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Married to my childhood sweet heart, father of a teenage daughter, amateur poker degenerate by day, cape wearing super hero by night.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life Is A Game of Poker

"Poker is... a fascinating, wonderful, intricate adventure on the high seas of human nature." ~David A. Daniel

I once read something where a person described the game of chess as a miniature version of life. The general message was that you had to always look a few moves ahead and put yourself in a good position to succeed in the daily struggles that you would have to endure. The problem with this comparison is that in chess you can always see what lies ahead. It is a game of complete information. If you think clearly enough, theoretically, you should play the game perfectly and all games should end in a draw.
In real life we can never see everything that lies ahead of us. We can't even see what lies two minutes ahead of us. Life is unknown. It is a 'game' of incomplete information. It is random and surprising. It can be exhilarating and devastating. Life is more like a game of poker than any other game.

When we sit at a poker table for the very first time it's almost like the day we are born, especially if you know nothing, or very little, about the game. Just like in life there are rules and etiquette we must learn. We learn these things so that we will be accepted and fit in with the society of which we are a part. Basic survival - safety in numbers. Another survival tactic we learn quickly is to play strong hands and discard weak ones. For example, a baby will learn very quickly that touching something hot hurts and most likely will not participate in that action again. In poker you will learn the same thing once you slow play pocket aces in a multi-way pot! A young child realizes that when he or she is rewarded positively for acting in a certain way it is beneficial to act that way again. This is a key concept in poker as well. If a certain line of play worked out it is best to try it again. However, we must also learn to adapt and change, often very quickly. What works one day may have the opposite effect the next.

In poker, as in life, we must develop interpersonal relationships. We learn to relate to groups of people as well as individuals. When relating to others verbal communication is important, it's why we learn to speak, obviously. Hopefully, we learn how to speak to certain people in certain ways to best optimize our relationship with them. We also should learn what not to say as well. This includes the concept of bluffing. Let's face it: bluffing IS lying. There are times in life we must tell the truth and there are times we simply must lie. Whether it be to spare someone's feelings or intentionally mislead someone into doing something for their own good or ours, we must tell certain untruths at times. In the game of poker this is essential for obvious reasons. I once read a story by a well known poker professional who said that he had conditioned himself to go into "poker" mode whenever he walked into a poker room. This meant he almost never told the truth while there because he never wanted to reveal anything about his game strategy. One time as he headed to the poker room through the casino he realized that he hadn't eaten all day and was absolutely starving. When a friend approached and asked him if he wanted to go get something to eat he instictively lied and stated "no, I'm not hungry, I just ate." He was in survival mode!

Just as important is non-verbal communication. Body language. Tells. We all had an adult figure in our life at some point who could just give us "the look" and we knew we had done something wrong. We all exhibit body language to others without realizing it. We communicate our pleasure or displeasure and we receive this same information from others as well. A person would do themselves a great service to learn and understand this concept, both at the poker table and in life.

We are all taught that hard work will pay off. If we study and work hard in school we will get a good job. If we are dilligent in our carreers we will be rewarded with money and position. But what our parents don't tell us is that some people are just lucky in life and others sometimes aren't. There are people who just seem to step in crap yet come out smelling like roses. These people can do no wrong and have done well without working hard. They are far and few between and once their luck runs out they are not standing well in life any longer. Poker is very similar. There is a saying in poker "it's better to be lucky than good". This may be true to an extent but when that luck runs out the person who has worked hard and developed their skills will pass that person by at lightning speed.

Poker is also filled with great triumphs and victories as well as devastating losses and disappointments. It is this aspect of the game that most mimics life. When playing a game of poker in which money is the measure of success we often experience these highs and lows numerous times in one session. As in life, we can be cruising along for a time, content with our situation. Things may be going just nicely for us when suddenly, without any foreshadowing, we are blindsided by the proverbial bus. All of our chips gone without warning. The pits in our stomachs, our minds spinning, the disbelief at what just happened. The vast majority of us will shake it off, maybe some need to step back from the table for a short time – have a drink, take a walk, pray…whatever it takes, but we, hopefully, bounce back. We sit back down in our seat and take count of our chips. We sure up our position and get back in the game. The next hand might bring us a huge victory when we hit the stone cold nuts in a family pot or we might just steal the blinds. No matter what happens we keep going, playing the game, learning more about ourselves and those around us. In poker you can walk away from the table and quit the game at any time, but what fun would that be? The same goes for life…


  1. Great writing Steve! You are very descriptive, I could almost feel myself sitting at a table looking around at the stoic faces of the people I'm playing against trying to read the smallest chink in their armor so I could rake in all the chips. Cool blog! TC

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting TC!

  3. I'm really liking your blog, CM. I kinda want to be you when I grow up.


  4. Lol! Thanks PL, but you might want to set your sights just a bit higher!