I was paid an amazing compliment yesterday at the office. Edward, who used to be my board chair and now owns and runs a game cafe called Queen and Rook (shameless plug—check them out!), suggested I should learn poker because:
you would make a great poker player.
I don’t know why I thought this was so flattering except to be told I might be great at anything.
…except, if I were told I would make a great accountant because I can estimate ratios faster than most (I call it “wrong division”), I would not be so flattered,
…except if I can guess ratios to within a percentage point using spatial reasoning rather than algebra, then it stands to reason I might be a good poker player.
I told Edward I was more interested in joining a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and he said I could absolutely do that too, but that I should learn poker.
I love the confidence with which specialists make recommendations.
I think of a good poker player as someone who can conceal their feelings effortlessly. I equated that skill with lying, until recently, which isn’t far from the truth (pun intended). But I am terrible at hiding my feelings, so I’d be a terrible poker player. I am terrible at hiding my feelings because I don’t think there is a point to hiding my particular feelings. Like if I were a pompous misanthrope with problematic politics I would benefit from discretion, but I think the worst thing that can happen after I divulge my feelings is that you feel sorry for me.
So what might make me a good poker player? Like if I wanted to become a good player, what would I have to train in me to get there?
I return to thinking about my ability to rapidly assume ratios and gauge risk. I think also about how I rationalize risk, and how little I care about minor damage. Cars are meant to be dinged, clothes are meant to tear, words are meant to be fumbled. Like, I’ve been in a couple gnarly bike accidents, which briefly scared me off my bike, and now I bike like a grandma. But having survived the accidents, I now don’t fear bike accident injuries. So what I mangled my leg. What’s a bad hand of cards to lose? Spades and clovers and whoever a Jack is? Who cares?
Shortly after this conversation with Edward, I got in my car to head home. I turn on the ignition, the radio was on WHY, and literally, these were the first words that came out of the speaker:
Annie Duke was about to win two million dollars. It was 2004 and she was at the final hand of the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions.
I was gobsmacked, to hear of a woman named Annie winning the Poker olympics and two million dollars despite the odds, right after Edward suggested I give poker a go. [What I’d caught was a 2015 episode of Hidden Brain on NPR with Shankar Vedantam, about Stereotype Threat and Stereotype Tax. (Link to Episode)]
Now, I’ve talked recently here about the unbelievable amount of coincidence and convergence in my life. It’s been enough that I’ve talked to my therapist about it without any compunction. I usually avoid highlighting so much coincidence because it sounds like hokum and I don’t want anyone to think I’m actually so superstitious. But I dunno, guys. The universe does feel like it’s leading me somewhere. My therapist said that the universe might just be my inner self wanting/needing me to look at something closer. This does indeed make more sense. Still. One day I’ll tell you the convergence and you can tell me if it was my brain or karma.
Anyway, what a fucking phenomenal phrase to learn: Stereotype Tax. It’s like two things we hate, smashed together to be awesome. Like the opposite of mac n cheese ice cream.
In the context of this story about Annie Duke succeeding in a male-dominated poker world, stereotype tax referred to her “making her opponents pay for the stereotypes they held about women.” I suppose it would be like if I took advantage of the fact that I’m smoking hot to get free beer. Just kidding I mean it would be more like if I took advantage of the assumption I know what I’m doing, to get away with doing nothing. I work my ass off around the clock to make everything look effortless, and I don’t hate being ascribed beginner’s luck or the occasional “vision” (I mean talk about hokum, amiright?)
It occurs to me, suddenly. What if I might be a good poker player for THE absolute number one worst reason one could ever play cards? Because I believe so fervently in convergence and coincidence and the meaning behind events in the universe unveiling with such precise timing, and lead us all toward destiny?
What if I think I am lucky?
This would be less like my nihilism (e.g. bicycle accidents aren’t that bad the way I bike), and more like my belief that since I have been in several near-death accidents already, I believe I am exempt from any more. More wrong division.
If I believe I am lucky and nihilistic enough to play poker well, what is it that my mind is trying to tell me?