Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today’s column isn’t about me. It’s about you. Wait! I guess it’s about me writing about you and me trying to encourage you. But you’re the center of attention. Okay?
Look, I’m serious about this. I even devoted today’s word to you. So, let’s get started with the self-interview. And, to be extra fair, I’ll even pose as you and pretend to ask questions on your behalf.
Question 1: So why am I so important to you?
You didn’t used to be. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I didn’t really like you much. You were a poker opponent that I wanted to conquer. I wanted you to suffer at the tables.
To be precise, I wanted you to suffer horribly while – at the same time – not being so overwhelmed by your financial pain that you failed to recognize my brilliance as a poker player.
And then I entered into a period of personal enlightenment. A great human truth stalked me, surrounded me, and finally cradled me. And when I emerged from this life-changing encounter, I only wanted you to suffer 90 percent as much. Then 75 percent. Then 50 percent. Yes, that’s right. I became so compassionate as a poker player that there came a point where I only wanted you to suffer half as much as I did previously.
And that’s when your feelings became 50 percent important to me. Do the math.
Question 2: Wow! No wonder everyone says you’re such a nice guy? Didn’t halving the amount you wanted me to suffer cost you money at poker.
No. I never slowed the assault. I kept twisting the screw, but I felt your pain.
So, I bet or raised whenever I had a small advantage, extracting the maximum from each edge. I tried to lure you into making ridiculous calls and then giggled with good nature. I bluffed you when I could get away with it. Altogether, I made just as much money, while growing saintly in spirit.
Question 3: So, why are you saying this? Aren’t you just talking about yourself? I thought this interview was about me.
It is, but you’re not trained to ask the right questions, so let me help you out. I’m saying that “you” should adopt the poker attitude of caring about your opponents, of feeling their pain through empathy, but not acting on those feelings.
You see, I didn’t stop at feeling 50 percent compassion for you. I went from there to 75 percent and now 100 percent. Don’t laugh; it’s true. I feel 100 percent of your poker pain. And I want you to win.
This complete reversal happened after Doyle Brunson talked me into contributing to his ground-breaking “bible” of poker: Super/System – A Course in Power Poker in 1977. I wrote the draw poker strategy and calculated the 50 statistical tables included. In the months that followed, players wrote me from distant places expressing gratitude. It made me feel good.
Before that, poker had been mostly populated with iffy publications sporting hit-and-miss advice and homespun wisdom. Few statistics were reliable. So, I was proud. And Doyle was proud of what he’d accomplished.
And the praise from players drew me closer to them. I realized we existed in our own world very different from the real world beyond poker. And we all shared similar outlooks, felt similar pain, were lifted similarly high in the sky by lucky runs of cards.
You and I had a lot in common, and I grew emotional about you. I cared.
Question 4: So, what can you share that will help me feel good about poker?
Winning will make you feel good. It has that ability built in.
Listen. I’m not some selfish egomaniac who expects you to do what I say. Quite to the contrary, I just want you to obey me at poker. Do this: Enter your next game caring about your opponents. And determine that you’ll make each decision matter. You’ll play your best game all the time.
Those two goals — caring about opponents and trying to beat them for every penny — may seem to conflict, but they don’t. You’ll make more money when you understand your opponents feelings and emotions. It’s okay to have sympathy for them, when they lose to you. But acting on that sympathy and easing up is something you should never do in poker. If you still feel sorry for them after cashing in your chips, you can always give them their money back.
Snap! From this moment on, you will care about your opponents and play your very best game every single hand. Forever. Such is my decree until you screw up and start over.
Question 5: Can I ask one last question?
Question 6: Is there anything else?
Yes. I want you to cheer for your opponents. Maybe you’ve heard me say that before and scoffed. Well, scoff no longer, because this is actually going to work for you.
When you cheer for your opponents, you won’t change their luck or yours. So, in that regard it neither hurts nor helps. But it does something magical. It makes you immune to being upset by bad runs of cards. And when you don’t get upset, you play better.
When you cheer for your opponents, only two things can happen: (1) They win and you’ve rooted for the victorious side; or (2) They lose, but you get a consolation prize – the pot. Although my psychological approach may seem silly to you at first, this interview is about you and I want you to try it. Really.
Finally, if you think I’ve been insincere about what I’ve said in this interview, come to my table sometime. Test my truthfulness.
You’ll see with your own eyes that I’ll cheer for you to win against me. And if that doesn’t happen and you go broke, it will hurt me. I’ll be very sad. Come see. — MC