Monday, October 27, 2008

Fail Better

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
--Samuel Beckett

Had a late one Friday, and so ended up hitting the hay relatively early Saturday evening. So I didn’t see what they pulled on Saturday Night Live this week (or how they managed without Amy Poehler who was having her baby). Nor was I able to keep up with B.J. Nemeth’s World Poker Tour updates of the next-to-last day of action at the Festa al Lago at the Bellagio.

I had been checking in most of the day. Some interesting names in the final dozen, including PokerRoad co-founder and PokerRoad Radio co-host Joe Sebok. Sebok had held the chip lead with ten players remaining when I signed off, and so I was a little surprised (and disappointed) to find out the next morning he’d hit the rail in ninth, missing yet another WPT final table.

I was one of those who started listening to the old Circuit shows back when Matusow was co-hosting them with Scott Huff. That show started way back in December 2005, and I think I first picked it up sometime during the spring of ’06. I remember hearing Sebok do some guest spots in there somewhere, then reading a couple of his pieces in Card Player for which he wrote a regular column from May 2005 to June 2006. Liked his humor and self-effacing wit right away, and have basically been keeping up with his audio adventures fairly closely ever since.

We’ve interacted a few times via email, but just in passing. Had a couple of chances to talk to him this summer at the WSOP, but it seemed like every time he showed up I was feverishly working a final table and thus unable to stop long enough to introduce myself. I’ll try harder next time. He’s definitely one of those dudes that strikes me as very good for poker, adding a great deal to a lot of folks’ enjoyment of the game via his podcasting efforts at what he’s managed to pull off thus far with the PokerRoad website.

Suffice it to say, I was pulling for the Cub to break through this weekend. So were a lot of folks, it seems.

Yesterday I listened to the 10/25 episode of PokerRoad Radio on which Sebok and his fellow co-hosts Ali Nejad, Gavin Smith, and Court Harrington discussed Sebok’s bustout, then for a change of pace they let Sebok take a turn as the guest and interviewed him. He talked about growing up the son of a poker legend (Barry Greenstein), his college days at Berkeley, his stint in the dotcom world, and some of his experiences prior to becoming a poker pro, such as a lengthy, months-long cross-country trip he embarked upon alone.

Throughout Sebok repeatedly talked about how important it is to him to challenge himself. The cross-country trip, for instance, represented a significant test from which he firmly believes he benefitted greatly. Have to admit I found myself identifying pretty strongly with some of the points Sebok was making. Hell, my decision to go out to Vegas last summer to help cover the WSOP for PokerNews was just such a challenge -- one I’m especially glad I accepted.

Near the end of the interview, Sebok talked a bit about why he played poker, and again brought up his primary motive to seek challenges. He especially likes giving himself “projects” (the PokerRoad website being an example). “To me poker is a project,” he added. “And it is a project that is ongoing.... I’m not trying to elicit sympathy, but I still consider myself a failure in poker, because I haven’t done any of these things that I still want to do.”

That reads a bit more desperate-sounding than Sebok intends, I’m sure. His reference to “failure” simply stands for the notion that, in his mind, when it comes to poker, work remains to be done. A frankly healthy attitude, I’d venture to say, whenever we’re talking about an endeavor for which one shouldn’t be too easily satisfied with one’s modest successes. (In other words, anything worth doing.)

Sebok’s co-hosts were quick to provide encouragement, and Smith shared what I thought was an interesting analogy to describe tournament poker. Sounded like the sort of thing that has likely been around for awhile, but I can’t remember hearing it before.

“Poker’s a funny thing,” said Smith. “You can feel like you’re not being successful, but poker is a lot like a hole-in-one.... It’s great to get it. [But] that’s not skill to get a hole-in-one. The skill in the hole-in-one is getting the ball close. It goes in? That’s where the luck comes in. And that’s the same in tournament poker, you know? The skill is knocking on the door and getting there, and eventually you’ll walk through.”

A little mixing of the metaphors there at the end, but you get the idea. Skill keeps you in the fairway and/or gets you on the green consistently, but to sink that tee shot on a par three certainly also requires a bit of luck. Doesn’t happen often, though it’s damn sweet when it does.

But then you have to tee it up again. And fail. Again.

Which is good. ‘Cos that’s how you know it was worth trying.

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Blogger ynot said...

I like the tournament analogy. I've been venomously opposed to tournament poker for some time now (okay, I really don't care what other people do but it's not my favorite blend and I sometimes find the popularity of tournament poker annoying). But the hole-in-one analogy is probably more accurate than my usual stance that they're nothing but a crapshoot. I still think I'll stick to my ring games, though.

10/27/2008 9:00 AM  

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