“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
– Randy Pausch
“Life, like poker has an element of risk. It shouldn’t be avoided, it should be faced.”
– Edward Norton
April 7, 2019
Poker is not only an intriguing game, but it can be breathtaking as well.
Just like life, poker offers a wide array of emotions that whip you through a roller coaster faster than you can keep up. The main emotion, in my contention, that most run of the mill poker players employ is that of fear. Having been the staple image of this player myself, I am now (in hindsight) able to share many of the things that I didn’t see at the time which prevented me from growing faster that I could have as a player. Overcoming fear in poker took time, but for that to take place, I had to jump into the deep end – into the realm of sharks.
Playing with players of superior skills is always a learning experience (or should be!), if players take the time to learn the gems of wisdom available. If not, it’s merely a waste of time in my opinion, unless you are a recreational player, and even then, they like to learn. In that deep end where sharks swim, where monsters creep, some of the most heart-rending and gut-wrenching circumstances can take place.
These circumstances will test your will power, your poise, your perseverance, your faith in yourself, your mindset, you gall, and every other emotion you can think of. The faster you become immune to all negative emotions, the faster you will grow as a player. In these respects, life is no different.
Holding even an ounce of fear is like holding a snowball that at any point can begin rolling down a hill and turn into a damn avalanche before you know it. Just like an avalanche can start from the smallest of snowballs, absolute recklessness and devastation can plague the player if they are not wary and of an incredibly sharp and precise mindset. Overcoming this fear changed my life and allowed me to go from a small-stakes player at the time, to a mid-stakes player. For a cursory glance of how that took place, a few interconnected stories follow that helped me overcome some of my most pressing issues concerning fear et al.
‘Back in the day’, would be an appropriate opening, making money in poker was much easier than it is now. The skill level required was far less, and the profits that could be made per hand, per hour, were kind of out-of-control. That said, high-skill level players have always been around, it’s just that the fields of players were much larger, there was way more fish than in the last few years, and quite a few more whales. In that sense, the game has evolved with time. With the rise of the internet, personal coaches, online coaching skill, poker programs that help analyze your game, and other factors, have all contributed to making poker a more analytical game than hitherto considered.
In the last few years, if you didn’t evolve as a player, you weren’t just going to lose given the considerable increase of skillful players, and the player pool as a whole, you were going to get downright eviscerated. To that end, ‘sink or swim’ would be an incredibly precise adage. And in the deep end, monsters lie; monsters that will crush you without a second thought; players that will rip your heart out and feed it to your children. It’s all part of the game, though, and you really can’t take it personal. That would be an egregious mistake.
When you are on the table, though there might be friends, everyone that plays in that ring of fire is to be treated as the antithesis of your being. One of these players, one of these whales, was named YL08.
But unlike most whales, YL wasn’t just a whale that wouldn’t fight back, he was Moby Dick, the great white whale, capable of destroying you by the very nature of their being. I say ‘their’ because we did not know whether this player was a man or woman. It doesn’t matter though, they were a poker player, and in poker, men and women can be just equally skilled; the only reason women do not get more notoriety is because, like many other games, poker is a male dominated game due simply to sheer numbers. There are incredible women that play the game though, such as Annie Duke, Liv Boeree, Annette Obrestad, who was in fact rising through the ranks at a incredible rate back in those days, Vanessa Selbst, Jennifer Harmon, and many more.
That said, YL wasn’t just a player. Players come and go, like the wind. YL was an experience. This person came out of nowhere and embedded himself into the midstakes of poker, on the website Full Tilt, and became widely known, even though that person fit the definition of a ‘whale’. Their imagination was off the scale. Nothing was off the table. At any time, anywhere, for any reason, YL would do anything. And in a game where players love predictability, he was the antithesis of that. YL had an imagination that was so off the scale, the closest person one could probably compare him to was Durrrr, who was a high stakes player of the same type of mindset.
Tom Dwan (Durrrr), as well as Phil Ivey, Patrick Antonious, the owner of Cirque Du Soleil (yes, the owner), all played the highest stakes at the time, which was between a $50,000 and $100,000 buy in. That game was out of control. There were many half-a-million pots, and a few million-dollar pots during those times.
For us peons playing for chump change in comparison, a smaller version of what was taking place. We down on the bottom of the totem pole were playing for $200-Buy Ins in this particular game. Talk about orders of magnitude! Even so, just because the buy-ins were $200, didn’t mean a lot of money wasn’t on the line. Those were the biggest midstakes games I ever played, which is why I had to evolve incredibly quickly or I was going to become a statistic, merely another person that took a shot and fell by the wayside.
In fact, the games YL was involved in, were so intense, with so much money moving, that it wasn’t uncommon for there to be hundreds of people in line just to take a shot. For comparison, the average $200NL might have had a handful of people in line, maybe. Now for the kicker: when YL sat down, he sat down for a long, long, long time, sometimes a day and a half if my memory serves me right. But YL sitting down didn’t mean anything unless he had a bankroll, and that he had in spades.
By the time the game was in full swing, with many hours logged, It wasn’t uncommon for there to be $5,000 to $10,000 on the table between everyone, with the lion’s share usually between 2-3 big stacks, YL at times being one of them. That was in fact very common. At times, the amount of money was closer to $10,000-$20,000 on the table, depending on how many people player with large bankrolls played besides YL.
The story doesn’t start with me, ironically, it begins with my roommate, which was also playing poker for a living at the time. He was the superior player at the time, being a notch or two ahead of me. The only thing I had on him was my ability to spot whales from a mile away. We both balanced each other out in that sense. I learned an incredible amount about poker from him and I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for him having helped me out and so on. Now for the story.
My roommate was the first one to sit with YL, and to make a long story short, he won somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 that night. The second time he played I don’t recall how it went though. I believe he won another $1,000 or so, maybe more. Most of his sessions were wins though. He just had the luck of the draw and sat down with YL the first two times. Each of us would be checking constantly searching for YL’s screen name, given that YL was the walking definition of a lottery machine, and when he paid out, he paid out big. Life changing big. The next couple of times I found YL first, I took a crack at YL, and I really wasn’t ready for what happened.
Like Dorothy, I felt like I was swept up by a tornado from the instance I sat down at those tables. Not only did I have to contend with facing YL, which was like facing Darth Vader on steroids, but also with whoever else sat down, usually being a shark. Those games had lots of sharks. The amount of aggression I faced was unprecedented, and for a timid player who was playing way too tight trying to make the right play when in fact I was making the wrong play, it left a lot to be desired. That first game I lost $500. The game after that, I adapted slightly, but still, it was a loss.
The losses weren’t the relevant part here, it was my play – my mindset. My mindset was that of something akin to a newborn shark that hadn’t swam with other sharks, and although shark in mind, wasn’t shark at heart, not until you become a predator yourself. And for that, you need to begin becoming a shark. That, or just become a statistic. And there was no way on earth that I was going to do that. Come hell or high water, I was going to stick it through no matter what came. That’s when everything changed.
My roommate took the time to point out many of the flaws I showed in those first two games, which I thought were big at the time, but were in fact INCREDIBLE MASSIVE. They were so glaring in hindsight, that I wish I would have changed my mindset quicker. It wasn’t that I wasn’t bankrolled at the time, I was. I had already been playing for a couple of years and was doing well. The issue was that it was like entering another dimension. It’s like waking up, expecting to see the sun outside, and before you know it, you’re seeing dragons. Dragons everywhere. And they’re lighting everting on fire. You want to wake up, but you can’t, you’re stuck. The only way to get through, the only way to survive, is to begin slaying dragons, and fast, or get burned to a crisp while running like a coward.
Realizing this, my evolution came around in drastic fashion. In life, like in poker, nothing changes you like being pinned against the wall with no other options but to change. That type of mindset shift changes everything. It’s downright priceless. It turns you from feeling like a snowman in a blast furnace, to feeling like you are piloting your own veritable death star. At that point, everything changes, life changes. Even if poker is done, you as a person change.
Life offers very similar circumstances, but of varying flavors. Each of those flavors is a circumstance which will test us, sometimes repeatedly, until we change, shift, or adapt. And each of those options contains a lesson, or quite a few.
Irrespective of that, some lessons are best learned slowly; and some lessons, like putting your hand on a stove, must be learned on the spot. And nothing burns more incredibly than getting your ego pulverized, like mine did during those early games. Thankfully, I was able to evolve as a player, as a person, and began winning at a win rate that was unprecedented in many ways. Though admittedly, I was incredibly selective as well, as I always was, except I didn’t mind swimming with sharks.
And like Captain Ahab, I, like others, found my great white whale.
But unlike Captain Ahab, I wasn’t going to let the great white whale, Moby Dick, destroy me. Because my mindset wouldn’t allow me, not anymore. And YL went on to destroy many players, absolutely wiping out countless bankrolls during his reign. It was the stuff of legends.
But the best part about it?
When you change as an individual, when you change deep down inside in ways you never thought possible, your perspective changes, your mindset evolves, your life changes, forever.
And there’s just no price you can put on the freedom, and the range that such a shift in mentality, such a shift in mindset gives you. I consider myself fortunate and grateful for even having the opportunity. Half a century ago, such opportunities did not exist. Now, opportunities in poker and in life, litter the landscape like candy on Halloween, all there for the taking.
Just as one door closes, another door opens. The beauty in life is that life always provides opportunities, and in those opportunities, you the individual can change, or you can remain stagnant; you can push yourself to the limits of your imagination and beyond, or you can remain comfortable; you can sink, or you can swim.
And when you open your own doors, whatever doors those may be, and begin slaying dragons left and right, begin chopping up sharks into fillet, not only will your mindset change, but your whole being. In fact, you will no longer have to worry about sharks. You will not have to worry about anything.
Instead, the sharks will have to worry about you.
Believe it or not, this is the short elevator version of this overarching story, if you can believe that. It could probably easily be 10 times longer and still barely scratch the surface. There are just too many elements to make note of, too many games that were played, and circumstances that were fluid to account for all of them in their totality. My aim in this write up was about striking a balance with all elements considered. I realize this story is a bit verbose, but I wanted it to cover as much as possible, without going too overboard, though I feel in a sense that perhaps I did. Context is everything, and I wanted to make sure the context was there to add depth to how certain circumstances can maybe seem insurmountable, and yet, never be so, as long as you don’t give up and your mindset holds on, no matter how hard it may be.
I’m not going to pretend that all circumstances in life are the same, they are not, not even close. But there’s usually possibilities to be explored, though sometimes it takes incredible outside-of-the-box type of thinking. Or better, a there-is-no-box type of mindset.
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About The Author:
Zy Marquiez is an avid book reviewer, inquirer, an open-minded skeptic, yogi, and freelance writer who aims at empowering individuals while also studying and regularly mirroring subjects like Consciousness, Education, Creativity, The Individual, Ancient History & Ancient Civilizations, Forbidden Archaeology, Big Pharma, Alternative Health, Space, Geoengineering, Social Engineering, Propaganda, and much more.