A great military strategist once said that there is a large difference between wanting to become someone and wanting to do something. He rallied against the office politics that surrounded military high command. He discussed how wanting to be “one of the boys” in the top brass meant sacrificing your values and differing opinions. However, if one wanted to create something, to do something, that higher value would guide them to the right action, and that right action might not make them the most beloved person in the room.
While poker does not have nearly the stakes of military high command, we can learn from this. When I meet many aspiring poker players, I find what they want is to be a poker player. They don’t know exactly what it is that they want to do. This is, of course, understandable. The media does a great job of portraying poker in a glamorous light. Final tables are bedazzled with strobing bright lights, beautiful women, and mountains of cash. It’s only when one becomes a serious poker player that they discover the truth: Much of poker life is not glamorous. You are in casinos or in front of a computer most of the time. You are working nights and weekends because that’s when the general public has time off to play with you. You miss time with your family and friends, you’re often alone. It’s at this point that you’ll see the players with higher values stick it out. They will persevere because they want to do something.
Putting It Together
The players that put it together, what do they want to do? Many want to understand the game at a clinical level, just so they can know themselves that they climbed a personal Mount Everest. You won’t see these players broadcast their “talent” much. They know how hard they had to work for their mastery, and the memory of that steep cost prevents them from boasting too much. You wouldn’t recognize these guys if they walked past you in the Rio, but there are many of them. They desire a quiet life. They don’t want to call attention to themselves, because they don’t want anyone studying their possible edges.
Many players that stick it out when what they want to do is take care of their family. Many young men are irresponsible until their first child arrives. Many women and men also find focus once they are with an undramatic spouse, they stop chasing a partner and start chasing a life they can share. You’ll see other poker players become more resolute when a family member of theirs is sick. The medical bills and anguish-ridden time take their toll on their once strong ego. While some men prosper once they find their higher calling, others do stagger and wilt. It’s not always a process you would wish upon an aspiring poker player, that is why we must steel ourselves before the crucial moments are upon us.
What can be gleaned from these examples is that playing for a higher purpose can call out the BS within a particular approach. When you want to belong, you will do the fashionable plays. When you need to make money for your family, your BS detector will find itself with a newly strengthened battery. Many aspiring pros want to be a poker player. More crucially, they want to be seen as a poker player.
This is a foolhardy task.
The Need To Stand Out
Phil Hellmuth has more bracelets than any other player, and yet he is mocked constantly by poker players. To succeed in this game, you will need to be prepared to try strategies that are not popular. The average player is a losing player, so if you copy the style of the average player you can logically expect to lose. Doing something different than the norm will not make a you a beloved figure in the poker room. There is an implicit agreement in most No Limit Hold’em poker games. “I will raise with whatever hand I like. You’ll call with whatever hand you like. We’ll all take a flop and take it from there.” When you identify one average player is opening hands he can’t defend out of position, you logically will three-bet more to isolate him. If you do this, however, you will often become the most hated person in the room, because you will have disrupted their implicit agreement. Everybody was having a fine time before YOU showed up, thank you very much!
The need to stand out is not only found in poker, you can see it in the economy. You have heard this before. “This celebrity in high school was a geek! They didn’t fit in anywhere! Everybody thought they were so strange…” Well, of course that’s the case. The economy favors outliers. A capitalistic economy commodifies everything it touches, and that includes people. Therefore, personalities that are scarcer will attain a higher value. This is how these people become celebrities.
Most people go with the flow to get along with everyone, it is a human longing. Being excluded from the tribe was extremely dangerous for most of our history. It makes logical sense that humans would fear ostracism, when before the stakes were literally life and death. Unfortunately, to become a great poker player, you will have to get over that ingrained response. You will have to become an outlier. The way to do this is focus on what you want to do as opposed to who you wish to be. If you wish to be seen as a great player, you will always have to rely on the judgment of others. If what you want to do is provide for your family or attain a mastery that you yourself can feel, than you will only ever answer to yourself.