Warning: smart, sensible people who don’t gamble may need poker term translations for this
As a player and lover of all things poker, it is impossible for me to go through the day to day and not see poker as one big parallel to life’s little scenarios. I can find a way to relate many of my experiences in poker terms. The good call, the bad call, the check OK, and my naughty favorite when successfully executed, the bluff. In my life I’ve stayed the course with patterns, places and people simply because of sunk cost. And I’ve prematurely mucked opportunities out of fear and impatience. I’ve faked strength convincingly more times than I’d like to admit, and I’ve been busted by tells. On the felt things become so clear to me. Make good decisions and gain. Hold firm, remain steady and slowly prevail. Get cavalier, over ambitious and things unravel. Bad decision follows bad decision until the tilt consumes. And as in life, it’s nobody’s fault but one’s own.
Slight digression, but I was in a reflective mood today. As the summer approaches I realize it’s been 20 years I’m out of high school. I enjoy reflection and often find myself glancing back. Although sometimes if there is whiskey nearby, that glance becomes a bit of a stare. So is the case tonight as my slightly blurry brain is marinating on a thought. In the poker game of Texas Hold em each player is delt two cards. In most cases, pot wins are determined mostly on the strength of these two cards. Even super loose players who play ANY two cards as if they are holding pocket aces appreciate the initial relief and assurance of waking up to paint or pockets. People often talk about our lots in life as as being delt a “good or bad hand”. The fortunate vs. the unfortunate. The lucky vs. the unlucky. As I think back on my own life this evening I’m wondering which two cards, if I had to choose, define my lot in life. Which two cards was I delt upon my entrance into this world?
Well, Lord knows I didn’t wake up to pocket aces, or any pockets for that matter. But Aces. Man, what a hand! Best two cards to ever hold pre flop. You feel so lucky when delt these beauties. So strong, so sure of yourself. Your mind races “How can I milk these suckers at the table for every last chip!”. Then, in a cruel twist of fate a straight draw turns the board. Stupid slow play trap. Shoulda got in all in pre flop, you know this! Suddenly those aces may not even be the second best hand let alone the first. And, as someone who’s had her bullets cracked by that rivered straight, um, probably more times than any one person in the history of ever, I have to say, I fucking hate them. So much promise, diluted by every card that falls. Aces have to be played so very carefully, for there is nothing worse than mucking those pretty lil’ bastards, knowing you played it all wrong. I’ve really only personally known a few people who woke up to aces as their poker hand in life. You know, money never a concern, college paid for, debt free, blah blah blah. To be sure, some of them experienced adverse family dynamics making them just as ragey and rebellious as this aggro early 90’s teen, but they just never seemed to endure the same consequences. Others flourished, oblivious to financial hardship walking stress free through the series of golden gates that were erected for them since day one. Yay privilege. Good for you and your fucking aces.
Nor did I wake up to 10-2 off suit. Man,what a hand! Worst possible two cards to glance at. Unless I’m flush with chips or feeling lucky it’s an immediate fold, regardless of position. Yeah, this is a rough hand. No draw possibilities, and you’re likely to have the weakest hand at the table. Being delt this hand in life is truly unfortunate. My heart always breaks for those born into a seemingly doomed situation. Children forced to pay the price of bad decisions made by people who are supposed to protect them. I always root for the underdog, the abused, the rejected, the neglected and the addicted. For their struggle will no doubt be mammoth. But just as you never know what cards may fall on the flop, you never know what is around the proverbial corner. Sometimes, just when failure seems imminent for 10-2 off, behold the most gorgeous flop: 10-9-5. Good gets better when another 10 makes the turn, followed by a duck on the river. In the blink of an eye, despite a myriad of variables and volatility, 10-2 off is now sitting pretty with a boat on an unassuming board. You never know. Luck happens all the time. To everyone.
Back to the original quandary, my two cards. Without even thinking about it for too long, I’d say that my two cards are J-10 suited. Not a strong hand, and for some a sure fold. Sure, a lot of things could have been better in my life. The unknowing “what ifs” often arise when looking back at the linear passage of time, don’t they? What if the constant lack of money wasn’t the single source of anxiety and stress for the bulk of my young adult life? Who might I be today without all that worry? Where might I be today if somebody, anybody gave me some kind of direction? Still, I try not to linger on such questions long, as they are meritless. My husband Joel possesses the rare ability to live in the present moment with absolute ease. His past scars have long since washed away like footprints do in sand that has just met the tide. Whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself and start up with “what if this” or “what if that”, Joel quickly retorts in his no nonsense manner “Lisa, if the Queen had balls she’d be King. Let it go.”
So yeah. J-10 suited is my hand, though I won’t let it define me, for we are all just one or two cards away from something we never expected. Because after all, while not the best hand, J-10S is loaded with possibility! Straight draw, flush draw, hell, even a royal flush draw. And jacks ain’t so shabby, either. In the end, it’s my hand and only I can play it. I will try to make good choices and take responsibility when my impatience gets the best of me. I will appreciate the win of a juicy pot just as surely as I will not regret the risk of getting it all in when I think I’ve got it- but don’t. I will ooze with delight when I flop the nuts, reach deep for the discipline to get through the chop, and hope for the cojones to shake off the bad beats and cold runs. I will continue to play the game of life with sheer optimism that the cards will go my way, and be grateful for the potential they hold. And I will always, always be receptive to a little luck whenever it comes my way. So friend, what hand were you delt?