Saturday, October 30, 2010

Things Good Poker Players Know That Many Poets Ought to Learn

I enjoy the game of poker. I enjoy the math, the interplay among the participants, the drama of watching a good game from the sidelines. It occurs to me that much of what attracts me to the game is similar - if not spot-on - to what attracts me to poetry. See if you agree with these principles and how they apply to both poetry and poker. You may need to interchange the word "hand" with the word "poem" once in a while....
  • With very, very rare exceptions, every hand/poem is improvable. You may be holding a great poem in your hands. You may consider it done and it may be excellent, publishable, and memorable. It may be "the nuts". But there may be something else you find, learn or discover later that would improve it. You may not ever find that something, and you may not need it to be successful, but be open to it if it comes along.
  • If you want people around you to take action based on what you hold, it's important what they think of you. It's of course possible to construct a great hand with limited input from other players/poets and limited history of poker/poetry. However, your decisions and your ability to influence people into action are drastically improved if you understand how things work and some of your shared history. At minimum, you need to understand the rules. Bluff all you want, but there are rules.
  • While people may make their decisions based on their opinions of you, there will be times when your only and best influence is to show your cards. Therefore, no matter how effective you are at the rest of the game ("being a poet"), you simply must have the ability to know when you've built a good hand (written a good poem).
  • It is possible - and probably necessary for most people - to combine competitiveness and social behavior. There are certainly Hellmuthian examples of poets being jerks and still being respected for their objectively and genuinely great poems, but you're more likely to get help on the way to Ledererian greatness - purposefully in the form of teaching and subtly in the form of noticing other people's habits - if your default mode is participating, learning, and listening. NOTE: Hellmuth doesn't seem to really be a jerk. Does that matter?
  • Playing with the cover of anonymity (online) can help you hone skills, develop a sense of what's important to you in the game, and learn some of the rules. However, a skilled player/poet with live experience of actual poker/poetry events will detect in seconds if that (individual effort) is your only experience. And if your goal in that meeting is to impress that skilled player/poet and impose your will in some way (win money, gain respect, acquire feedback), it will not end well for you. You must understand the universe to chart your way to the stars.
  • In any large gathering/tournament, there will be participants who will not pay much attention to anything but their own business, who will neither learn nor teach, and who are likely to leave early without having much impact on the rest of the people gathered, though they may have fun, contribute, and enjoy themselves. There is nothing harsh or disrespectful about saying this. It is helpful to recognize the ones who respect the game/art, for those are the ones from whom you can learn.
Think I'm way off? Go try the Poker Professor's "Poker and Zen" first; this little list may seem like the nuts (instead of being "just plain nuts") after that.

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