Monday, February 05, 2007

Taking (Down) Notes

ABOVE MY LAPTOP, I have four 3" × 5" cards with advice written on them. They date back to around this time last year, when I first signed onto Full Tilt Poker as a cash-game player. They read:
Curiosity killed the bankroll!

Why are you putting chips into the pot?

Is there a reason to fold?

Shitty opponents don't justify shitty play on your part!
I intended for these cards to restrain my urge to treat online poker as a video game. Granted, I was playing in very small games — $1/$2 seven-card stud was just about the most expensive game I played, for a buy-in of $60 — and barely ever played in no-limit ring games. Even so, I wanted there to be some reminders to focus on improving my game, making the best decisions I could, and not just say "screw it" and begin throwing good money after bad.

I only played online poker for 4 months, the amount of time I was given to earn my sign-up bonus. (Poker sites offer cash bonuses for extended play, and Full Tilt's was one of the most generous.) Once that time expired, it was June, and close to my visit to Las Vegas that summer. So I withdrew my cash and flew off to the great poker Mecca in the Southwest.

I left the cards up, however. Aside from moving the PG-13 one out of the view of some children over for my Christmas party last year, they have observed my nonpoker noodlings since last summer. Two things come to mind in reading them now.

First, my urge to play online poker rose after it was practically banned via legislation ceasing money flow between Americans and the poker sites. I played every other night or so for an hour when I was working off my bonus, but I would also lapse for a week or so too. It wasn't remotely my primary source of income (we're talking $3 pots here, people), so I didn't need to play to eat. After I withdrew my deposit, my weekly real-life poker game sated my urge to gamboooooool. Yet when those craven pricks in Congress attached the antigambling rider to the Safe Ports Act last fall, I felt like firing up a sit 'n' go or taking a half hour to play a little 25¢/50¢ limit hold'em. Prohibition taught us nothing.

Second, and more important, the index cards suggest a passivity of approach to me now. Yes, it is important to think logically about one's plays, to invest money wisely in pots, to accept defeat when it is obvious, and to play one's best despite being surrounded by crummy players. My regular game is not an easy one. If you can win there, you are playing better than many of the casual players, and even some of the self-styled pros, in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. For me to have any money left after hunkering down with my regulars, I must be doing something right. Against players who haven't got the benefit of watching me play week in and week out, my style of play can be very lucrative.

I feel like the cards have outlived their use. I need to take confidence in my achievements now. I spoke with my boss for a good 90 minutes today, and we both realized how much we really do know about our jobs and publishing in general. All we need is the self-assurance to put our plans into action. When I think about what our bosses have done, with a lot less in-the-trenches experience and with a knack for fast-talking away their bosses' doubt, I marvel at what actual competent people could achieve if they overcame their doubts.

Great endeavors have been born when people of confidence have said, "I can do this myself" or "I can do this better." I suspect the notes these folks had amid the tools and wires on their workbenches, in their lockers next to their batting gloves, crowning their Smith-Coronas amid a tangle of crumpled drafts, or scrawled in grease pencil on the walls of their garages next to their prototype computers or printers built on this theme. These notes reassured them after failures and confirmed their hunches when they succeeded.

I need some notes that will guide me into my first failure. The sooner I survive it, and the ones that follow, the closer I will be to finding my purpose. It beats hiding and never striving to find it. Wayne Gretzky's wisdom comes to mind here: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Maybe that's my first note.

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