Time to get your Zen on.

Time to get your Zen on.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Nick Wealthall gets philosophical.

This is all going to get a bit philosophical. Don’t blame me, I’ve just come back from an extended trip to the Far East, and it was either write about getting my Zen on or write about women who can shoot ping pong balls across the room without the use of any visible props and apparently this is a ‘family’ mag so you’re getting the Zen.

I used to take poker far too seriously.

This was part of a wider problem of taking life too seriously… don’t worry; I cured that a while ago.

I used to try ridiculously hard, study in between sessions and feel cheated when I lost. I wasn’t immune to throwing the odd tantrum. (I’m still not immune to throwing the odd tantrum; it usually coincides with my once every three years attempt to do any kind of DIY).

Back in the day I was playing in the Mirage on a Saturday night and most of the table was drinking and gambling it up. Despite being one of the youngest at the table I was sipping water and working out how to exploit these ‘good time charlies’. As I dragged a pot one of them, a friendly fella, in town for the weekend, turned to me and said “you do realize some of us play this game for fun don’t you?”

In a heartbeat I realized what a dick I was being not only to my table mates but…. you know….in life generally. Why wasn’t I having fun? I was in Vegas, young, easy on the eye with all my own hair and playing poker, not sitting a Maths A level! I apologized for being a party pooper, ordered him and his friends a beer, got one for myself – started to enjoy it and…of course… still won their money.

Later that night I had a serious word with myself; somewhere along the way I’d got confused about the point of the whole thing.

My whole life I’ve been obsessed by games. When I was very young it was chess, then bridge before poker. It was also choose your own adventure books, battleships, games on bikes with friends in the street, then computer and console games. It’s always been sports of every kind.
I love games. Almost never met a game I didn’t like. Or at least one I didn’t want to take out, get to know, seduce and conquer.

If life has a meaning – and it almost certainly doesn’t – it’s to play, master and enjoy games. ‘Play’ is the difference between species who need to survive and species who have it cracked. It’s why Lions dick around their whole lives (they also sleep around more than any other species; seriously I’m coming back as a lion) but Gazelles spend their entire time grazing and panicking… ‘head on a swivel boys…head on a swivel.’

The problem is that wanting to win ruined a lot of games for me when I was younger and still can. It’s that sense of entitlement that can cause you so much pain when you try at poker and the cards don’t want to co-operate.
‘I’m good at this damn it, I’ve worked hard at this and I know I’m better than you so how can I not be beating you?!’

This kind of thinking is a complete misunderstanding of what poker is and how it works. If you suffer from it you need to let go right now (‘letting go’ is just a really awesome idea for life generally, those Buddhist fellas are all over it; we in the West – we’re more of a ‘cling-on-for-dear-life’ kind of group.)

In a lot of ways poker cannot be mastered. Certainly not in a way that makes sense in our conventional day-to-day understanding. If you have a natural aptitude for running and you train hard and are in shape you will beat some fat bloke on a fun run each and every time. If you have a natural aptitude for poker, study the crap out of it and are playing well and focused you will beat a weak recreational player just over half the time; that’s as good as it’s going to get.

Winning at poker happens over time. You cannot control the outcome of a single hand, a single session or even a single month of playing. Doesn’t matter how hard you try, doesn’t matter how important it is to you.
The cards don’t know.

The cards don’t know that this is your one big tournament, they don’t know that you’ve studied like crazy this week or that you’re sad about things in life generally and really need cheering up.

They reward bad play and good play, bad people and good people, winners and losers.

Your response to this should be clear….. Stop trying so hard and just enjoy the ride.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to be better or want to do well at poker. It also doesn’t mean that if you get better you won’t be rewarded – you will, in time, you just don’t know which session, tournament or month.
The point is getting upset about a hand or a losing session is as futile as getting upset because it rained today. It wasn’t in your control in the first place.

Ironically ‘trying’ hard to win at poker will usually make you play worse. Any kind of big emotion like ‘I really want to do well’ often clouds your thinking and stuff like ‘I deserved to win that hand’ will really mess you up. Instead a relaxed, clear thinking, analytical mind that makes decisions without prejudice or subjectivity is the key to playing well. Getting your Zen on really is the answer; altogether now Ommmmmmm.

There’s a bigger point that should be tattooed on every poker player’s inner eyelids. It’s a game. It’s a game we’re lucky to play; even when we lose.

I guarantee you don’t have to go back too many generations in your family tree to get to someone who worked like a dog, probably in manual labour for minimal money endless hours a week; arriving home too tired to do anything but sleep. For most of the world’s population it’s still like that if they’re lucky.

If poker isn’t bringing you pleasure, even when you lose, go and find something else that does. Stop trying to win and understand if you’ve got time and money to play a game of cards you already have.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go; this is getting in the way of my meditation time and at least 3 of my chakras are already out of line.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, columnists