Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Story

Every time I play poker and lose, it hurts. Even if I feel I've played my best. Even if I made the strategically or mathematically correct play. Even if I've spazz jammed like a 12 year old Euro Donk sitting in his mother's basement. Losing in poker hurts.

I've noticed that the pain of Black Friday has been oozing out of me slowly. It's evident in what I’m writing. And if I’m going to tell the truth, the only reason I’m writing is because I’m not playing poker.

Because I'm an amateur and have a day job, I guess I thought this severance from what I was crafting to be a new vocation would be uneventful. At first, that was the case. Then again, maybe I was in denial.

In the immediate wake of Black Friday, there were still poker things to look forward to. My trip to the WSOP, for example. Plus, I had a family vacation on tap and then an unexpected opportunity to travel to Barcelona fell in my lap. These were excellent distractions. Today, however, I’ve got no once-in-a-lifetime around-the-world trips on my horizon. No hum-drum ones either. Instead, all I've got is time.  

A smarter person would fill up that time with extra gigs; teaching managers that “cleavage” is not per se sexual harassment, for example. I'm not that smart, though. Also, I'm apparently not that driven. The more correct admission is that I’m lazy. Right now, I seem to be ok with that. I’m not proud of it, but I must be ok with it because I’m not doing anything to change things; at least for the moment.

But because I’ve got time, I’m writing. I wish I could say that the writing is good. It’s not, but I love it. I didn’t realize I loved it until Black Friday gave me the time to do more of it. 

In the midst of all that time, I came across the National Novel Writing Month website. And I signed up (you can, too!) EDIT 9/3/11 - I love this piece from @3dgar discussing his thoughts on NaNoWriMo, Poker With Zen: Write a Novel in One Month - Sure, Why Not?

To prepare, since I’ve never written 50,000 words for one piece and don’t have a clue as to what I want to write about, I’m planning to use the blog to help me get in the habit of writing every day. I suspect that means those of you who are regular readers (thank you very much for that, by the way) are in for some drivel. Lord knows I don’t wish to write drivel, but as I said – I’m not good and I want to get better.

I know I could write every day and not post it in a blog. It might be wiser to do that and I might. I might write, every day, something for the blog that I know I’ll post and something just for me that I don’t post. I don’t know. But I’m writing. Just for the sake of writing. I think having a goal to write something for the blog will be a good exercise for me. And heaven knows, the bar is not set that high.

A writer who has set the bar high, on the other hand, is Brad Willis (to see just how high, check out his site at Rapid Eye Reality). Some of Brad’s work has moved me to tears. The only other writers who've evoked that in me are Carmac McCarthy (The Road) and Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove).

Brad wrote an article in 2007 called The Last Poker Game. In it, he described poker players as being one of two types: “those who play for the money…and those who play to feel what it’s like to crush the other guy.” That stuck with me and I found myself thinking about it in the context of my own play and the games I frequent. And I began questioning why I play.

Among my San Antonio boys, I would agree many, if not all, fall cleanly in one of these two camps. I’m just not sure I do.

While I want to win, I don’t play for the money. I strive to be good, to be the best, but it’s not for the money. If it were, I think my track record would dictate I rethink things - more often than not, I don’t win, and when I do, it’s not much. But in poker, money is the top prize. If you’re winning, you’re making money. By extension, the more money you’re making, the better player you must be.

And although I despise losing, I don’t play to crush someone else. I don’t want to crush someone’s soul – even the prick three seats to my left in Saturday’s game. I don’t want to bring down the poker kibosh and make him cry. Do I want to beat him? Absolutely. But, I think there's a distinction between winning (an Olympic athlete receiving a medal) and crushing (a football player smashing a tackler face first into the mud with a cleat to the helmet and another to the ass as he steamrolls into the endzone in taunting victory dance mode).

More than the money and beyond any soul crushing, I want to win. I want to beat whoever enters a pot against me. Not for the chips. Not for the tears. And not even (I don’t think) to avoid the pain I feel when I lose. I just want to win.

Maybe that, in and of itself, is a leak. Because no one, not even Phil Ivey, can win every hand and drag every pot. In other sports, the better athlete may always prevail. Poker is not like other sports.

Contemplating what Brad wrote and applying it to my own play, I started thinking that what I want to do is let go of that desperate desire to win. Instead of coveting it so badly, I want my passion to be for the story.

In every hand, in the context of all I know about poker, I want to hear the story my opponent is trying to tell me and discern the story they are trying to hide. Do they tell the same story each time they’re in a hand? How does their story change, if at all, in the face of new variables? What doesn't make sense and why doesn't it make sense? And how does it inform my action?

If I could pay attention to the story and read it correctly, without a vested interest in the coin or the guttural thrill of the crush, can I become a better player?

I don’t know if writing will make me a better poker player, but that’s what I'll be doing here, each day, between now and November 1, when NaNoWriMo begins. I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll do my best to avoid putting you to sleep. Unless, of course, that’s what you read here for.

If that’s the case, please take an ambien and leave me a comment. I need all the writing material I can get. 

By the way...what are you reading?


  1. Given that you're a professional lawyer, I might suggest reading books and articles in legal philosophy and write/blog responses to thought provoking issues. This I assume will help you articulate your thoughts clearly and in a detailed manner while giving you practice writing. There is also a ton of literature in the fields of decision and game theory that present interesting concepts that you might find worth writing on. Literature in these fields might prove to be useful in developing a stronger game theoretic strategy for your poker game.

    Or this could be entirely uninteresting to you, so disregard my post if that's the case.

  2. I am looking forward to reading your stories. If you need additional research, I just dropped 4 buy-ins last night, Rose, 4 buy-ins! Sincerely, Mamomoko (Cake Poker), Unprofessional Esq.

  3. I haven't been able to read your blog in awhile due to earthquakes and hurricanes. You have a LONG way to go until you hit my level of laziness. I am confident that you will make the 50K, and, more importantly, I am sure it will be well written. As for poker, I definitely play for the money, though, in a tournament, you have to recognize when you have a realistic chance of winning and go for it. Most of the time you won't be successful, but top 3 finishes make up for a lot of failures. It isn't about insulting or degrading people, but a killer instinct is important, even if it is only directed at one or two people.

  4. Actually if I took an Ambien you wouldn't want to read what I would write. Can't be trusted with that on board. I definitely will be following your stories.

  5. Lee, that's a good idea, thank you. A challenge, too, because I find philosophy difficult. Even though I'm a lawyer, my logic synapses often misfire.

    Stone - you crazy. Love me some Mamomoko.

    Hi Albus, I'm glad you survived Acts of God! I like the way you put this: "top 3 finishes make up for a lot of failures." It's true! I miss being able to try for for those on the regular via online play. Since it's not around (in as much volume), I need to chill out when presented the infrequent live opportunity. Thanks for the reminder.

    Steve - you and me both, brother. I appreciate you checking out the stories (and good luck if you're playing this weekend!)


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