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“In the end, if you are still just doing it, you win.” — Laird Hamilton

Like many poker play­ers, I first played seri­ously in col­lege. I began to believe I was one of the best poker play­ers ever to sit down at a card table. I crushed the dorm game — crushed it! — pulling down maybe as much as 40 or 50 dol­lars a week. Seri­ously. That was a help­ful sum, some 45 years ago. In fact, I played poker and bridge so seri­ously, I flunked out of school.

My father was not happy. He offered me a choice. I could deal with his — not inex­plic­a­ble — wrath or I could serve my country…starting tomor­row. He was not bluff­ing. I fig­ured my odds were bet­ter against the Viet Cong. Talk about your prop bets.

Dad, it must be said, was an excel­lent poker player. Mother tells about the time she found a piece of prop­erty upon which to build her dream home. The site was so choice, a bid­ding war was about to erupt. If she could come up with an unlikely large amount of cash imme­di­ately, she could swing the deal. “I might be able to help,” Dad said. From his sock drawer, he pulled a roll of bills, approx­i­mat­ing his pre-tax annual income. The next day we owned a half-acre field atop a hill.

I joined the U.S. Air Force because the Marine recruiter was out to lunch.
Oh, the irony. Hav­ing flunked out of col­lege due pri­mar­ily to a lack of inter­est in higher edu­ca­tion, I soon found myself in Mon­ter­rey, Cal­i­for­nia, at the Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute. Assigned to a year-long study of the Czech and Slo­vak lan­guages. Forty hours of classes weekly, with no option what­so­ever of quit­ting. Fail­ing grades doubtlessly meant a direct flight to Cam Ranh Bay.

At DLI, all gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies stud­ied, even the FBI. Vir­tu­ally every lan­guage around the globe was taught. Includ­ing Viet­namese.

We used to joke about the two-week course given to com­bat troops on their way to the Far East. What could they be teach­ing you? “Hello.” “Good­bye.” “Drop your weapons.” “Raise your hands.” “Sur­ren­der or die.” “I’ll have another beer, please.” “I love you.“

I still remem­ber how to say “kiss my butt” in Czecho­slo­va­kian.
Of course, we played poker. We played a lot of poker. Hour after hour after hour of poker. In those days, the games were mostly 7-card stud and 5-card draw. Dealer’s choice, with the occa­sional wild card, like one-eyed jacks and sui­cide kings. Stakes var­ied, usu­ally depend­ing upon how close — or how far — from pay day the game was played.

Games got tougher as the pay period went on. Think of the month as one big MTT, towards the third week­end, most of the weaker play­ers had sur­ren­dered their bankrolls. By the end of the month, each bar­racks was basi­cally spread­ing a short-handed sit-and-go. The bet­ter play­ers had the option of mov­ing up to face higher “ranked” com­pe­ti­tion. By ranked, I don’t mean the PLB. The sergeants had their games, the offi­cer corps had their games, too. The weak­est games were among the junior offi­cers, the sec­ond lieu­tenants. Sooner than later, I got my ass kicked. And kicked. And kicked. And kicked. I began to believe I was one of the worst poker play­ers ever to sit down at a card table.

I got beat so bad, I decided poker was not the game for me. I stopped play­ing.
Fast for­ward a few decades. I can­not pre­cisely place the blame on Chris Mon­ey­maker. But I did read the best-selling Play Poker Like the Pros by Phil Hell­muth. In the book, Mr. Hell­muth gra­ciously rec­om­mended play­ing on So, I signed up. (After all, the Poker Brat had been voted “Best Poker Tour­na­ment Player in the World” in 1997.)

I deposited $50, which was lost almost before I fig­ured out what but­tons to click. Just like in the mil­i­tary. Appar­ently, years away from the tables had not improved my poker skills.
So — what the hell — what did I have to lose? I began to play… gulp… play money games.
Slowly, and then ever more rapidly, I begin to win. And win. And win. Just like in col­lege. Before long I was play­ing 1000–2000 NLH with a BR beyond 3 mil­lion. I had my mojo back.

If you ever have a choice, do not marry a crazy per­son. My wife wanted me to cash in. When I explained it was not real money, she refused to believe I was even play­ing poker.

After the divorce, I began to play again for real. I man­aged to get small deposits on a half-dozen sites. And while I study and study and play and play, I am barely a break-even player. I sim­ply can­not man­age the win which allow me to move ahead.

Oh, I did have a big win some months back. A huge win. I fin­ished first in a 12,000 player MTT on Pok­er­Stars. There is some­thing very reward­ing about sit­ting alone at a final table with a stack of 18,000,000 chips. I was still admir­ing my stack when they closed the table.

Unfor­tu­nately, the event was a freeroll, which merely served to allow me entry into a future tour­na­ment. I placed 36th of 3391 entrants in that MTT. I was feel­ing pretty good about myself. Back-to-back Jack.
This was about the same time I began to under­stand the ups and downs of my youth­ful poker “career.” Col­lege, where I was a big win­ner, was small, pri­vate, expen­sive, church-affiliated. Those kids had no idea how to play poker. None what­so­ever. The Lan­guage Insti­tute, where I was a big loser, was pop­u­lated with coun­try boys and city slick­ers, who actu­ally knew how to play the game. Some of them might not have even cheated. They were that good.

My own skills, to use the term loosely, never changed. I was bad when I won, I was bad when I lost. My game remained the same, while the results depended upon my oppo­nents’ skills and the fall of the cards.
Today, I improve incre­men­tally, glacially. Seems every­body who sur­vives online improves, too. So, grad­ual improve­ment almost seems –EV. To be suc­cess­ful, we must get bet­ter faster. We must be open to new ideas.
As win­ners, we must real­ize we might not be as good as we think we are.
As losers, we have to under­stand why we lose.

And when we do win, we have to make sure the vic­tory is worth achieving.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, well, we keep try­ing to fig­ure out how.

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1 Comment

  1. makepokerlegalsaid:
    At January 17, 2010 11:47 pm

    Welcome to the Make Poker Legal Team Jack. Great posts so far. Really liked the Elephant Race. I am sure everyone is looking forward to future articles and blogs from you.

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