"Blue Wizard needs food, badly!"
—Gauntlet video game
Twenty-odd years ago, I was a teen in a tiny farm town in western Nebraska. Video games were popular, but the only one in town was in the local bar, a place that was verboten to me. But on school trips and summer camps, I managed to sneak away with friends to the occasional arcade or hotel game room, where we'd pump quarters into all the classics: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Frogger, Defender, Galaga, Space Invaders, Missile Command, Mortal Kombat, Asteroids, Duck Hunt, Double Dragon, Street Fighter ... OK, so there were a lot of video games back in the day.
One of my personal favorites was Gauntlet, a multiplayer game with a Dungeons & Dragons-esque theme. Up to four people could play at once, with each player selecting his or her own type of character: Wizard, Warrior, Elf, or Valkyrie. Each type of player had its own strengths and weaknesses, and the players needed to work as a group to be successful. There really was no ultimate objective, just lots of killing of ghosts and demons, avoiding the Death wraiths, collecting treasure, and trying to eat food to stay alive for another level (though the game would helpfully take more quarters if you couldn't find a snack onscreen). One of the alternately cool and obnoxious parts of the game was an announcer with a deep and oddly-accented computerized voice that would intone various warnings:
"Blue Wizard needs food, badly!"
"Do not shoot the food!"
"Use magic to kill Death!"
"Red Warrior is about to die!"
I got to thinking about Gauntlet recently because I have noticed a marked uptick in bad players in the low-stakes cash games I play. Although my poker buds and I have generally observed games getting tougher the past couple of years, recently there has been a notable—and welcome—influx of new bad players. So what's the Gauntlet connection? Well, most of these bad players seem to be "Pay Off Wizards"—players who simply feel compelled to call value bets, particularly on the turn and river, even though they know they are likely to be behind. Pay Off Wizards seem to play in mortal fear of being bluffed off a hand, often convincing themselves their modest holding has a real chance of winning. Here are just a handful of the most egregious examples I've collected over the past three cash game sessions:
- I flopped the Queen-high flush (in clubs, natch). I was called down for pot-sized bets on all three streets by ... AhJh for Ace-high.
- I hold ATs, flop trips on a T-T-7 board, turn is a small blank, river is a 7, and I get called down on all three streets ($75 turn and $125 river) by .... 72o.
- I turned the nut straight, got called. I bet the river, was raised, and then had my reraise all-in called by ... second pair, no kicker.
- I play 87 sooooted, flop the stone cold nuts with 4-5-6 rainbow. I got called on the flop and turn in three spots, and got two players to call all-in on the river trey with ... K7o and J7s.
- I flop a flush draw with A3s, miss, but hit a trey on the river. I bluff a 3/4 pot-size bet, and get called by .... AK unimproved.
- I flop a flush draw with A5s, miss, but turn a 5. I bluff the river and get paid off by ... KQ unimproved.
- I play 64 sooooted OTB for a raise. Player calls me on blank flop. I turn a flush draw and keep firing; only a call. I river the flush, bet the pot, get called by .... second pair.
- I play A6 soooted, float the flop in position with bottom pair. Turn trips, raise the turn and bet the river, get called by ... TPTK.
- I raise OTB with pocket ducks, flop a set on an Ace-high board. I get called in two spots all the way to showdown ... by A9 (rivered two pair) and A5 (top pair no kicker).
"Pay Off Wizard is about to rebuy!"
Here's a Poker After Dark episode where Phil Laak acknowledges his extraordinary Pay Off Wizard skills: