Monday, April 19, 2010

Mental Mazes

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA
"Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears." - Bobby Jones

During the Masters coverage, I read a quote from Bobby Jones that a bevy of sportswriters and golfers ostentatiously tossed around referring to Tiger Wood's off-the-course issues (you know, that licentious habit of banging every chick in his path that wasn't his Swedish wife). Talking heads wondered if the overbearing scrutiny would affect his golf game after a five-month layoff where he became fodder for mainstream media. These days it's hard to distinguish TMZ from CNN, nonetheless, Tiger's cock was the center of discussion for sensationalist gossip hounds.

Technically speaking, Tiger Woods is still one of the best golfers who ever teed up at Augusta National. However, the questioned remained... how would the Fellini-esque circus surrounding his personal life affect his play on the golf course? That's why many writers lazily sought wisdom from Bobby Jones quip to depict Tiger's struggles. It's all mental, they say.

Tell that to his penis.

Tiger is passionate, ruled by his emotions, and personifies Hemingway's "grace under fire" on the fairway, but off the course, he's just like every other human. Our personality flaws occur when we are unable to keep our disruptive emotions in check. But there are no trollops running around the golf course to distract Tiger, so you figure that he was finally in his element. What could possible go wrong?

Golf is solitary pursuit. Sure, man versus nature is an integral component, but the real battle is you versus yourself. As the saying goes, you are your worst enemy. Well not you, but the voice inside your head. Your thoughts. Those whispers of self-doubt. That's what really drives us. Do we ignore them or give in?

During one of Tiger's rounds, the microphones set up by the production crew to amplify the delicious sounds of pristine tee shots, accidentally captured Tiger berating... Tiger.

"You suck, Tiger!" he matter-of-factly shouted.

I actually heard an F-bomb prior to his sadistic self-affirmation after he shanked his tee shot. It's all mental, right? Instead of saying, "Come on Tiger, you're better than that...", he pumps himself up by admitting the stone cold truth. That shot sucked and Tiger didn't bullshit himself.

With professional golf, no coaches are roaming the sidelines and spewing obscenities with every miscue or questioning your manhood in a huddle during a timeout. It was up to Tiger to police himself and put himself back on track when he veered off course, not just on the course, but with his home life that he destroyed by his demonic flaws.

* * * * *

Education is important. Doesn't matter what it is. You should always be feeding your mind. There's always something new to learn, especially when you head off the beaten bath. Shit, tournament poker is rapidly evolving every few months. Just when I get a grasp on things, I find myself behind the curve once again struggling to keep up. But that's why those pros who are on the cutting edge of strategy are usually the ones who are the most profitable at the present moment. When the chase pack catches up to them, they better adapt or they become dinosaurs. The best of the best, whether they are artists or poker pros, are always two steps ahead of the herd.

Continuing your poker education is a essential because the game is constantly evolving and players from different backgrounds and styles are entering the pool. I can't vouch for training videos or paying online pros ridiculous amounts of money to share their secrets, but for some people it has worked. Like most things in life, it's the student who determines how much they want to apply what they learned to their lives. However, all the training and coaching in the world isn't going to prepare you for the mental battle against yourself.

Life coaches can only help you so much, because in the end, it's your life to live.

We all have five or six versions of ourselves. Some of us have more, some have less. It usually depends on your mood and setting which one you reveal. For example, you probably have an "office version" where you don't reveal all of your nasty habits and your political views are slightly more mainstream so not to upset the partisans. In short, you're acting and playing a role, sort of like The Truman Show meets The Matrix, but the ammunition is live and you can get killed. There is no spoon, but you continue to play the "model worker" version of yourself.

I have a similar version but since I don't work in a conventional office environment, I have Citizen Pauly. He's clean shaven, well dressed, sans cuss words, dead sober, charming, polite, and full of manners. Those special performances are reserved for formal gatherings like job interviews, interactions with law enforcement types, when I met my girlfriend's parents for the first time, or if I ever get an audience with the Queen of England. I rarely reveal that version of me, but he exists, just hidden in the back of my mental closest somewhere behind the Hawaiian shirts and a botched marijuana-grow operation.

For the most part, we all have three versions of ourselves as poker players: the confident warrior, the reckless gambler, and the nebbish goober.

The nebbish goober is someone I see all the time whining in the chatbox. The dejection oozes from their eyes when they sit at your table in brick and mortar rooms. If they were a cartoon character, a couple of rain clouds would constantly follow them around pissing down buckets full of hail and sleet. Nebbish goober's aces always get cracked. Snapped into a millions pathetic pieces. Their opponent always gets there on the river...every...fucking...time. Nebbish goobers can't win a race to save their fucking kittens' lives. The nebbish goobers get scared the moment they come across a pocket pair because they know it's a matter of time before those get sodomized. Each hand is neurotic nightmare because they're always thinking about the worst case scenario. The nebbish goober often eats anti-depressants and writes self-loathing live journal posts about how everyone is colluding against them... Dick Cheney, their ex-wife, Full Tilt Poker, and the stoner chick who works at Starbucks who constantly fucks up their order.

Most of the time, I let the reckless gambler drive the bus. It's more fun that way. More trouble. More excitement. "I didn't come to Vegas to fold!" is my favorite expression. The Reckless gambler fights his way out of the San Juan whorehouse and escapes without a scratch. The reckless gambler brazenly books any prop bet that passes by. Life is incredibly boring and mundane unless you wager on the everyday banalities. Try it next time. You can gamble on anything as long as you have that desire inside you that wants to swallow the red pill. The dangerous part is that once you cross the line and dive into the abyss... you pass over to the other side... it's impossible to go back. Sort of like flying first class or having sex without a condom. That's why you hear those sad stories about guys like Archie Karas or MC Hammer who had millions then lost it. They couldn't never downshift into low gear. That's my fundamental problem. I only have one gearshift... balls to the fuckin' wall.... as the lyrics goes, "the high gear of my soul."

The confident warrior is Clint Eastwood is all of his spaghetti westerns and the Dirty Harry movies. He's an angry muthafucker looking for trouble because he knows know no one can stop him. And if he dies, so fuckin' what. We live in a godless chaotic universe and all die a miserable death. Why not now? Any day is a good day to die. Let's not go down like a bunch of pansy pussies! Durrrr and Ivey are modern day samurais and gunslingers averse to shy away from battle. They are willing to perish at any time which makes them dangerous... and wealthy men.

There's actually a fourth poker personality, but I didn't mention it because technically that's not an active participant, for the fraidy cat sits on the sidelines shivering in fear and drenched in his own urine. Unable to make any decisions, they freeze up. Most of us fall into that category when we're severely scarred from an demoralizing experience whether it's online poker, dating strippers, or dabbling in commercial real estate.

* * * * *

Poker is just one of those mental pursuits where even the best in the world can turn to jelly in seconds. I've seen it happen in real life to pros, to my friends, and to myself. When you begin to slide into the depths of tilt... it's all over.

There's probably thirteen different kinds of tilt and at one time I've fallen into all categories. And like most things relating to poker, you can substitute general life or something else in there (instead of poker tilt, you have work tilt or relationship tilt or travel tilt). Here are three of those categories...
The Subtle Downfall: You can subtitle this Digging Your Own Grave. This doesn't happens instantly, rather it incubates over a complete session. Maybe you take a beat early on and that's all it takes to become infected. It slowly comes on and you eventually piss away your chips because you were unable to recognize that you were tilting and unable to make adjustments on the fly. Profitable players plug leaks in real time instead of waiting to analyze your sessions with computer programs and friends.

Head First into The Abyss: You know a few of these folks who go from being normal to full blown tilt in a half of a second. Mike Matusow is a perfect example of this form of tilt. The littlest thing sets them off and... wham! One moment they are calm and cool and in control, and one suckout or bad beat shoves them off the edge. These people are equally dangerous in bars, and around sharp objects and psychedelics. These are people who don't want to cut off on a Los Angeles freeway because they might pull a Glock on you. However, if you can handle a charging rhinoceros, then you can profit immensely off a player who can implode on a single hand. Usually, they tilt off their chips within an orbit so you better act fast.

Never Get Out of This Maze: This is probably the worst category of tilt to overcome because you know you're tilting but unable to get the fuck out. You're stuck, lost, and trapped. There's an exit point, somewhere out there, but you're having difficulty getting around because you run into a dead end at every corner. This is the type of tilt that doesn't happen in one night, rather it happens over a period of weeks and months. I know a few pros who will tell you this paragraph accurately explains their current losing streak. At this moment, a buddy of mine is texting me.... "Bro, you just describe my marriage."

* * * * *

Bobby Jones is the "Alan Watts meets Yoda" for his era. Maybe those sportswriters were gratuitously throwing around Bobby Jones' quote because after all it makes perfect sense and aptly describes everyone's everyday struggle on that "five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears."


  1. mama9136:20 AM

    <span>love that post again !

  2. one of your best posts in a while, nice job

  3. Have to disagree with you on your assessment of Tiger. He is a great golfer, but he is a massive asshat. His cussing and throwing clubs on the course is not a self-deprecating coaching session, it is Tiger being an egotistical, 8 year old crybaby. The guy has been cussing and throwing clubs for years and finally the golf writers called him on it. Even Jim Nantz finally found his sack and called him out on it. You don't see Mickelson, VJ, Love III, Freddie, Arnie, and others act like that. They respect the game and the gallery. Tiger doesn't have any respect for anything.

  4. SirFWALGMan11:25 AM

    That's me bro.

  5. fuggin great post of the best in a while....

  6. T.Murph5:09 PM

    great post, wonderin how many others pick up on those phish references...

  7. Pauly6:23 PM

    You the man, Murph!

  8. pokeracademy6:49 PM

    Brillaint post Pauly! Would it be OK if I used part of it with my students? I will of course attach a link and credit you with the writing. TY in advance, Stuart

  9. Derek9:25 PM

    good stuff.

  10. Wonderful as just about always, but the non-Tiger part is an all-time classic..

    And when one stops and realizes that the 5 1/2 inch space is the only thing that truly IS you, that's when the import of the piece truly hits you.. 

  11. Short-Stacked Shamus9:15 AM

    Gambling is illegal at Bushwood.

  12. Your "Confident Warrior" description made me think of this Blues Traveler song -

  13. Great article on the mental part of life and poker by the way.