Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2010) in Bluff magazine under the same title.
By now most people have discovered the powerful psychological trick of ending a criticism with the words “just sayin’.” It takes the sting off anything that would otherwise be impolite or even insulting. If you utter, “I believe you’re not telling the truth,” those are fighting words. But if you blurt, “You’re nothing but low-life scum and a liar. Just sayin’,” you get a pass and nobody is likely to take a swing at you.
The reason for this is universally understood in popular culture, but remains mysterious to me. So, anyway, here’s today’s message: You suck at poker. Just sayin’.
That brings us smoothly to the motivational and inspirational part of this lesson. I’m going to save you thousands of dollars, and all you have to do is listen. The reason that you suck at poker is because you’re an emotional human being. You perceive short-term events in the course of your life history as more important than they actually are. We all do that; it’s human nature. You just muttered something like, “Well, you’re wrong, I win at poker.” Fine. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but I’m not wrong. You still suck, because all the extra money you could have won isn’t there for you to spend. You suck, because you’re (1) losing more than you should; (2) losing, but could be winning; or (3) not winning as much as possible.
Let me tell you why I think this is happening and see if you agree. It’s a two-part secret about driving up a mountain and about watching a movie. I’ll talk about the mountain first.
The poker mountain
Two years ago, I drove with my director of operations Diane McHaffie up Trail Ridge Road in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The ascent lasted a couple hours. I knew where we were heading, because I’d been there many times before, having grown up in Denver. We would eventually pass above timberline, where the altitude is too high for trees to grow. There we would look out over the vast valleys and endless stretches of lower mountains below. We’d feel the grandness, the notion that we’d conquered all that and had reached the summit above.
Stay with me. Something compelling is coming. On the drive up in my Mini Cooper S, you could fully relate to the twists, turns, ups, downs. That’s because the car is agile and tiny when dwarfed by its surroundings. And my mind wandered sometimes to poker. For some reason, graphs and charts danced in my mind – a peculiar thing that often happens to me. In this case, I think, the vision of poker charts was stimulated by the mountain drive. You see, we weren’t just going straight up. We were going down sometimes, only to climb again.
But, I thought, “What if this were my poker career? What if the Mini were moving just one mile a week?” A strange thought, to be sure, but it’s important. And then this hit me: “What if I didn’t know where I was destined to end up? What if I didn’t understand that eventually I would arrive at a higher destination, far above the trees that hugged the sides of the roadway right now? What if my only reality was the knowledge that I was going down for days at a time?”
Well, then if it were poker being charted, rather than a drive up Trail Ridge Road, I’d likely feel miserable. I might not realize that the long dips were an anomaly inherent in the process of climbing. If I let my emotions take over, I might play poorly. And driving – well, if I didn’t know where I was supposed to end up, I might turn around and go back, believing the summit had already been reached and the road led lower.
Do you see what I’m telling you? Winning at poker is a long, long climb up Trail Ridge Road with a lot of time spent descending. You can’t be bothered when the road takes you down temporarily. You need to realize that you’re always climbing until you reach your goal. When is that? Well, poker’s mountain is endlessly higher for winners. You need to visualize the summit always above and realize that you will need to move down sometimes to reach it. The process repeats forever.
Time is what destroys you and makes your poker game suck. If the descents happened quickly and you could always see the next hill in the distance, you would continue to be motivated. But it’s the time that passes not knowing when or if the next hill will come that confuses us. The waiting makes us impatient and causes us to lose confidence and make desperate moves. This isn’t just a small part of why most players fail to maximize their poker profit; for most, it’s almost the entire reason.
The poker movie
So, I have a solution. Here’s what I want you to do. And it’s something I have often done myself for decades. It will seem bizarre, but do it, anyway. Conduct your life and your poker career as if it’s interesting, not as if it’s happy or tragic — just interesting.
Pretend entities in the cosmos are following you. They’re fascinated, but they’re never depressed or unduly elated. The extremes that happen to you are fun to watch, but not happening to them. Don’t let them happen to you, either. Pretend you’re on the big screen, watching yourself in a movie, playing a part. Things may be horrible, painful, tragic, or worse, but you’re just going to act out the adventure, not knowing whether great sadness or great reward is ahead as we transition to the next scene. Remember: Not happy; not tragic; interesting.
When you’re faced with extreme emotions, observe your life, don’t participate. At poker, just observe yourself doing the right things and enjoy the suspense. And remember that you’re very seldom at your highest point in anything. You can usually look back to times when things were a bit above you as you wind down and up the mountain, knowing eventually you’ll be even higher than this, although maybe temporarily lower.
That’s my secret. I’m not lecturing you by stating that this applies to you personally. I’m just sayin’. — MC