Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
Saying that poker is like life or that life is like poker seems silly to some people. They think it’s a stretch. It isn’t, really.
There are so many aspects of poker that correlate to life that I’m writing a book about it. So, let’s make the life-poker connection the topic of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: You say you’re writing a book about poker and life. Isn’t that old news?
All news is old. News reporting always centers on things that have already happened. Think about it.
Question 2: I guess that’s right, unless the story is about a prediction for the future.
Keep focused, please. This interview is supposed to be about poker and life. But, just to set you straight, even if the story were “about a prediction for the future,” the news is still reporting about the prediction itself, which has already happened.
Events that happened long ago are usually called “history,” not news. But both news and history chronicle the past. Even so-called “live news” includes a commentary on what just happened seconds ago. If there’s a camera showing what’s happening now, that’s not news, new or old. It’s just a device to help you witness life.
So when you suggested that my book blending poker and life was “old news,” I needed to correct you.
Question 3. Fine. I stand corrected then. But you announced the book 30 years ago. Doesn’t that make it “old news” in the sense the term is usually interpreted?
You exaggerate and that’s unbecoming for an interviewer. Poker Without Cards – the book you’re talking about – was announced 27 years ago.
Question 4: So, you’ve had a lot of time to think about the concepts. Could you share one?
Finally! A question that matters.
In everyday life, you need to make each decision on the basis of its cost and its benefit. The cost isn’t necessarily measured in money. Cost can include time invested, non-monetary resources required, favors requested of others, what things must be sacrificed to move this one forward, and much more.
You need to weigh that against what will be gained and see if it’s worthwhile pursuing. Most decisions are yes-or-no types. Same in poker. Sometimes you have three or more options, but mostly it’s play-or-fold, bet-or-check, call-or-raise, fold-or-call.
Although, in life, some decisions involve broad choices, such as what color to paint your kitchen, most don’t. In life, most decisions are about doing something or not doing it, with a myriad of options following each main decision as you follow the path of consequences. A plan is a series of linked decisions along a path.
In poker, you need to make correct decisions and you need to anticipate and form contingency decisions in advance. Same in life.
But, here’s the deal. In any series of decisions, things seem to get entangled and we lose focus. We think that the time, energy, and money already “invested” in a project matters when deciding what to do next. It doesn’t.
That’s an important similarity between everyday life and poker: Investments don’t matter. Suppose you buy an oddly shaped piece of sandstone from a used-rock shop in Miami (as most of us have done in our lives). You pay $500, amazed that you could get so much strangely shaped sandstone, weighing almost three pounds, for so little money.
Days later, you find out that the shape of your rock isn’t unusual and that it is only worth $1. You rush down to the shop in Miami to complain, but they’ve gone out of business. A year later a woman sees your rock on display in your living room.
“I kind of like it,” she says. “Would you sell it to me for $200.”
Should you think, “I can’t sell this sandstone for $200, because I paid $500 for it and would be taking a $300 loss”? Or should you think, “Hey, this rock is only worth $1 and I can sell it for a $199 gain”?
The answer is the latter. You should sell your sandstone. And the concept is very important in poker and in life. It turns out that it never matters how much you have invested in anything. All that matters is what it’s worth right now.
So, when the poker pot is $1,000 and it cost you $500 to call on the river, you should only be thinking, will I win more than one time in three if I call. That’s because if you win once and lose twice, you’ll gain $1,000 from the single win and lose $1,000 on the two losses ($500 each time), so that’s a break-even proposition.
You should never think about how much money you already “invested.” That doesn’t matter. The pot is what it is. And $500 is the price. It’s either worth it or not worth it right now. Your history of investment should not factor into this decision.
Same in life. Same in poker.
Question 5: Okay, just give us one more example of poker equating to real life. Then we’ll wrap it up for today. Okay?
Yeah, that’s okay – which seems to be the only question you actually posed. But I’ll pretend your “one more example” part is a question, instead of a statement. And I’ll answer it this way…
Many poker bankrolls are destroyed because players fret over fate treating them unjustly. Opponents who are attempting to make inside straights will draw out on you. Some will make miracle full houses by pairing on the turn and river.
Let’s say you can calculate the number of bad beats you’ll suffer in a year’s worth of poker play. You play regularly, averaging four-and-a-half hours a day, so we’ll say it’s 1,095 – about one every hour and a half.
Fine. You have a winning year, but end up having endured 1,045 bad beats. Now, let me ask you a question. Does it make sense to fret over each one, to let yourself waste mental energy thinking about the injustice and possibly playing worse because of it?
No! You’ve suffered 50 fewer bad beats than you estimated you would. You’re having a good year!
The same holds true in everyday life. There are probably going to be thousands of injustices that happen to you next year. Cashiers will give you the wrong change. People will treat you rudely for no reason. Who knows? Just accept it as the daily fee for living everyday life.
Poker, life, same, see? — MC