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Darwinism, Poker, Life (Part II)

(Originally published a year ago, I always re-read this when the cards dry up.)

Chops here.Darwin

"I didn't get any cards."

It's the rallying cry of the deadmoney player.

And that does happen. Most of the time though, the person doesn’t know how to play the cards they get.

But man, I’m telling you, I really didn't get the freaking cards...

In the finals of a recent poker tournament (winner got a trip to Vegas), I played three, yes, three hands the first hour. I played four hands the second hour. I played one at the beginning of the third. That was my last hand.

Terrible.

As I walked away from my table in defeat, I didn't have the normal road-rage gut feeling I have when losing at poker (or anything for that matter). I was just...disappointed. It didn't even seem like I played.  My designated role at the table was to just sit and fold hands. I felt completely vacant.  Almost out-of-body.  Was I even there? Did I exist in this game at all?

And this taught me something...

Poker, and hold'em in particular, is totally reflective and encompassing of your life. You play the cards you're dealt on the felt just like you play the cards your dealt in life.

Some elaboration: By all accounts, I was dealt a very good hand in life.  Maybe not Prince William good, but you won’t find me complaining for a second.   

So I know how to play good cards when I get them, because I've been doing that my whole life.  And I will charm all of the chips I can from you when those situations arise.

But what about 6-3o three times in a row...with the best hand for a half-hour being J-7o?  And then nothing connected or suited for an hour?   No pairs or even a random A-x?  I'm out of it.  I don't even know where to begin with those dogs.  The best players in the world will figure something out, get in the game somehow with that garbage, bluff a few pots and keep on rolling.  But I feel like I'm in the streets of Karachi holding a bible in the air...totally out of place and soon to be dead meat.  Where are my cards?  Where is the comfort zone?

That's why rounders like Scotty Nguyen, Minh the Master Nguyen (all of the Nguyens for that matter-seriously, there's 90 of them), play so well.  They were dealt some of the worst cards imaginable in life, so they know how to play everything with no fear. They've already overcome the worst.  Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson earned their chops (sorry) the hard way back in the day.  They could have a shotgun barrel planted on their temple at any second.  And their style evolved into an aggressive, calculated-recklessness.  They weren’t afraid to put all of their chips (and yours) on the line at any moment—because their life could’ve very quickly been on that same line.

As for me, give me cards that reflect my life and I’ll run over you.  Give me something mediocre or less, and you've got me.

So I re-realized a lesson I've always known, but has been entirely too latent in my poker playing days: it's all about adaptation.

As I sat there, just waiting for anything remotely playable come up, why didn't I try to make some big time bluffs to get back in the game?  Figure out some way to fight out of this mess?  Well, it was partly because, as I've learned in life, the situation will eventually turn to my favor, right?  Then, I'll know what to do. But what if the situation never turns? I’m stuck on the outside looking in, holding a pile of crap in my hand.  It's survival of the fittest, pure Darwinism, all about your adaptation ability and agility.

If you’re going into a gunfight and are only handed a knife, who says you can’t stab your way out?  That’s what is so great about poker.  If you can adapt and figure out a way, you can always be the last man standing—regardless of your weapon.

So yeah, poker is life.  And if you don’t grow, adapt, and evolve at both, you’ll end up being that guy everyone bypasses on their way to greater riches.

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