Monday, April 13, 2009

The Ever-Present Existential Struggle With Change

The Ever-Present Existential Struggle With ChangeMany have noted before how poker is a game that tends to reveal certain aspects of a person’s character. Players play according to so many different styles because, well, people are different. They view the world differently. They view themselves differently. And poker helps to make all those differences much more conspicuous.

A person comes to the table with certain ideas. Meets a group of others, all of whom have their own way of understanding this mortal coil about which we individually wind. They’re all exposed to that chance element -- the cards -- and how they differently respond provides the foundation for the ensuing conflict of ideas. Eventually, each starts to understand how the others look at things, with some picking up on such more quickly than others.

Anthony Holden described the phenomenon in Big Deal (1990) as follows: “Whether he likes it or not, a man’s character is stripped bare at the poker table; if the other players read him better than he does, he has only himself to blame. Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do, flaws and all, he will be a loser in cards, as in life.”

Holden’s line gets quoted a lot, and while the leap from “loser in cards” to loser “in life” probably skips over a few necessary steps, it does nevertheless make a valid point. A big part of one’s success in poker has to do with seeing oneself as clearly and accurately as others do. You can’t win if others understand what you are doing better than you do. Which happens -- to all of us when we first start to play poker, and to most of us even after we’ve been playing for a long while. We get lazy, we stop paying attention to ourselves, we stop paying attention to how others are seeing our “character stripped bare.” And when that happens, we lose. Usually.

Sorry to be so abstract here, but I’m getting to a sort of mini-epiphany I had over the last few days that concerns both my poker playing style and my character, generally speaking.

I am probably best classified as one of those “creatures of habit” types who generally has a hard time changing my routine once I find something that I like or at least is comfortable enough to endure without too much hardship. That’s not to say I am not able to adapt to changes that go on around me, but rather that I myself am less inclined to introduce such changes if not forced to do so.

This character trait gets illustrated in various ways, some relatively trivial, some not. For example, a less important manifestation of my resistance to change might be found in how I choose to negotiate my 25-mile commute to work. I take the same path every day, avoiding the interstate and its high-speed intensities and instead opting for the relatively tranquil state roads where I tool along at 45 per. After several years of construction, a new loop was added to the interstate several months ago that I have heard would cut a few minutes off of my commute, should I take it. But I haven’t even tried it. I’m just not interested.

The Road of LifeA more meaningful example of my resistance to change would be that other path -- the career one -- that I chose a long time ago and have similarly stuck to for a good while now.

The poker writing has now become a not insignificant detour from that one for me, taking me to Las Vegas last summer to cover the WSOP, and allowing me to leave that same old, tedious main road for longer and longer stretches. I may well be going back to the WSOP this summer, and am starting to think more and more about whether or not I even want to return to the main road. Not quite ready to make that decision, but Vera and I have been talking more and more about the possibility of my doing so.

My resistance to change manifests itself in my poker playing, too -- to my detriment, I’m afraid. For one, I tend to pick one game and stick to it in an almost obsessive (or superstitious) way, even though I know switching up would likely keep my poker instincts sharper in all games. I also tend to have a hard time moving around stakes-wise, especially if I’m extracting a modest win rate wherever I happen to be. Kind of limits my ever seeing what exactly I’m capable of doing, poker-wise.

The most harmful effect of resisting change at the poker table, though, is that others can “see” you much more quickly and clearly than they can otherwise. And, making matters worse, you tend not to pay attention to yourself, either. It’s easy in any game to turn predictable and make your patterns of raises, continuation bets, checks, and folds become blatantly apparent to others. Gotta be ready and willing to change it up, and often, since doing so increases your own understanding of yourself, and tends to decrease others’ understanding. And when that happens, you win. Usually.

Anyhow, one thing ain’t gonna change, and that is I’ll keep you updated here on all of the changes.

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2 Comments:

Blogger BWoP said...

One other thing that ain't gonna change: reading Hard-Boiled Poker on a daily basis.

Can't wait to see what changes are in store for you, Shamus.

4/13/2009 3:55 PM  
Blogger william said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/20/2009 2:40 PM  

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