Nick Wealthall on Fifteen Seconds of Fame

Nick Wealthall on Fifteen Seconds of Fame

Monday, 8 July 2013

15 minutes is now 15 seconds.

We are living in an age of spectacular moments. As video streaming becomes more and more accessible not only can you capture these moments but also share them instantly. Videos of cats dressed as Sherlock Holmes aside, this is not a good thing for the human race.

As information gets faster and faster, so our patience gets thinner and thinner and our appetite for the more spectacular moment grows. If something lasts longer than three minutes, we’re not interested. News stories are an outrage today and forgotten tomorrow. Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has become 15 seconds.

But in almost everything, great moments come from months, even years of hard work. (I’ve moved on from cats dressed as Sherlock Holmes – not sure that takes much work).

When Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a spaceship on purpose (for some reason), it wasn’t his first time doing a freefall; in fact, he set his first “jumping off things” world record 15 years ago. When chubby Korean pop talker Psy produced the most viewed clip on the internet, it was from his sixth album – after dozens of attempts to perfect ludicrously catchy “pop”, suddenly he’s an “overnight success”.

The problem is that our dreams focus on the end product, the spectacular moment – “I wish I could do that”; “I wish I was famous / rich / happy” – when what really achieves good results is the constant application of successful principles over time. Some people also call it practice.

This week I commentated on possibly the best poker play I’ve seen. It involved former Bluff columnist Sami Kelopuro (more commonly known as his screen name LarsLuzak) making a quite staggering lay down in a heads up match. Sami laid down a set and was right (his opponent held a bigger set) in a situation where you just can’t lay down a set.

Context is everything in poker and this was a super high roller heads up match against a top quality, overly-aggressive opponent. He was facing an opponent who could have been bluffing or value-betting way worse than a set, and yet somehow he managed to lay it down. No one quite knows how.

The reality is Sami probably doesn’t know how. He’s played so many hundreds of thousands of poker hands that his level of unconscious competence has reached such heights that he makes reads, backs his own judgment and occasionally produces plays that are inexplicable to the mere mortals watching.

If you dream of making such plays it’s actually quite easy. Just spend the next three years grinding poker hands, studying your play, then grinding some more. Once you get up to the 3 or 4 million-hand level you’ll find your reads really get quite good!

A lot of poker players get to a phase in their game where they suffer from Fancy Play Syndrome (some never move beyond it). They’ve understood the basics of a winning strategy and then start to fall in love with the cool new stuff they’ve learned. Four-bet bluffing, floating, check-raise bluffing and on and on. All of their poker discussion is about the “sick” plays they’ve made or the stunning bluffs they’ve pulled off. Oh, and by the way, most of their stories end with “I have no idea how that idiot could call”. The “idiot” always has the best hand in the story but let’s not worry about that little detail.

Most people’s memory of Moneymaker’s WSOP win (which had its tenth anniversary recently) is his stellar bluff versus Farha when heads up – a great moment. But talk to Chris and he’ll tell you how many small pots he took down through the tournament to build his stack. This was back when players didn’t understand continuation bets or double-barrelling (ah, the good old days!) and Moneymaker’s relentless, methodical aggression helped him steal the tournament.

The reality is that great poker players make stellar plays only once in a while. Consistent winning in poker is achieved through consistent application of fundamentals, like playing a solid opening range of hands, value-betting to the max and so on. And also putting in a few million hands – then the stellar plays happen when the moment, the situation and the opponent are right.

Sadly for the glory hunters, instant fame seekers and the pursuer of the ‘sick’ play, success happens over time; usually through doing the simple things well over and over. Most of the time, the world doesn’t watch Felix when he jumps out of a plane. Most of Psy’s singles didn’t sell a copy in the West. And most of the time LarsLuzak gets it in with a set heads up. But every once in a while something exceptional happens and the world watches in awe. So enjoy the moments, just don’t use them as a roadmap to success.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, LarsLuzak, Sami Kelopuro