Monday, February 05, 2007


Back in 1993, rather than spend money buying each other Christmas gifts, our family decided to save that money and instead use it for a family vacation.  We collectively chose Aruba and spent a week there lying on the beach, swimming in the hotel’s pool, enjoying some fine dining, and if you were me, losing your shirt at the casinos.

I lost about $700 that week and while the sum wasn’t going to break me, it was far more than I anticipated losing.  I’ll never forget the 4am walk back to my hotel room from a neighboring casino, looking up at the stars and wondering how I let myself get so stuck.  I will forever remember the sinking feeling in my stomach, a physical manifestation of my self-disgust, embarrassment, and loathing.  There are times when even today, that same feeling will return.


I call that feeling the gambler’s stomach.  I think that term is used in other ways, more traditionally to describe one who has the nerve to make big gambles; but for me, it represents that feeling where I finally realize that I’ve lost my self-control while gambling when I shouldn’t have been.

Sometimes that feeling reappears at the poker table.  As we all know, you can play poker such that it’s more akin to gambling than a skill game.  It’s easier to take the skill out than to put the skill into your play, shifting the outcome to reflect more heavily on randomness than the quality of your decision making process.


I hosted a home game last Thursday and by midnight, my stomach was tied in the all-to-familiar knots associated with loss of control.

In my previous post, where I mentioned doubling through my son’s basketball coach, I didn’t reveal just how much of a successful evening for me that truly was.  That night, I was on.  I played my hands strongly and my good cards held up.  Every time.  It was a perfect storm, as Otis would say in a subsequent email, of good cards and good play against less than stellar opposition.  I bought in for 1 buy-in and cashed out for almost ten.

(For the purposes of tying up loose ends, the day after that win Mrs. Blood got her furniture.)

Then came the Monday game at Gucci Rick’s.  We were 6-handed and we devolved into one round of NLHE alternating with one round of NLO8.  NLO8.  Gambling.  I lost.  I played the hold ‘em rounds marginally well, having to make some laydowns that while proper, were difficult.  But in NLO8, the all-in’s pre and post-flop were nothing more than a gamble.  Like I said, I lost.

Fast-forward (or rewind depending on your frame of reference) to Thursday at the house.  It was the worst poker I’ve ever played.  In fact, calling it poker would have been a disgrace to the name of the game.  Often times, I’ll give myself a score between 0 and 100 to reflect how I played that night.  Two Saturday’s ago would have been a 95.  Thursday was a zero.  Goose egg.  It was sad.

A little after midnight, I quit the game for a while.  At my own house.  I had to leave the table mainly out of embarrassment.  I felt unqualified to sit at the same table as TheMark, G-Rob, and GucciRick.  It was a confidence crushing night and it only took the memory of a 4am walk on the beach for me to truly figure out why.


Over the past few years, I’ve developed a good sense for where I stand in a hand.  Looking back, there are very few times when I’m genuinely surprised at someone else’s holdings.  When I’m ahead or even if it’s close, I seem to know it.  When I’m behind, even very far behind, I know it as well.

It’s the times that I know when I’m behind and still can’t stop myself from pushing chips into the pot that I know I’ve lost the self-control to play well.  Sure, I can still call, raise, or even push; but I know I need to outdraw my opponent in order to win the pot.  Gambling.  Not poker.

And when I stray too far away from poker and into the regime of gambling, it makes me sick.  In my stomach.


This last Saturday, I was a bit hesitant to go out and play again.  But part of me needed to.  I needed to know I could stay focused, to keep my play within the realm of my strengths, where I stand a decent chance to win.  I had to go play poker to prove that I could withstand the temptation to gamble.

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