When alone at the grocery store, I often finish up by grabbing a bottle of wine for my wife Kay, as I did on this trip. The bottle I selected met the required specifications as to type of wine and price. If it were up to me, I’d base my choice on the label. I don’t drink wine, but I’ve spent a lot of time in wine aisles and wine stores while Kay shops, and I must say, for a non-imbiber, I know a cool looking 750 milliliter bottle when I see one.
The bottle I had chosen for Kay today was utterly ordinary. The classic font, the cautious colors. At ten paces from the wine aisle, in sight of the registers, I suddenly wanted a do-over. I parked my cart, picked up the boring bottle, walked it back to its shelf, and that’s when I spotted it, about twenty bottles to my right. I was drawn at first to the colors and shapes. And then, when I got close enough to read the text, I had a rapture moment. Check it out…
One thing that sucks about living here in paradise is that the heart of puddle season is only a few months long. The rest of the year there are no surprises as you walk around gazing at the ground. For example, you would never see a car about to get rear-ended by a redwood.
The bumper stickers say:
Well-behaved women never make history
Peace also takes courage
On my walk there are rocks available. Not a lot. You kind of have to know where to look. Many times I have picked up one, two, or three rocks and thrown them at trees. I know this seems like a mean way to treat a tree, to throw rocks at it. Not to mention all the tiny and very tiny organisms making a living on or in the tree whose lives would never be the same after the day the meteor hit.
My selfish calculation puts my awareness above theirs, and concludes that the increase in my happiness that comes from throwing a rock that hits its target is more than the decrease in theirs, so it’s okay.
This rationalization creates a fountain from which can spring a jolt of joy when something like what happened yesterday happens. I picked up one rock. I threw it really hard at the strike zone of a tree. I nailed the exact spot I was aiming at — THUNK! — and then, nothing. No more movement. No more sound. Wha???
At that moment I felt like I would never need to throw another rock. To those organisms who gave their lives that I might have that feeling, thank you.
“Didn’t you just win a bracelet?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“You won the $1,000 buy-in NLHE event, right?”
“Yep, I did. Someone had to.”
We got the joke. He was referring to the huge player pool in the 1K event − 3000 entrants − brought on by the relatively small buy-in. And he was humbly implying that luck played a big part in his win. The “We” who got the joke was me and eight other poker players sitting around a poker table playing poker. Is there a better state of existence on earth? Not for we.
The player in seat five, who had hardly spoken for an hour, then said something hilarious. But before I tell you what he said, let me do some splaining…
The word “makeup” in the tournament world is used to describe the accumulated losses in a staking arrangement in which past buyins must be recouped before profits are split. A typical tournament backing deal might be outlined as “50/50 with makeup.” What this means is that the backer − an investor who puts up the money for the backee’s buyins − agrees to split 50% of the backee’s tournament profits, but only after previous buyins have been recouped. The amount that needs to be recouped is makeup.
For example, if you and I have a “50/50 with makeup” arrangement, and you back me in three $1,000 tournaments, and I don’t make the money in any of them, then our partnership now has a $3,000 “makeup figure.” If, in the fourth tournament, I win, say, $10,000, then $4,000 gets paid to you, to make up for the $4,000 you already invested, and we would split the remaining $6,000.
Next, a word about bankroll…
It’s all about zeros. If you have too many zeros between the amount you have, and the amount you play for, then the stakes become insignificant, relative to your bankroll. For example, if your bankroll is $1,000, you probably would not want to play for pennies.
Now back to the table.
The game we were playing was $5-10 no-limit hold’em. It wasn’t a tournament. It was a regular old poker game, where you put your money on the table and you quit when you please. Yesterday, the player in seat one won $464,464 in a tournament. And today he was playing $5-10. That’s like having a $1,000 bankroll and playing for fractions of pennies per bet. The sheer irrationality of this imbalance created an instant mystery.
The player in seat seven asked the bracelet winner the obvious question:
“So why are you playing $5-10?”
And that’s when the player in seat five quickly quipped:
“He must have had a shitload of makeup.”
I was sitting there playing $5-10 no-limit hold’em for about the 10th time this WSOP, and for the first time I was really happy. I thought I had been happy before, but it was just a delusion. I couldn’t really be happy because I was lugging around a piece of mental luggage that had been holding me down, and back, and hostage. As these things go, it was only after I was set free that I realized I had been imprisoned.
It was the climate. You’d think that a place with a name like “Rio” would tend to play on that theme and provide a climate that in some way reminded one of the tropical concept.
Not so. The climate in the cash game area at the Rio − and by climate I am talking basic stuff like temperature and wind speed − is more arctic than equatorial.
So when I went back home between my WSOP visits, I returned prepared. I left my sandals at home this second trip, and I brought my scarf.
The reason this picture was taken was that I was feeling so warm and safe, I just knew I had to look awesome. I’ve seen thousands of pictures of poker players playing poker, but never one of me. When I saw my Bay Area friend Eric walking by, I jumped up and handed him my iphone and asked him to capture the contentment.
Eric really outdid himself. He took the picture right at one of the most exciting moments of the hand, when I look at my cards, using nothing but the thumb and two fingers of one hand. I always knew I had awesome technique. I didn’t realize it was so photogenic. I think I should start making movies of me folding and stuff.
This morning at the World Series of Poker I had breakfast with a professional poker player. Before Black Friday, all of her income came from poker, and almost all of that came from playing online. After Black Friday, her income streams changed. During the last year, 80% of her income came from playing live poker, and 20% came from the part-time job she took on as a backup plan.
She told me about what she likes about her job. She likes the people she works with. She likes the work because it does some good for the world. And she likes the safety net feeling − however small − that a steady paycheck provides. Thing is, she’d never had a paycheck before. She didn’t know what it was like to make money without risking losing money. She captured this sentiment quite nicely, and enthusiastically, when she said, “I’ll tell you what I really like about my job. It’s like guaranteed money!”
I want to tell you about a brief exchange I overheard last night while playing $5-10 no-limit hold’em at the World Series of Poker. The player on my right was chatting with the masseuse who had just finished massaging him.
MASSEUSE: “How is your session going?”
Now, before I tell you what the player said that excited me enough to want to write about it, let me tell you a little about him and his ilk.
I had been playing with him for hours, watching him, and listening to his words. He was, based on my read, a professional poker player, classically trained in the ways of thinking and perceiving of things like time and money in that special way that only poker players do. To that mind, data is just data. To that mind, common concepts such as “winning” and “losing” are pointless judgments. To that mind, there is no profitable reason to think in those terms, so it doesn’t.
When the masseuse asked, “How is your session going?” the professional poker player paused in thought, and then, in a matter-of-fact tone, he replied, “Below average.”
It’s not so much a trick as it is a mind-blowing phenomenon. It you’ve ever gone camping with me, you’ve probably already seen it. Basically you put water in a paper plate or paper bowl — it has to be the kind made of actual paper — and you put that over a fire, and then you stand there stupefied because this is what you see…
What you just saw was bowling water with little black flakes of burned paper plate jostling around in it. Any paper that is not touched by water burns away, and the remaining paper just sits there, totally intact, right in the middle of the flames, holding its water. The water boils, gradually reducing the amount of water, and that allows the flames to eventually have their way with the whole plate. And then come the flaming marshmallows!