Zen and the Art of Blackberry Poker

 

A couple of years ago, I attended a poker night for professional women – an educational, networking and team-building event sponsored by a friend’s law firm.  The event was based on the theory that poker teaches essential business skills that can be difficult for women to master – such as reading the competition, being aggressive and learning how to take risk at the appropriate time.  We were given poker lessons by a leading professional woman poker player, received a stack of chips, and played rounds of poker for fun.

 

As an attorney, I consider myself to be a tough negotiator who is good at reading a competitive situation. That night, I bet small, folded often, and lost all my chips fairly early in the evening.  I had neither the stamina nor the interest to keep playing round after round until there was a final winner.  But I refused to believe this was due to some innate deficiency I had as a woman.  I chalked it up to an abundance of good wine and good sushi, and a complete lack of knowledge about poker.

 

Still, the idea that most women are not naturally aggressive, calculated risk-takers stuck with me.  So when I saw that my new Blackberry came with a Texas Hold ‘Em game, I was determined to test out the theory and prove it wrong.

 

The first few games were meaningless – I lost money while I familiarized myself once again with the basic rules of poker, learning the hard way that a flush beats a straight, a high straight beats a low one.  Once I got that down, it wasn’t too hard to figure out, at the margins, when to hold and when to fold. 

 

When to bet and how much to bet, was a bigger challenge.  Frequently, I would find myself with great cards, but the courage to bet only a small amount.  I was constantly afraid of losing all my money, although it wasn’t real money.  Sometimes, my ego would trap me into staying in the game, even when I knew I had no chance of winning.

 

Unconsciously, I found myself replaying patterns that played themselves out in my life as well.  Lacking the courage to take bigger risks, staying in a bad situation because I was already in it. . . . I played round after round, losing it all over and over again, with increased frustration because I just couldn’t seem to figure it out.

 

My daughter showed no interest in my new poker fascination, but my son took to it instantly.  He watched me play a couple of hands and then offered some advice.

 

“Mom, what you should do, is bet a lot of money sometimes, to scare them off.”

 

My son is 7.  He had never played poker before seeing my Blackberry game. But his instincts was dead-on.  I was amazed that he seemed to have an intuitive sense of the game, and knew what I needed to do to prevail.

 

The gender theories were being proven right in front of me.  My son had suggested that I bluff, make aggressive moves and take risks as strategies to succeed.  I hadn’t even attempted to bluff.  I strictly played the cards, and lost hand after hand, round after round.  My son got bored watching me and went back to playing his Nintendo DS games, where he could be much more of a risk-taker than his Mom was willing to be.

 

I learned that the poker instructor really had been right – the cards were not the end point; they were the starting point to figuring out what you needed to do.  The cards merely informed your decision.  Each time, you had to take a chance that either your cards would either beat everyone else’s cards, or your betting would intimidate people with better cards into making unwise choices, like folding instead of holding.  Sometimes, a perfectly rational decision resulted in a loss; other times, a riskier decision resulted in a huge win. The subtleties of when to stay in the game and when to get out were a lot tougher to master than the broad strokes of understanding that three of a kind beats two pairs.

 

Finally, I had a breakthrough.  I was in a battle, with $14,000 to my virtual opponent’s $2,500.  I had a hand that I knew should be a winner, but I nearly convinced myself to fold.  I worried that I would be down by a substantial amount if I lost — despite the fact that I would still enjoy a huge advantage over my virtual opponent.  And yes, I actually worried about this – to the point I had to shut down the game and walk away from it for a couple of hours.

  

I told myself I was being ridiculous.  I kept reminding myself it wasn’t real money.  It was a stupid Blackberry game.  In real life, I would be no poorer either way (except for the time lost spent playing Blackberry poker). 

 

I had to close my eyes to place the bet.  When I opened them, I discovered I had won.  The game told me I needed to go to a higher stakes table.  I felt as if I had actually won nearly $20,000.

 

I am hardly a poker master now, but I am now sitting on a bankroll of $32,000 virtual dollars.  I draw it down in $500 increments, and I use the game to practice bluffing and taking calculated risks.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but I take none of it personally. 

 

I don’t think I would be able to stomach playing poker with real money – I would wind up thinking of each pot lost in terms of my kids’ college fund.  But learning not to be afraid to take calculated risks, and to keep on trying if I lose, are important real-life lessons.  If a silly Blackberry game can improve my ability to do both, it will have been well worth my time.

 

A version of this post was originally published on NYC Moms Blog.

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One Response to “Zen and the Art of Blackberry Poker”

  1. tori Says:

    awesome story! truely amazing!

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