Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The thin red line
What do you see in the photo?
Is it what you see when you're stuck in traffic?
Is it what you see when you're sucked out on for the fourth time that night?
Is it what you see when one whiny child runs one way and another runs the other, and the third runs the third way?
Does this thin red line represent the frustrations of life as they stretch your sanity harder than Gov. Schwarzenegger's facelift?
I used to see that, too.
Hell, I still see more than I'd like.
But I see something else. These days, I see it more than I ever have before.
I see serenity.
• • •
Last summer I almost ruined our home game with my best friends.
At our game was a likeable but loud guy who only got louder as he got more sloshed. He was also pretty bad, but he thought he was pretty good. You know the type. Those players are great for our bankrolls. We want them in our games.
Except when they hit.
He was hitting a lot. A LOT. And it was pissing me off. I was deep into my "It's not fair" whine in my head. It's not fair that I wait all night for a hand and he plays crap and wins all these pots and waaaaa. Well, poker is fair, more than we really realize, but sometimes it is not. And that night, when the flop came A-4-5, and I held A-5, I knew I was good, trapped him and got him to go all-in. He actually had a good hand, too, A-4, but I had him, until another 4 fell on the river.
I threw the cards across the table and stormed out. When I heard him talking about how I was being whiny, I came back in and said I was leaving. And I needed my chips. It broke up the game.
We recovered from the douchebag move, but it showed me that I let things get to me far too often. I lost $5 on that hand, so it wasn't the money.
It was the fact that I lost.
• • •
Well, I told myself I would not let poker do that to me again. I took a hard look at figured out pretty easily that when I was losing at online poker (I rarely got to play live because of the kids), I was a lot crappier to Kate and the kids than if I was winning. And I also figured out that I was the same way in our softball games.
I was Type-A, competitive and high-strung. I'll never apologize for that. It's partly why I'm successful. But you can overdo it. I was, of course, overdoing it.
It was time to change.
It was not immediate, and I knew it wouldn't be. But I did two things to help. Rather than using running and mountain climbing as a way to stoke that competitive fire, I learned how to throw the fire into running and mountain climbing. So instead of a catalyst, it became a campfire, a way to burn off all that nervous energy. It's helped. I honestly think it's one reason I had a great fall. It's one reason I continue to run better than ever. Running is a mental sport as well as a physical one, and that's something I really just learned last fall.
The second? I took a hard look at poker and figured out ways to resolve my anger toward the game. I played to my strengths, cash games, where, coincidentally, there aren't as many suckouts. I stopped playing daily, making certain nights of the week "movie nights" or whatever else I want to do. And when I'm at that home game, I play a LOT more hands. I play to have fun, not to win.
It's still a work in progress. But things are a lot better.
• • •
Funny thing is, when I changed my attitude about poker, it changed my attitude about life, too. For some reason, our incredibly difficult situation, our twins (now 21 months) and the toddler, wasn't so challenging any longer. At times, it was even a lot of fun.
As that happened, poker became a fun pastime again, an outlet. It will never be as healthy as running, but after I'm done with a session of poker, my mind is empty, not troubled like it was.
It could not have come at a better time. The kids test us continually, and I still don't always pass. Andie, especially, fusses almost non-stop from when I come home until they go to bed. It wears me down to the nub.
Last night, during a fuss, rather than yell, like I might of in the past, I lay down on the floor. She came up to me and I started tickling her. I st her with me and we watched "Monster Inc." with the gang. I played with both of them for more than an hour.
They went to bed happy girls.
• • •
Saturday night I had easily one of the worst poker sessions I've ever had. It was by far my worst live limit poker session.
I went to Black Hawk, where the limits are still $2-5 spread until July 1, when the new, $100 betting limit takes effect (note: thank GOD for that). We got there at 7 p.m., dodged all the people waiting in line at the buffet and got a new seat at a table that they opened up. Nine new players. Normally I'm glad to see this: It means you'll get a bunch of people who are there for a Saturday night (i.e. fish).
The only problem is, you have to wait a bit for everyone to loosen up. Poker can be like running in the sense that you don't want to bust out and steam off your energy. Players, just like runners, pace themselves.
So. Wanna guess when I got my good hands?
Wow. You're good. And after a tiny rush, when I flopped a set of 7s and had A-K a few times and won with K-J against a lady way overplaying K-2 (and had not very much to show for all that), the pots started growing after about an hour, and I figured it was going to be a good night.
And I did not win one pot for another six hours.
Not even scraps.
I got a ton of junk. The only exceptions were when I got A-Q twice, which ran into K-K both times.
Then these three hands occurred among the trash: I flopped trip 10s with Q-10 (played in late position) and raised it to the river, where an old man who didn't raise pre-flop showed me A-10. I flopped two pair with 9-10 and raised both times, and the two players who played every.single.hand. both got two pair with their weak Aces by the river. Then, desperate and on my second $100 buy-in, unheard of for me in this game, I flopped a K-high flush, invested $60 in it and lost to an A-high when he got his 4th diamond on the river.
When the guy showed down his Ace, I turned to my friend, angrily said "I'm done" and walked off.
But before I left, I told the guy "nice hand."
Poker sessions like that one used to infuriate me. They'd stick with me for days. Why me? Why? What did I do?
But the thin red line burned away, and what was left was the photo above, the one I took of a sunrise on a day climbing Longs Peak, my favorite mountain in Colorado.
That's the red line I strive to see now, more than ever, when poker, and life, wants to turn up the heat.