Play YOUR Hand

“You’re a great mother,” he said as he gazed at my cluttered, dirty apartment, insinuating that he could see something which even I could not. Until then, I thought the fact that I even attempt to be a good mother to my pets was hidden behind my mess. “I don’t know about that,” was all I recall saying in response. I’ve spent years arguing off and on with friends and strangers about whether or not I will ever be a mother. Never have I ever thought to fight for the fact that I am already a mother to one perky little box turtle and one adorable tabby cat. I wasn’t sure if he was being sincere or just trying to flatter me and I didn’t care. I had been given a new perspective. To win in poker, you must play the hand differently than what your opponents expect… and perhaps my life is the same.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, although I do utilize my nurturing instincts primarily on myself, my career, and my pets, I have always tried to make time to utilize them in more traditional manners as well – babysitting friends’ children, offering advice to friends, etc. I didn’t plan to be single and childless at 40. It’s simply the hand I was dealt. Shortly thereafter, I was reminded of some of the benefits of being single and childless. I found myself with a decent excuse to visit the Chumash poker room for the first time in four months and only the second time in more than a year. I was scheduled for a catering shift not far away from the casino and asked to pick up an extra shift the following night at the restaurant (which could somewhat justify the cost). I couldn’t truly afford to play, but decided the risk was worth it. I would either leave richer in cash or life lessons. So be it.

I only brought $40 that night – the absolute bare minimum for the cash table – putting myself at a disadvantage from the start. Luck would have to help me double or triple my stack just to put me even with the 60% of the table that was buying in for the $100 maximum and give me a true fighting chance of going home a winner. Skills can only do so much with $40 when the blinds are $1 and $2. You might get to pay the bare minimum (or a little more) to see the flop and suddenly find yourself with a great hand… but if you don’t win each hand you play at the beginning, your stack will soon be too small to scare away any opponents (even if you go all-in)… and the more opponents you have, the lower your chance of winning any given hand.

I only saw three hands through to the river that night. First, I got slow rolled by the old timer and lost about 1/4th of my stack in a de ja vu experience which I immediately began attempting to erase from my memory. Shortly thereafter, I decided to defend my blind with eight-five off-suit to a straddle bet… either because I wanted to play differently than I normally play or because I was on tilt. I got lucky that hand and landed a gut shot straight draw on the river, winning a pot big enough to put me back above even. After that, I limped into a few hands that went nowhere, folded even more, and then… I found myself under the gun with pocket sevens. The betting went as I hoped. I called $2 along with four others before the big blind (the old timer) raised to $5. I then pushed all in with my remaining $30 knowing that all the others would call his silly $3 raise (but would likely fold to my re-raise) and I’d have far better odds of winning the pot if I could face only one of them. I got my wish and ended up head’s up with the old timer. He held ace king off-suit, giving me a 55% chance to win before the flop. Unfortunately for me, he quickly landed a pair of Kings, my hand never improved, and that was all it took to crush my dreams for the night.

I couldn’t help but notice that the one “big” hand I won was when I boldly played the underdog. Eight-five off-suit is what some might call a terrible hand. It’s not one that I would normally play, even when I’m in the blinds. Rarely have I folded it and wished I hadn’t after seeing the flop. While I’m not the type to only play the premium hands – AA, KK, QQ, AK, etc. – I may not have not been quite as brave as I might have liked to believe I whenever I’d played with similar starting hands in the past… because I believed them to be less than great. However, that night, I played that underdog hand just because I felt like it and bet on my gut shot straight draw just because I wanted to… and I won. The sass behind my actions that hand was akin to a mother’s, “because I said so,” and the determination I feel to become a full-time writer and artist, despite the odds against it.

Perhaps my problem isn’t the fact that I’m playing an underdog hand, but rather the fact that I was playing it while wishing I held better cards. Perhaps the only real difference between a winning and losing hand is the player’s perspective… and I can live my life wishing it looked like a pair of pocket Aces, or I can proudly explain why I love playing my underdog hand more… and stop expecting most to understand based on my words and stay focused on showing them the value of the hand I’m playing through my actions. Perhaps one day it will be clear to all that my life could mimic a Robert Frost poem:

Two hands were dealt on the felt, and I —

I played the hand ranked far less high,

And that has made all the difference.

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