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CardShark Content - Patrick Malboeuf (7/3/2003)

The first time I went to a casino was 2 years ago, when I was working full time as Iron Man in a Super Hero show at an attraction park and when I was making lots of money. My buddies were encouraging me to try the roulette and I must say I was fascinated by this basic representation of chance. Two colours, lots of numbers, the little ball rolls and rolls and decides to stop at one point.

One of the things you can do at the roulette is to bid on a colour instead of a number which means you have a chance of 50% (roughly, forget the zero) to double your money. Simply, enough, my rational side concluded that all I had to do is to have average luck and bid twice on black to get my money back, there were thus very little risks.

My emotional side, however was intrigued and fascinated by the simplicity of the game, but even more by the fact that the roulette, even if it seemed to be without risks, is always one of the most profitable games for a casino, which means people loose money at it.

So, as an experience, I went to withdraw 150$ dollars and told myself, I will bid 50$ on black. If I lose then I double and bid 100$. With average luck, I will make money with this game.

But heading towards the roulette, my friends approach me and say: “the last three results were black”. I had to take a quick decisions, and decided that probabilities dictated that red would start to win (since luck always balances).

So I bid on red but again it was black. So I lost 50$. I then proceeded to go ahead with the plan and bid 100$ on red, still thinking luck would balance back. But then again it was black.

I was really disappointed with the fact that had I stuck with my initial game plan, I would have won some money. So my emotional side took over and I went to withdraw 200$ and placed it on black, like I first decided. Red.

I have never played the roulette again in my life since and plan not to. But this experience taught me some of the most important concepts that have allowed me to become a consistent professional Lord of the Rings player.

Control

When dealing with luck based games, there are things you control, and things that you don’t. Unfortunately, some of the things that you have no control over tend to seem to be within your reach and things that seem to be totally coincidental often are the logical consequence of some of your actions.

For example, although it seems logical and a good move, it is not true that there are more chances of getting a red after 3 blacks. While it is true that luck always balances, we have no way of knowing when it will balance. Trying to predict luck is tempting, but useless.

On the other hand, the fact that I decided to continue to bid to 200$ (giving me more chances of winning money) but to stop after losing $200 is not the result of chance but of my prior acquisition of money (combined with my level of self restraint, and many other factors) which made it possible for me to afford such a risk.

Playing in a Lord of the Rings money tournament presents the same features of control, in different ways. I have chosen to play Lord of the rings professionally and not the roulette mainly because I believe that the level of control is far more superior. I believe that the level of control is high enough for me to beat luck to a certain point. I believe that at the professional level, differentiating control and luck and mastering the different forms of control is the key to success.

Forms of control:

1. Gaming skills.

The most obvious reason that comes to mind to explain why some people win more often than others is their skills. Gaming skills can be divided in 2 qualities, in my opinion:

The first one is the ability of a player to be so comfortable with his deck that he always (in any game situation) not only knows what card to play to win, but also knows what card his opponent could play to beat him.

The second one is a knowledge of the concepts of the game so wide that it allows a player to play decks that he has never played with and still be very successful.

I am working really hard to get there, but unfortunately I am not at the level where I can play any deck and still possess the level of gaming skills described above.

Personally, the way for me to attain such a level of gaming skills is to make a deck my own, that is to practice with it so much against so many types of deck that experience will bring me the knowledge and the habit required to win.

Although it may not always be the case, I am aware that my ability to adapt limits my chances of success in big tournaments, particularly when considering the next form of control:

2. Deck choice

One form of deck choice is the one you make at home when a new expansion or a new format comes out. However, the one that concerns us is the decision you make to play a deck in a particular day of a big tournament for particular reasons. The environment which guides and limits your deck choice is called the “meta”.

For example, if you know your first opponent from day 2 is using a Moria shadow, you will be most likely to pack in some deck that possesses condition removal.

3.. The psychological element

Some players find a way to beat a deck that is heavily teched against theirs or people that have greater gaming skills than they do. I call the psychological element all the factors of a game outside of gaming skills and the decks used.

Among those can be identified bluffing, intimidation, fraternizing, confusion, etc. Of course, this factor of control is very linked to each player’s ethical beliefs and some players will not use the psychological element while others will abuse it, but most people don’t even know it is there.

For example, telling your opponent: damn, where are those $&*??**? Secret sentinels and being serious is giving your opponent a tremendous game advantage. Many high level players will say that this example is silly, but there are far more subtle ways to loose the psychological battle. I particularly like this subject but it would gain by being addressed in a different article for us not to loose our focus on the main subject.


4. Logistics

Are there many judges, who are the judges, what are they like, are the tables comfortable, is the noise level acceptable for you to keep your focus, can you see the game clock at all times, are you using thinner sleeves to make your moria deck fit into a small box, what are you doing with your tokens, with the cards in your discard pile?

I must admit that I underestimated the importance of the fourth factor before going to Origins, focusing a lot on the first one, but experience has taught me a lesson I will not forget. In fact, it is probable that experience will make me realize that I am missing some forms of control or that I do not understand them fully. For now, this is a summary of what I know about control.

In order to illustrate the very abstract notions I have discussed, I will use my experience in Origins as an example.

A few months before origins, a day after standard format was released, I designed a moria deck (powered by the dwarves’s drawing and the ents cycling) based on the underdeeps of moria. I played with the deck and realised that it would always win against any deck that does not have any condition removal, but would always die to a deck that packs grown suddenly tall or sleep caradhras.

Using that deck, I practiced with it so much that it came to a point where I would never lose to a deck that has no condition removal, which meant that my level of control would be huge. Against particular types of deck, the cards in my deck and my level of play would simply eliminate luck.

The more Origins approached, the more I saw every big deck lacking proper condition removal. I was very encouraged by this and kept play testing and play testing against any possible deck. I played by myself, I played in my dreams, I played at work in my head, trying to put my level of control for the game skill factor the nearest 100% possible.

But I kept looking for alternatives and thus had 2 or 3 other viable decks that I could use should the meta be cruel to my deck.

Before the actual tournament took place, I informed myself of the legal ways to remember in what order my minions were put beneath my draw deck, I bought thinner sleeves and a site marker that motivated me. I made sure I was going to the con with my dear friend Pat, that he would be in charge of making sure we wouldn’t be stressed (being the well organized guy he is and which I am not) and thus we bought our passes the day before, made our deck list in advance, ate good food, etc. All of which allowed me to control the logistic factor the best I could.

When the evening before day 1 finally arrived, I judged that although there would be some decks running gandalf and gst or sleep, the meta was friendly to my deck and my chances of making 6-2 were high. I thus stuck with my deck.

I made absolutely no mistake all day with a deck that I knew by heart and against matchups that I was used to. I used the psychological advantage to win me at least one game (against Kyle Craft, the fact that he told me he was running secret sentinels allowed me not to play anything when he finally got an elven ally and thus preserving my essential conditions for the site 7 kill).and my deck choice did the rest.

However, when the pairings for 2 were announced, I knew I was paired against my nemesis, Josh Cornwell Mott and I knew he would want to beat me. I thus informed myself of the deck he was playing day 1, informed myself of the decks almost everyone making day 2 were using on day 1 and tried to figure out the day 2 meta, which is far more difficult to guess since it can change in a second while people tend to plan their day 1 decks weeks on advance, and even brag about it on the net.

Here were the fact I knew:
- My deck had no chance against a gandalf + condition removal deck
- At least 2 people making day 2 were using a gandalf based fellowship on day 1.
- Josh would want to beat me
- Everyone had access to the fact that I was playing moria, and to the fact that it was vulnerable to gandalf + condition removal.

At that point, I was worried because I judged that the chances of the meta being cruel to my deck were bigger than for day 1, particularly if Josh had teched against me.

I was looking for a deck with no obvious weakness, so Josh could not tech against it. I judged that my gaming skills could give me the win over Josh, but I still needed a solid enough deck to beat him.

That is when Brochu came to me with a pile of hobbit running 4 cultures crap and told me he thought it could work. After a 2 and a half brainstorm, we came up with a winning pile and I decided I had the alternative I needed (my other alternatives were not wining consistently enough).

So me and Brochu played the deck. I was faced with Nazgul, one of the toughest match up for the deck but I knew I could win. I used the psychological advantage, and so did he, but something I did not expect happened. The judge became the most influential actor of or games and ultimately, I lost control and all my gaming skills, my deck, the psychological advantage ultimately were surpassed by the influence of the judge on the game.

So after taking months and months to prepare for this event, after using all of my knowledge and my skills to try to win this event, something I had not foreseen happened which made me lose.

Which brings me to my much needed conclusion.

The lack of control is a very frustrating thing and there are 2 ways to respond to it: let it frustrate you to the point where you loose potential or interest in the game or allow you to learn more about the ways you do have to control the game.

I must admit my two last big tournaments ended in very frustrating ways, but then again I have never learned more about Lotr than I did the past 3 months. And some part of my knowledge on control must be right, cause despite luck being inconstant, I’m always on the day 2 cardboard.

I’d like to end this article by saluting all those great Lotr players I have met who, despite frustrating past results, keep working with an open mind to get back on the winning track.

It’s so easy to blame it on luck.


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