The art of the bluff: Suffering in silence

I read a facebook post a few months ago written by an extremely successful Oregon based poker professional.

I’d seen this player playing in Oregon before. He was noticeable for one reason: blonde hair. This kind of sticks out on a poker table. Blondey stuck out because he was a Blonde poker player.

After reading the facebook post I realised I’d not only seen him playing before, I’d played with him before. I’d once played on the same table as Blondey in a poker tournament. He sat in seat one, next to the dealer, and I sat in seat seven, opposite him, facing each other on a slight angle.

I remember Blondey striking me as an opponent not to be reckoned with. Extremely gifted as a player. He conducted himself in a professional manner. A controlled player with a stone gaze. Not offering the slightest hint of disposition. A poker face to be envious of. He possessed command over the table, and knew exactly how to play his cards. I don’t recall if we played in any hands against one another. Most likely, I was trying to avoid such an encounter.

The thing about poker, especially for a sensitive fucker such as myself, is that talking to your opponents is out of the question – you are there to take their chips, and they are there to take yours. Making a human connection with another player poses significant risk to one’s own chances of winning. Certainly, for me, if I was ever to take a liking to an opponent, I’d be far less keen on taking their chips. It is not in one’s best interests to befriend the enemy.

Many people won’t understand this, but poker is very similar to life. Many of us, without even realising it are playing in our own versions of poker games against one another. Some of us, competing rather than co-operating. Participants in games of psychological warfare. Our society is built upon these principles. It got me to thinking about what a difficult way to live this is. And a stupid way too.

I wonder, now no longer a professional, if Blondey and I sat at a table together, would I talk to him? What would I say?

I guess it’s too late now. The facebook post wasn’t written by Blondey. It was written by a friend, paying respect to a young professional poker player from Oregon who recently took his own life. Paying respects to Blondey.

How bad must things have gotten for him to do such a thing? The suffering must’ve been immense. I’ve suffered too, though I would be lying if I said to you I’ve ever been this low. This is not to say that I do not understand how such a thing could happen. Putting on the brave face to the external, when your internal world is crumbling. I’ve been there. Suffering in silence.

I’ve now lived life as a professional suit wearer and a professional poker player and the parallels I’ve drawn between the two are startling. This Western society we’ve constructed upon the overarching principle of “competition is good” is threatening to rip us apart from the inside out. Why are we incapable of seeing this? Can we not see we aren’t here to compete with each other? Can we not see we are here to help each other?

Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.” – Andre Agassi

Take to a tennis court with Andre and he could beat you with one hand behind his back, but he knows that’s not why he is here; he knows that proves nothing.

Sit down at a poker table with me, and I could bluff you all day and you’d be none the wiser. But, I must ask, what does this achieve? You lose. And, because you have not called my bluff, so do I.

Perhaps Blondey was waiting, hoping, for someone to call his bluff?

I didn’t. His poker face was, quite simply, too good.

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