Monday, February 13, 2012

Substance Over Form

Charles Mingus
Do you remember when you first started playing poker? Maybe you got to sit on your dad's lap around the kitchen table as he penny anted into a family pot. A literal "family" pot because everyone else around the table was actually part of your family.

Or maybe you were in your dorm room playing against your college buddies. Or on lunch break in high school.

Or maybe you didn't pick it up until after the Moneymaker boom and your first foray into the game was online.

Either way, if you're serious about the game - you study, you think about it, you talk hands with friends, you run flips through PokerStove, watch videos, get coaching, and likely track your play through a stat program like PokerTracker or on a yellow legal notepad sitting by your computer or on an iPhone app like PkrCruncher or PokerJournal.

Always looking to improve, right?

Good things, all.

But what about in other parts of your life?

Wouldn't it be great if we also worked as hard on the rest of the pieces of our lives as we do on our game, or our jobs, or our families, as the case may be?

It's easy to overlook the things that are not fun to work on...relationships, our health and basic exercise, the house (and crap like laundry - omg, have you ever noticed it is never just keeps piling up and no matter how much I like my favorite pair of jeans, I do have to wash them at some point. Not to mention the fleeting freshness that can be wrung from a pair of clean underwear. And don't even get me started on the laundry that piles up when you're responsible for an entire family's worth. Ugh...).

If you want to be good at something - anything - there are certain things that are true. You're going to have to work at it. You're going to have to be committed. You're going to have to make time for it, be dedicated to it, and maintain singular focus. Above all, you're going to have to work. Hard.

And in that process, if you keep to the simple, the basics, the fundamentals, you can, over time, craft something really beautiful. Across the spectrum of individuals working on the same thing, that something beautiful will be as different and as varied as imagination can fathom.

That's what's amazing about dedication to a craft. And it doesn't matter if the "craft" is medicine, art, music, the law, or poker. You spend a lifetime working on it - you're going to make something beautiful.

But, you can't get sidetracked. Disregard the fluff. Avoid the easy and/or the people who only say "yes" or tell you what you want to hear.

Watching the Grammys last night, I couldn't help but wish that someone had told some of that to some of the artists performing (um...Nikki Minaj springs immediately to mind because my brain is forever scarred after seeing that performance. But it could apply equally to Lady Gaga who sat in the audience with some weird fishnet over her face or the gal who showed up as a female cyborg or even Katy Perry and her Russell Brand dissing self).*

In the end, Adele Adkins walked away with a sackful of awards, all (six of six!) of which were bestowed upon her for one really simple, timeless, reason: she's got a true talent in a voice that doesn't need any digital enhancement or weird theatrics to entertain. It's honest, pure, and real.

It doesn't always happen, but sometimes we get lucky and see substance win over form. And that's what happened last night on the Grammys.

Simplicity. Honesty. Realness. These things resonate with us because it's what we want. In our lives, in our relationships, in ourselves.**

When I look at these concepts and then look at today's poker world, I see that the characteristics apply just as equally and simply. The "schtick" that creates a flash of excitement, whether it's branding like being "the brat" or "the kid" or "the magician" or "the mouth" or what have you, only carries you so far. All of those things are good for marketing. But they don't help you win tournaments. (that said, just look at the brat's (Phil Helmuth) results in this last year's series to know that he's definitely committed to working on his game and it showed, didn't it? And with the collapse of UB and lack of patching, there wasn't a lot of grandstanding going on this year...I mean, when I think about it, I didn't see any "brattiness". Instead, his play was textbook substance over form.)

Maybe that's the one true thing we can take from Black Friday. A lack of the ability to profit from anything other than just good solid play is requiring a return to just that...the basics.

And maybe that's a good thing.

Find what resonates with you and stick with it. It will change your life.


* I readily admit - I am old.

** Ok, maybe I'm only speaking for myself, but it's my blog so shut it.


  1. Good post.

    You sound like a stoic. Have you read Marcus Aurelius or Seneca?

  2. Awesome article as always.

    Re: Phil... I have to say his attitude might have been better, but he wasn't beyond his brattiness after Juanda and Rast owned him HU. It was prevalent, especially if you watched the live feed.

  3. @Laoch, so I had to Wiki that because I haven't read Marcus Aurelius or Seneca since, well, college, I guess. I'm going to have to get to the library. Unless you think watching Gladiator each and every time I catch it on the tube counts? =)

    @JDB, I did watch the live feed (I was actually in Vegas during his HU with Rast). As I was writing, I really tried to rack my brain to see if I could remember any huge blow ups. I admit my memory is pretty awful, but what I could remember were the comments from the commentators, who seemed to think he was going to explode at any minute. But he never really did (at least not in the Helmuthian fashion we've come to know him for: fetal position in the corner). Then again, maybe he did and I missed it. I appreciate you reading and commenting, of course!

    @Attorney, I do! Also, nice website linkage...?

  4. Also - I wanted to point out that a couple of nice points were made on twitter about the distinction between being born with a talent (like Adele has with her voice) and working hard to hone a particular skill or talent.

    I didn't really delve into that here, and it's a good point to make. Lots of folks are born with some extraordinary talents. Adele is certainly one example. But if you research her background, you see that from a very early age, she worked at her craft. And working on a craft is the point I was trying to get across when I wrote what I did.


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