Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The company you keep

“You're the average of the five people spend the most time with” is a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn. The idea is that the people you surround yourself with set your personal agenda to a large degree: what you think about, believe, learn and do. Whether you buy into this rather glib philosophy or not, most of us would concede that the people we choose to surround ourselves with are a large factor in our own fortunes.

In poker, the relevance of this is often interpreted to be that our closest poker friends have the most influence on our games. Birds of a feather flock together, or in poker terms fish tend to school together while sharks hunt in packs. How often do you see a close knit group of poker friends all kick on when one member of the group starts to be successful?

There is, however, another context in which the company you choose to keep is crucial in poker: in particular the players you hang with on poker trips. There’s nothing particularly unique or unusual about live poker trips: they’re basically like any other high pressure work trip where you may be forced to socialize with colleagues you’d never choose to hang with if you didn’t work together. The combination of forced social interaction and a high pressure high stress work situation is a volatile cocktail: you can’t really just let loose and vent your frustrations at everyone who irritates you when you have to go back to the office and see them every day (or in poker terms, keep running into them at future events). You have to learn to smile and disengage, to be diplomatic, and to choose very carefully the people you spend the most time with. Tournament poker is particularly stressful and fraught with irritability: the nature of variance is that you and most of your friends will be getting their dreams crushed on a daily basis. In those circumstances you have to avoid the temptation to kick the dog, and rely on your friends not to see you as the dog they get to kick when it’s down.

You might ask what’s the big deal here: just hang with the people you know you get on with. But here’s the rub: there’s a huge difference between the people you can interact with on a daily basis with online and think are gas crack on a night out with once in a blue moon, and the people you can actually not get annoyed with or annoy when you’re in each other’s faces every day around poker tables, or worse yet, sharing accommodation with. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure every Vegas trip I’ve ever been on has seen at least one close friendship break down irretrievably in the desert. In this, we should perhaps look to the much smarter mind of a Frenchman, Jean Paul Sartre, when he pointed out “Hell is other people”.

This year I spent five weeks in the desert, longer than any of my friends, so my Vegas was split between different social groups and living mates. I spent the first half of the trip in the Big Brokos house, the poker equivalent of a Buddhist monastery where the monks are all from places like Wisconsin where good neighbors greet each other from the porch but don’t transgress property or personal boundaries. By contrast, the second half of the trip (with Lappin) was the equivalent of sharing a prison cell with a hilariously demented brilliant yet oddly respectful madman. It often seems to me that people look at Lappin and see the entertaining loudmouth but miss the teddy bear who is unusually sensitive and generous to the needs of those around him.

For the first ten days or so before Lappin arrived, I spent more time with Andy Hills and his wonderful girlfriend Georgi than anyone else. A few years ago at a Unibet stop in London, I spent a few days sharing a room in the Hilton with Andy. I didn’t really know him that well at the time, so there was some risk we wouldn’t hit it off, but luckily we did, at least once I plucked up the courage to tell him to keep the hand histories he told me to under the hour mark. We got on so well that we found ourselves having those heart to heart discussions men rarely have. I enjoyed Andy’s infectious enthusiasm for the game we are devoting this portion of our lives to, and his gratitude that he got to make a living from something he loved. Andy is a lot older than most people realize (I was certainly surprised) and had not only lived an interesting life before poker but as a highly intelligent and analytical mind has many fascinating reflections on his life experiences. He communicated overall contentment with his life save for one nagging regret: the lack of a significant other. I remember coming out of London hoping that somewhere somehow Andy would find someone with a very strong tolerance of interminable hand histories.

I told Andy this story when we had breakfast before he went off to play his first WSOP FT. It was my way of saying no matter what happens today, you’ve won in life. To make sure he understood I put it in poker terms. The poker analogy I used is that we all have friends who even if we don’t think are great at poker and we fear for their long term prospects in the game, we still root hard for them, and then when we hear they won a Daily Deepstack or some other small buyin event, we are genuinely thrilled for them. However, I pointed out, Andy had done considerably better in the love department, since Georgi is not only beautiful and intelligent but also sophisticated cultured and understanding with the patience of a saint. He hadn’t won the equivalent of a Daily Deepstack, he’d basically gone and binked the WSOP main event.

Andy fought a game fight on the final table but will have to wait another year for a bracelet. It was a fun rail with the kind of motley unique eccentrics you’d expect Andy to assemble for support. As he departed, I heard Georgi tell him that the thing she most wanted to do before they left for the airport was to watch the replay of the final table. Hashtag blessed.

There were other highlights on the social front. Another motley crew assembled one night around Luke Vrabel, the man who won poker Twitter this summer, in a sushi place off the strip. The company included Lappin, his friend from his Connecticut day’s Soheb, Luke’s wonderfully sweet girlfriend and Jen Shahade who very gamely came straight from busting the main to get showered like in person by Luke.

There was also another fun night when we walked Jen over from her day 1 to the Palms stalked by our wealthy but homeless looking friend Jan Suchanek (shoutout to Jan for also making a final table). Jan started the night looking homeless on the walk, and ended it shouting “Lowlifes” at us from the back seat of a car whisking him off to his luxury suite on the strip as we walked back to our box room in the Gold Coast.

Special shoutout too to Maria Konnikova, who berated me the entire speed walk from the Rio to the Gold Coast the second time we went to dinner for having the audacity to play the last hand before we went on break thereby keeping her waiting. The thing about being berated by a writer as talented as Maria is that it won’t be any old normal sub meh berating: you’re guaranteed fresh perspective and unique turns of phrase as to exactly what type of asshole you are that will live in your memory long after the sweet platitudes of others have faded and died.

I actually got seated directly beside Maria on the bubble of my first flight of the Closer, and she took incredible delight in not only knocking me out but bubbling me, as these photos prove*.

*(Ok, these photos were actually taken a few minutes before she bubbled me)

Other shoutouts to people who helped elevate my summer this year to the endlessly charismatic Jennifer Tilly (who gamely posed for photos with “the book”), friends who shall remain nameless who mercilessly trolled the vendors at the book stand asking why they weren’t selling “the book”, Aseefo who kept me company on my birthday, Jack Hardcastle whose larger than life personality is always fun to be around, Elena Stover who forgave me for walking her over to Ping Pang Pong on a rushed dinner break, Lara for an entertainingly scatty cameo appearance at the end (she literally arrived as most people were leaving), Jack Sinclair for not killing me with his reckless driving skills, the ex Unibet duo of Simon Steedman and Rauno who I was thrilled to catch up with, Brenna Warren for her always interesting stories from the table and perspectives, Breyer for his can do bonhomie, Simon Deadman for not only letting us send a box of books to his house but lugging them into the Rio for us, all the wonderful media people (KevMath, Willie Shilly, Shirley, Benjo, Robbie, Chad, Alee, Tomas and the incomparable Christian), Katie Swift who even when as ill as she was at my Millions table is always a cheery good natured loud presence, Andy Black for his consistent ability to make me laugh, Danny for tipping me off to American rec tendencies, Iany for his endless optimism and good nature, David Paredes who I found fascinating company at one of the Konnikova dinners, Ryan Laplante and his crew who we also shared sushi with, Kevin Killeen who it was great to hang out with again after all this time, and to Gerard Hall, Colin Gartshore and everyone else who bought a book and had kind words to share.

It seems appropriate though to end with a Lappin story, from the satellite in which I won my main event seat. The rest of the rail had already departed for the night when it became clear I was already locked up, and railing the slow end of a satellite when your friend is already locked up is as dull as affairs get, so Lappin did what Lappin does when he’s bored and wants to liven things up. He started a fight, or rather a verbal altercation. His chosen sparring partner on this occasion was the TD who he decided to debate on one particular rule. The TD proved less than enthralled, and deferred the matter to security. At one point I looked around to see Lappin surrounded by three uniformed security personnel.

“Please sir, you have to calm down”
“I am perfectly calm, I can assure you. And I resent your implication that I am in any way or manner emotionally destabilized: nothing could be further from the truth. I was merely engaging in an intellectual debate with a member of staff on a procedural matter”.

His position was supported, quite literally, by one of those special chairs therapists use to massage you in the poker room. It’s hard to insist that someone needs to calm down when that person is the calmest looking person in the entire room, stretched out on a massage chair.

My neighbour looked over, laughed, and asked
“Will this be on the podcast?”
“Only if he gets thrown out”

He didn’t, probably because he sounded like a litigious lawyer and confused them with big words, so the story probably won’t make the Chip Race, but has made this blog.



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