Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 11: No Respecter of Persons

One of the things I love about poker is that it is utterly egalitarian, a great leveler. Poker doesn't care who you are, where you come from, what school you went to, what you do for a living, what color your skin is, how old you are, what language you speak, what sex you are, how hot you are or who you sleep with. Poker is entirely indifferent as to what God (if any) you pray to, and rains down luck on the good and the wicked in equal measure. As long as you have enough money to buy in, poker doesn't even care how rich you are, either. Although some of the people at your table may care about these things, if they're smart they'll set those concerns aside for the duration of the game and concentrate on the important stuff, such as: what exactly does that check-raise mean in this situation?

Like most people, I've spent the majority of my life among my own, surrounded by people of roughly similar background, education, and even politics. Some of it was just inertia (I made friends out of people who were nearby, and that generally meant either at school or work), and some of it was a disinclination to move out of my comfort zone. And while I have been more than typically willing to make friends across age gaps in both directions, my pack of pals isn't especially ethnically diverse, for example. Unless you have spent a meaningful amount of time in a social environment that actually does cut across a lot of demographic lines ~ like, say, the military ~ chances are your experience has been like mine.

Welcome to the poker table, baby. Be prepared to deal with anybody and everybody. And be very cautious about relying on stereotypes.

Maybe the pale young guy in the hoodie and sunglasses, iPod buds firmly implanted in his ears, is an internet grinder. But he might have learned the game from watching TV (a girl can hope). Maybe the tanned gentleman with gold chains in his ample chest hair really is full of gambool, or maybe he is a tight aggressive player who has been taking money off the unobservant for twenty years. The gal with the whisky-and-cigarette voice and the lowcut sweater could be just whiling away her time and donking off her trophy husband's bankroll between boob-jobs. Or maybe she's just enjoying the fact that you are so distracted by her cleavage that you've failed to notice her three-betting the nuts AGAIN. That dude with his jeans belted so far down his ass that six inches of boxers are showing may have spent the last three years polishing his $10/$20 skillz at someone's backroom game in the 'hood, or he may be a graduate student in computer science specializing in AI and game theory. The quiet little girl who always seems a bit confused about the value of the chips in front of her and can't quite manage to follow the action? She's a real shark on the felt. On the other hand, the loud, loose and aggressive Asian guy who acts like it's the most natural thing for him to be crushing the table is actually stuck five buy-ins and is desperately hoping his girlfriend will finish up at the spa and come give him an excuse to leave.

You want to be successful at poker? You have to see the player behind the persona.

The delightful thing is how different they all are! Paying attention to the individuals as individuals and concentrating on how they actually play (not how they want you to think they play, or how you expect them to play given what they seem to be) is the only way to really have an edge. In any case, just listening and watching with an unprejudiced frame of mind will teach you a whole lot about other people and yourself. And if you're really lucky, maybe once in a while you'll make a new friend too, perhaps the kind of person you never would have met if it weren't for poker.

Do I have to draw a diagram explaining how useful this attitude towards other people is in non-poker contexts? Martin Luther King dreamed of a time when people would be judged not by the color of their skin (to name just one source of prejudice), but by the content of their character. You can get plenty of practice doing just that at the poker table.

Live Bankroll: 98.8%
Online Bankroll: 119.5%



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