Sunday, August 01, 2004

On deception & competiveness

Ok. I didn't get half as much done this weekend as I expected and I'm kind of in a panic about it. My parents, with what I'm sure were the best of intentions, promised to leave me to work this weekend, but since I haven't seen them or talked to them much since my life did a 180, they were reluctant to give up their "Toby time" as someone aptly put it. I'm sure they thought they were going to let me work. And I did get some stuff done. But not enough, not enough. Two weeks left for the first half. Two weeks! Fuck!

And in the interest of not giving into the self-deception that posting here is somehow "work" -- I'm going to keep this short. But I wanted to finish a thought I had before I left.

In an article on MSN I read a while back, I was struck by this quote from "poker pundit" Andy Glazer:

"I'm an ethical person, but I have this sneaky side that I like to indulge, and I think most other people do, too. Poker's a socially acceptable was to indulge our temptations to lie and deceive."

One thing about myself that I know is that it's important for me to be upfront and honest as much as possible in the way I present myself to people and how I live my life. Not that everyone has to (or should) know every hidden secret of my past, but that I know that I'm happier when I feel people really "know" me. For the most part, I think I'm doing an okay job with this.

At the same time, I have a bizarre urge to have a "secret" life. Even my high school boyfriend noticed this about me. Now, poker doesn't exactly provide me with a secret life, but it does satisfy some of that urge to "put one over" on people. To say, Ha! You think you understand me, you can predict me, but you can't. I fooled you. My best guess is it's a reaction against being predictable, boring.

But I'm not sure this says it all. I think it has to be combined with a need to take risks. At least in my case, I know it also fulfills that urge, as well as my competitive side, which can be at times, damagingly strong. My whole family is like this -- it's why we can no longer play Scrabble together. We all just want to win too bad to be nice.

Is this necessary in poker? To illustrate, I want to discuss the "bad beat" of Thursday night.

I folded a hand to go smoke and asked the player next to me if he wanted to come. He showed me his hole cards -- an Ace-Jack -- and shrugged as he said "I kind of want to play this hand." Not wanting to give anything away, I nodded and said, "After this, then."

The flop came holding an Ace, Jack, 10, and fourth street showed the decisive, third Jack. I was truly sweating his hand. I was so excited for him as he slow-played his full house and checked to fifth street, I really did start perspiring. When the final card, the river, came a 10, the other remaining player, Al, started betting like mad. My friend had what was almost the nuts -- the only possible hand that could have beaten him was a pair of Aces, and the betting before the river made us both pretty sure that wasn't what Al had. Al almost always raises before the flop with pocket aces. I knew this, even if my friend did not.

Since they were heads-up, the raising was unlimited, but eventually my friend simply called and Al turned over an Ace-ten. When my friend showed him his higher full house, the whole table reacted. Loudly.

"Why didn't you keep raising?" one asked. "You should have cleaned him out."

"I felt bad," my friend said as he pulled in the pot.

"Oh man," said Al, who hadn't quite registered the fact that he was the one who lost and was looking at it still, in this moment, in terms of proper play. "You should have kept raising. I would have."

And it's true. He would have. And so would I. Just as my friend couldn't bring himself to completely clean him out, I couldn't have stopped myself from doing so in this scenario.

I'm not sure what I'm getting to here, and I promised to keep this short which I have not, but I guess what I think is you have to be able to forget friendship and just play to win to succeed at poker. Which is not to say I don't think my friend played that hand amazingly well. But next time, friend, if you're reading this: take him for everything he's got.


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