Wednesday, October 5, 2011
living with the cards your dealt
I’m a card player. I’ve always enjoyed cards. Growing up, my dad liked 5-card draw, my mom liked cribbage. My dad took me to the horse track when I was 5 years old, showed me the names of the horses and started my first gambling bank roll. I went home $17 dollars richer that day, shoved those winnings into a coffee can, and my love for the gamble was solidified forever.
Now, poker is my game of choice; for so many reasons, too many to mention on this blog today. I like to watch it, play it, read about it, and study it. It’s the perfect mix of math and odds/analysis and reading people and making moves based on perceptions. There is more strategy than luck, hands down. And it’s not a bad way to supplement income.
All that being said, I’ve always thought it’s a bit of an injustice that I have a love of and skill set to play this game, and God gave me just one hand to do it. Because more often than not, I am sitting at a table and every 8th hand or so, it’s my turn to shuffle. And almost nothing is worse to me than having to ask for help. Asking for help to count my millions? Good kind of help. Asking for help in deciding what kind of pizza to gorge myself on? OK, good kind of help. Asking for help because I physically can’t do something: bad kind of help. And there is no way around it, in that setting, I have to ask for help. I have to do it publicly, and everyone there sees it, and they have to help me over and over again all night. Stab, stab, stab. An annoying little knife in my pride, over and over and over. Now I know it’s not really putting any one out that much to shuffle for me. I am pretty sure on a few occasions, some of the older gentlemen kind of like it. They get to be my knight in shining armor for a few hours, until I graciously bat my eyes at them and knock their butt out of the tournament.
Now, objectively, pride aside, I know a lot of times it actually benefits me. I walk into a poker tournament, and right away I am different. In a world of crotchety, wrinkly men chewing on a cigar around a table, I am all high heels and highlights and lip gloss and smokey makeup. And then I sit down and I am smiling and then next thing you know, I have to ask for help shuffling…. Their perception of me is inexperienced. Unassuming. And that assumption helps me more than you can know. I have an instant advantage in bluffing, stealing blinds, knowing when to trap and when to take it down, determining pot odds that entice them to call or almost force them to fold. And as long as they underestimate my knowledge of the game, I have a distinct advantage. I have no doubt that contributes to my success as a live tournament player. I acknowledge and embrace this fact.
But, several times recently, I’ve been at tables where there is a man who cannot shuffle. Most often it’s because disease has wracked his body. Arthritis. Or a stroke. They are sometimes middle-aged men, but they have their walkers or wheelchairs, and they struggle as they wrestle with the half of their body that no longer works correctly. And I watch them and I think how lucky I am. I’ve never been able to shuffle. But when I push the last of my chips in and walk away from the table, I have my legs. I have walks with my children. I have running. I have games of tag, climb to the top bunk, sand in the toes, run alongside the toddler using training wheels kind of joy. And I watch those men. And they have to ask for help too. But they don’t have lip gloss and a perception of naivety about them. They are just broken men, that also have to swallow their pride to continue to play a game they love. And in the end, it just makes me say, “Thank you God. For giving me the many shortfalls AND skills and blessings that I do have. And also thank you for having those pocket J’s hold up, that was nice too.”