Poker goes Pop! (B Side)

And as promised – threatened?! – the album has been flipped and the needle is about to be laid down on Side B….

6. Write down your ideas I have a stack of note cards sitting by my piano. The bottom half is blank and the top half has song ideas: titles, lines that rhyme, a staff with a guitar riff on it and so on. When I work with someone I’ll draw on these and it starts something. I made most of my solo album with the help of the cards, often beginning with something I might have written years earlier.

Well, I guess considering the medium that I am writing this blog in, this tip is pretty self evident. All of us who tap out our thoughts online or elsewhere are trying to follow this advice. Many is the time that my daily timeline brings me the most amazing tales of poker mastery which leave recreational players like myself openmouthed with admiration. Some will detail deep thinking and strategic thinking that proves that this game is truly one of the great intellectual pursuits of humanity. Others share their trials and tribulations, bad beats and downswings. And yes, they definitely have their place too!

But whatever the content, there’s always something here that will inspire, amuse, stimulate or help someone out there. And dare I say it, if you’ve managed to stick with me this far, I hope that in some tiny way, I can manage to share something worthwhile in the midst of my witterings smile

So let this be an impetus to anyone who feels like writing down their thoughts or ideas but for whatever reason has felt reluctance – there has never been a better time than now! As a well known sports manufacturer shouts at you on every piece of merchandise….Just do it!

7. Study the greats, get it wrong, go on your own journey For a while I would try to be inspired by songs I listened to obsessively, but what came out was completely different. That’s because the good thing about someone is the thing that’s impossible to replicate. So you end up doing your own thing, almost by mistake. I can never be as good as Duke Ellington, but I’ll get closer to it if I study his best work.

Sometimes I like to imagine my fantasy time machine transporting me back to the original golden age of poker’s emergence as the great American game. Wandering the dusty roads of the Wild West, hanging out with the likes of Poker Alice in Deadwood or white suited sharks on Mississippi riverboats. OK, there’s limits to that fantasy especially when I consider the absence of flushing toilets not to mention Wild Bill Hickok’s tendency to shove a gun in an opponent’s face if he didn’t get the cards he wanted. But still, imagine hanging out with our poker forefathers?

But just like the musical greats that Dan Wilson references, we are blessed in the fact that we have access to the wealth of knowledge that all the greats of poker history have left to us. And yet, we must ultimately call upon that knowledge while doing our own thing. Because in the end, we are the ones sitting at the table not Doyle, not Amarillo, not Sklansky. The buck – or more to the point, the chip – stops with us. And although we can have our heroes and role models, we have to walk the lonely path alone. Yes, we will fall and make huge mistakes and take massive diversions. But with the map provided by those heroes in hand, we can chart our own unique course. And as the Duke would agree, create our own Jazz riffs that suit our natural playing style.

Or as my mate Gav would say, it’s no use playing the drums if you have the lips for a trumpet. Which even if that doesn’t apply to your poker, it’s damn good advice if anyone ever asks you to join a jazz band smile

8. Don’t do it for the money Some kind of universal force has decreed that every time I’ve demanded upfront payment from a label, it’s been a bad experience. You have to take it on trust that a session will produce that piece of magic that will pay off somehow one day. This is a disastrous way to make money because so few songs do become hits, so you have to do it because you love it. It’s the only way.

Now I suspect that this tip is probably the one most likely to have you go ‘huh?’ Or other colourful expressions to that effect….

So yeah, am I mad for even including this one? The whole point of poker is surely to do it for the money, no? As it’s often been said, it’s a game of money played with cards not a game of cards played with money. Right?

Well yes, of course. I’d be a weird player if I suggested that winning money is not a major goal if not the only reason for playing. But I still come back to that perhaps idealistic belief that we play poker because we love this game. And that there are many pleasures that come from it which are not always related to the money. But hey, it certainly helps wink

For what is at the core of all the advice and strategy that is given throughout every teaching resource? The insistent belief that we are not results oriented. That it is all about the correct course of action in a given situation. That if the decisions taken are valid then it does not matter what the outcome was. That EV will out. And that it’s all about doing the right thing regardless of what happens afterwards.

And there is surely pleasure to be derived from that? From knowing that we have obeyed the laws of mathematics, probability and logic. That we have followed a perfect strategy and plan. There is a pristine beauty in that…even if we have to find it in the midst of the horrors of a bad beat. I can’t be the only one who looks back over a session and even if I’m down, be happy in the knowledge that I could not have done any differently and remained true to all that I have learnt.

So yes, I recognise that this advice may seem counter intuitive. Especially to those of you who are striving to make a living from poker and for whom as professionals, the advice “don’t do it for the money” might contradict the rather more pressing need to pay this month’s bills. But even if it’s your working life, I would still argue that there’s much value to be found in making sure that you never stop loving the game. As the old chestnut goes – “Do a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life”.

With that in mind, as much as you can, try not to lose sight of what it is about this game that first captivated you. And hopefully that’s not just the sound of all those chips scooped up. Although as I say, it certainly helps.

Which reminds me, there’s a wonderful concept in Judaism called lishmah – which means doing something just for the sake and pleasure of doing it. Not worrying about the results or whether you can get anything out of it. Just do it because you love doing it. And with that openminded and almost innocent attitude, all sorts of new discoveries can be made along the way.

9. Nobody said it was easy . . . Occasionally I console myself that any artistic thing I love was a huge process. There’s no great album, novel or film I love that was easy to make, even if they seem like they were, just like a great footballer makes it look easy. It’s the same with songs.

And do we need to be reminded that nobody said it would be easy? Didn’t that first book or intro article we ever read say that this is a game that can be learned in a few hours but will take a lifetime to master? But be honest – deep down, didn’t you think that maybe, just maybe that wouldn’t apply to you? That maybe it would all come easily. That you would be different. That you would take to this game in an instant and that all would come easily? Actually what am I saying?! Maybe you were different and judging by some of the stratospheric graphs I see online, clearly for some it was that easy path.

Well, that’s as maybe. But I know I am not the only one for whom it has not all been easy sailing. And nor does it continue to be. It’s a hard struggle at times and it’s taken a while for me to recognise that yes, they weren’t lying. At least not to me they weren’t! It’s not easy and nor is it going to be. It requires lots of work, striving, studying, playing and thinking. And I still need to remind myself of this fact especially when things are going just a little bit too smoothly and that poker demon voice says inside, “Hey Charlie, you shark you! You’re getting the hang of this at last!” And with that, oh what penance does ensue!

And how the poker gods like to punish such hubris!! If only to remind us that good things may come to those who wait but you have to work hard for them first. And let’s face it, the best things in life are always those riches that are only attained after great struggle. For nobody ever treasures the easy win. The best victories are those that come after much blood and toil. Just please don’t stain the cards while you’re at it…

10. . . . but it is easy when you’ve got it right The build-up to writing a song can be difficult. Finding something you care enough to write about is complex, you can find and lose your inspiration from one year to another. But funnily enough when you are in the moment, when you are at your best, it sails by. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ahhh that journey to Poker Nirvana! The mountains and valleys that we walk through in the quest to find our A game and be in the zone. For when the cards are running just right and position is perfect and the fish are swimming merrily and the chips just seem to flow effortlessly in the right direction towards us – doesn’t it feel amazing? Isn’t that the Promised Land that we all yearn for? It is after all the reason why we love this game so much. OK, those highs cannot be there all the time and sometimes their memory is an all too distant thing. But even when it’s just a faint recollection of a glorious upswing, it’s always enough to keep us coming back for more. For it really IS a beautiful thing. And we must never lose sight of that beauty.

OK, as always that was something of a quest! And again, as always I apologise for the long winded journey. But if you managed to get this far, I hope at least that Dan Wilson’s thoughts will resonate in some way or other. Whether that be in terms of your poker or just wherever your life may be leading you at this time.

So with the lyrics of an upbeat pop song ringing in your ears, may your poker always be top of the charts!