trap you in between them, where you've got a decent hand, one's got a
great hand or one's got a terrible hand, and they just keep raising because
they know they're going to split the proceeds in the end. So there is
cheating. The problem is that you have to become a very good card cheat
yourself to be able to spot it. You have to learn what it sounds...

GROSS: Wait. Wait. Why do you have to be a cheat to spot it?

Mr. BELLIN: Well, you have to be able to manipulate the deck yourself to know
what it looks like when somebody else is doing it. You have to know what it
sounds like when somebody is peeking at a card or dealing the second or third
card off the deck and not the top one to be able to spot it. And the only way
to become familiar with it is to do it yourself.

GROSS: In your book, "Poker Nation," you write, `Losing begets losing.' Can
you talk about that losing spiral that you can fall into?

Mr. BELLIN: Yeah. You find yourself in the throes of it, and you think, `I
can't believe I got myself into this again.' But you say to yourself, `I just
lost money, so I have to play more poker to win,' and then you play more poker
to win your money back, but you've actually lost, so now you have to play even
more poker. Also, the mathematics logically conspire against losing, in the
sense that if you start out with $500 and you lose 50 percent of your money,
you've got $250. Now you've got to make 100 percent of your money to get
even. So it seems like the further you go, the more difficult it is to crawl
out of the hole. And, also, when you lose, you start getting frustrated, and
when you get frustrated, you start playing irresponsibly, and then when you
start playing irresponsibly, you start losing more, and then it just becomes
this vicious cycle that's terrible and wildly unprofitable and makes for a
miserable evening. That's why often, the best thing you can do after losing a
big hand is just pick up your chips and go home and come back and fight
another day.

GROSS: Are you capable of doing that?

Mr. BELLIN: Sometimes, I think. I used to pride myself--the expression for
when a player starts losing his mind at a poker table and playing
irresponsibly is that he's tilting, and I used to pride myself on never
tilting, but the fact was, I mean, I guess I used to tilt in my own way. Like
one of the most important decisions you have to make at a poker table is if
you've lost your money, do you buy back in? And the reason it's so important
is you have to figure out why you've lost your money. Were you just getting
bad cards and buying back in is going to further your attempts to get even
because you're a favorite at that table, or are you just completely outclassed
and just go home and, you know, watch a movie and then come back and hope
those guys are gone in the morning?

But I was never a great judge of that, so in a sense, I would lose, and then I
would have that sort of tilty feeling to me, and I'd think, `You know what?
I've got to get back in this game. I'm a favorite at this table,' and a lot
of the times I wasn't. So I think that was my greatest shortcoming as a
player.

GROSS: Do you believe in beginner's luck?

Mr. BELLIN: Absolutely. My girlfriend, the first time she played, just went
on a tear. She just couldn't miss. The same is true at a horse racing track.
First time I taught her how to throw dice at a crap table, she threw the dice
across the table, hit a man in the head and they fell in the well and turned
out an 11, and we won. So, yes, very much so. It's a very important part of
the game.

GROSS: Well, Andy Bellin, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. BELLIN: Oh, thank you. That was great fun.

BOGAEV: Andy Bellin is the author of "Poker Nation."

Coming up, we remember June Carter Cash. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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