Monday, October 03, 2005

Empiricism, Kierkegaard, Catholic High School Girls, and Poker

"That's what I like about high school girls. I get older and they stay the same age." - Wooderson, Dazed and Confused
Instead of rushing up a post in less than fifteen minutes in between mucking crappy hands on Party Poker, I decided to take a day or so and compose a post. I never do that, but this blog has been lacking in some original philosophical content aside from the occasional existentialist conversation with strippers.

I was inspired by a ride on the subway (more elaboration later) combined with the way I felt after reading HDouble's most recent gem called The Path to Poker Mastery to write this specific post. Both moments got me thinking about life and poker and more specifically my writing especially on all of my blogs. The origins of these maudlin thoughts started last Thursday. I just ate lunch at a diner with an ex-girlfriend on a tenebrous day in the city. As it began to rain I briskly walked down Fifth Avenue past the main library and the secretaries on their lunch break and then past a few suits shouting into their cellphones near Lord & Taylor making my way to the foot of the Empire State Building where I collided with a group of tourists from Missouri. During that time it took me to walk ten city blocks, the light showers developed into a heavy downpour. I was lost so far deep in the hallways of my mind, that I didn't realize it was pouring outside.

Why did I zone out? And was the rain a metaphor for a drastic change in mood?

I was thinking about how little time I put into my blogs these days. What you see here and on my other blogs represent a small portion of what I write everyday. My half-baked and unorganized thoughts about poker have always gone here. But I haven't had too many original thoughts lately and swamped with work projects. Sure I've been covering poker tournaments... WSOP, WPT, EPT, and the UPC... and that's an experience I'm grateful to have everyday. As I've slowly developed into a tournament reporter, my posts have become more geared towards providing information and current events. Sure it's my take on the events that's creative and reflective of my writing style. But that type of work is not satisfying several artistic needs that I seek out when I write. I need to have that aspect of my life flourish otherwise I get depressed, moody, self-destructive, and resentful. Then I become a real asshole and pain in the ass. That's why the little beginning nuggets about the Redneck Riviera during the 2005 WSOP saved me from reaching the brink of utter insanity.

Last Thursday I roamed around the city looking for Brazilian hookers and cheap cocaine (or was it cheap hookers and Brazilian cocaine?) for the impending bachelor party I was supposed to attend. That's when I muttered to myself, "Every day we're searching for something."

When I got home, I hit up Google to see if that was a Bob Dylan lyric that I lifted or perhaps it was something I once read in a Shakespeare play. It didn't quite match. I had an original thought, or at least at that moment it was good enough for me. Finally inspired, I began writing this post. At first the first draft rattled itself off in my head for the remainder of Thursday. I sat down for a few hours on Friday to write it, but kept getting distracted by phone calls. Finding a call girl in NYC to blow thirty guys in a row in a hotel suite a few blocks from Ground Zero is a lot harder than you think. You have to double check references these days. And right now as I write this, it's early Monday morning and my intentions on spending several days penning a spectacular post have fizzled out. That's what happens when I embark on a two-day ya-yo bender with old friends. That demonstrates part of why I was slumping at the poker tables during September. Lack of focus and discipline and weakness in character has been a liability my entire life.


John Locke was a British philosopher and part of the modern or traditional empiricism movement. The basic premise behind empiricism is that all knowledge comes from observation and experience. Applying that to poker is pretty simple. You cannot become a winning poker player in the long term unless you have excellent observation skills and experience.

You can read every book every written on poker. You can memorize every word from Sklansky and you know every percentages and odds on every possible hand. Great. That all means jack shit at the poker tables. Sure you might have studied kung-fu. But until you successfully fight off six possible gang-rapers in a small prison shower, you'll never know if what you learned was valuable or whether or not you wasted your time.

You have to log a lot of hours playing poker. Lots of it. The internet gives you an ability to play an accelerated amount of hands. However, unless you are going to play 100% online that's not good enough. You need to play extensively at a live poker table. You might not like playing in a casino because the traffic is too bad or the rake is awful or the people next to you smell or the action is too slow and boring and because the newer and inexperienced dealers make too mistakes. But unless you park your ass in a chair in a casino and suck down twelve hours worth of casino-fabricated oxygen everyday for ten years, you'll never learn how to win over the long run and understand the human element to poker.

I think about how my writing applies here. I just didn't become an overnight sensation by starting up a poker blog and then getting snatched up to cover the WSOP. I've been writing for over a decade, struggling to make sense of myself and my art. And all my experiences and observations helped get to me to where I'm at today. Ten years has been a longer commitment than most jobs and relationships some of my friends have had (including myself). I almost attempted to snag a Masters in writing (I was accepted but never went) but I knew that piece of paper meant nothing and I'd sink deeper into debt trying to get the validation of a bunch of wine-drenched, Dockers-wearing, academic hacks. Real life experience is far more valuable than anything you can learn in a sterile classroom. You have to walk down dark and menacing alleys once in a while if you want to glimpse at the true side of humanity. You're never gonna see it sitting on your ass.

I began to understand that I needed to play more poker than I had been. Compare my abilities as a writer today than when I first walked out of my job on Wall Street almost a decade ago. I can see the vast difference in my creative ability. There's not much a jump in the technical sense, but as a person and artist, I have a decade of experience behind every word that I write today. My words have more depth than ever before. In ten more years I'm hoping that I will finally shift from being an average writer to a good one. If I apply that way of thinking to poker, then in ten years I might finally be a consistent winning player. Just when you think you know something, you realize you don't know shit. Every few years or so, I look back and think, "For fuck's sake, I was such a dumbass."


Soren Kierkegaard is Danish and although Gus Hansen is also from Denmark, Barry Greenstein falls more into a Kierkegaard-esque type of poker player. Kierkegaard was one of the first existentialist philosophers. He stressed the importance of the individual and the individual choice. Kierkegaard once said, "It is important for people to have a meaningful existence."

Applying that to poker, it's important for you to have a meaningful existence in your poker life. Know why you are playing. I've decided that it's no longer about money for me, but putting in the man hours to become a better player in the long run. I'm still a student of the game. I've been playing in different types of games and situations all over the country the past two years and I discovered that you need to learn how to adapt and play against different styles while moprhing your own. Always keep shifting your style of play and never allow anyone to record a pattern on your game. That's the level where I'm at right now.

I dropped about $500-600 out of my bankroll in September. Meaningless. In 2015 it won't matter if I won or lost $500 in a single month. What does matter that every hand I played from now to then went towards a larger and more significant goal of becoming a better player. As a collective, you are judged in the poker world by how much money you win or how many WSOP bracelets you own. When in reality, you are your own judge. That's the one who matters the most. How you determine competence of yourself as an indivudal should be based on the quality of your decisions and not by the size of your bankroll.

If you are content on playing socially and do not care about the monetary outcome, then so be it. Hey, there are hispters out there who are learning how to play because it's the cool thing to do. Sure that's not pure, but at least they understand their motivation. Plenty of poker players that I know pretty well are struggling not with how to play the game, but rather the simple answer to "why" they are playing poker.

Why are you playing poker? Is it for the money or the challenge? Are you bored and need a hobby? Do you need the social acceptance? Is it to rid yourself of several of your hangups? Are you a compulsive gambler and action junkie? Are you curious into the human psyche? Are you sexually or socially inadequate and need to overcome those haunting self-esteem issues with a winning session at the poker tables?

Back to Keirkegaard. He stressed that having "meaning" comes from whether or not your life has a permanent significance. Most problems arise when people believe that life has importance only temporarily. He continued to say that lives which are dedicated to pleasure will eventually lead a person into a stage of dissatisfaction and emptiness. The only way to feel significant is to have an ethical and responsible existence. And then you will achieve a sense of permanence and be comfortably living a meaningful life.

Barry Greenstien comes to mind again. He played poker in California for several years and developed into one of the best players in the world. Poker was temporarily important to him, but in order for him to find true meaning in why he plays, he shifted his focus to having a more responsible role in dealing with his poker winnings. He's been donating all of his tournament winnings to charity including Children Incorporated. With that knowledge, every time Barry sits down at a poker table he plays with an ease and confidence that what he's doing matters and more importantly... has significance in the long run. Barry will never freak out and question why he's playing poker.

You need to figure out why you play poker. And if you intend to play it for a living or over the course of the rest of your life, you have to decide what exactly the role it is going to be playing. Otherwise you are going to spiral into a deep depressive funk after another brutal river suck-out to some dipshit while asking yourself, "Why the fuck am I playing this game?"

Catholic High School Girls

I'm McCatholic as Ugarte likes to remind me. I attended Catholic and private schools in New York City up and through high school. Some my first brushes with sexuality happened during those formative years. I was a walking hard-on during puberty. And being surrounded by girls in short skirts and see-through white blouses really added to the horniness factor. That's where I developed my Catholic school girl fetish. It's been with me my entire life. Part of it is all that Catholic guilt and bottled up sexual aggression that the nuns and priests intimidated us into repressing.

I sat on the uptown subway and two Catholic high school girls got on the train. One of them was strikingly beautiful. If she wasn't wearing a uniform and had on regular clothes, I'd mistake her for just another hot woman on the subway. Of course I wouldn't have those controversial feelings that bombarded my mind. Those girls were at least half my age. In the South or in a foreign country, I could probably get away with acting upon those lustful thoughts. But here in the big city, they have rules and laws (Thank God) against those sorts of things.

I felt like one of those slimy old men in a Charles Bukowski short story. Like that sick and twisted degenerate gambler who offered bad drugs and cheap wine for a grope and a fingering session after a losing day at the track. I could not turn my eyes away from the one girl in particular. I'm a horrible person and was brainwashed by my own callow and puerile thoughts.

The urges. The rush.

I eventually collected myself. "Those were just thoughts and not actions," I reminded myself. OK, sure my thoughts were impure. But it's not a malfeasance to have naughty thoughts. It becomes an issue... morally, legally, religiously, and ethically if I act upon those erotic feelings. But I didn't and I exhibited restraint and didn't walk up to them and attempt my best Bobby Bracelet imitation.

How does avoiding hitting on Catholic high school girls on the subway apply to poker?

There are plenty of instances where I found myself infatuated with my hand or a specific situation, when in all reality, it was not proper for me to make any decisions aside from folding. Bleeding away your stack due to not being able to control yourself at the poker tables is a sure way for you to lose your bankroll in the long run and go broke and humiliate yourself. There will be times when you think what you see in front of you is an ideal situation, when in all reality, you have no business being there. Like jumping into a fishy $15-30 game when you only have a bankroll for $5-10. Sure that game can and should be beat, but you can't sit down in that without any sizeable ammunition.

Avoid the urge and take a cold shower instead.


The empiricist poker player knows that success will be bred from observation and experience. The existentialist poker players will tell you that you need to have a meaningful existence at the poker tables otherwise you will fail. The poker players with Catholic high school girl fetishes know that you can only look and don't touch unless they are 18.

All the money I've won to date does not reflect my talent as a poker player. It reflects how much luck I've had in my life. A tremendous amount in fact. When I made the transition from strictly live games to return to online play, I faltered and my bankroll suffered. I lost my discipline and was allowing myself to be distracted when I played online. I was reading too many poker blogs or answering email or surfing the far reaches of the web for pregnant women porn when I should have been focusing on the task at hand. I rarely lost focus at the tables in Las Vegas. I was always locked in and had a great read on players at the table. Once I started playing online, my strengths were overcome by my weaknesses.

What did I learn from this post?
1. Rededicate myself as a student of the game.
2. Continue to play as much as I can to develop into a good player in the long run.
3. Daily wins and losses don't mean as much as making good and quality decisions.
4. Continue to identify and isolate my weaknesses.
5. Maintain focus at the tables.
I had been winning since I moved to Las Vegas in June and winning often masks your liabilities. Hopefully I can learn from my mistakes over the past few months and evolve into a winning player over the next few years. Otherwise, I'm just wasting my time and I should start up a new blog called The Plaid Masturbation Monster.

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