Life Is Like Poker, And Vice Versa

A lovely young woman from, I believe, somewhere in Illinois, suggested that I ought to do something nice for myself on Sunday. So I did, because I hate disappointing lovely young women.

This is only a little bit about poker.

I played some poker as my nice something for myself. I started on my new favorite site playing NLHE (No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em) and my opponents were very very nice to me. They just kept showering me in poker chips. 🙂 The first table closed down as they straggled away one by one to share their largess with others, or perhaps because they felt they’d shared enough with me. So I went to a second table where the same happened, and a third, also the same. It being late on Sunday night and that one being not the most popular poker site on the internetzesses there were no fish left in the pond after the third table shut down, so I moved on.

I then went to the most popular poker site on the internetzesses and played some Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). I greatly prefer PLO because it’s a far more interesting and challenging game. NLHE doesn’t hold my interest for long, but I can play PLO for hours without getting bored. My PLO opponents were also very kind. I bought in for 2,000 phony chips and left with something like 6,400 equally phony chips not much later. One of the really neat things about PLO is how many there are who play it badly. It looks like an easily understood game, like NLHE but with four hole cards. Play it like NLHE and a good player is going to collect your tuition payments.

One of the things I like about poker, especially PLO, is that it’s a game of mistakes. It’s kinda like life in that way: It doesn’t matter at all how much you win if you can’t keep it. In life you get a lot of latitude in which to move, and it doesn’t really matter so much whether or not you always do the most optimal thing as long as you avoid making expensive mistakes. I’ve watched people sink their life savings into starting their own businesses only to end up starting over again as wage slaves.

The office supply store here in Dinkytown recently closed, and I don’t think we’re going to get another. One evening last week, Amethyst and I got to talk to the wife of the couple who bought the store a few years ago — they’re moving to the Front Range because the husband landed a job there. I thought but didn’t ask, “Why did you think the place was for sale in the first place?”. I did ask, “Joining the sixty percent, huh?”. That’s about the percentage of new small businesses that fail within their first five years. The look on her face indicated that she didn’t know that. As we’re looking to crank up a business to get Amethyst off of the wage slave treadmill, and have been discussing all things business, I thought I’d illustrate for her sake. When the woman started talking about the challenges they faced and the fact that they couldn’t afford to maintain a broad inventory, I threw some coal into the firebox of her train of thought. “Hey, man, you’re the one shopping online and at the big box stores!”. Off she went. Her customers wanted her to have a broader inventory, lower prices, and so on, but they only shopped there when they needed some little thing right now and didn’t want to leave town to get it or wait for delivery of an online order. They could only sell a television or a computer by putting it on sale for less than they paid for it. And so on. What did those people expect? Charity? That they should maintain a big inventory for those times when someone wasn’t going to Grand Junction?

Bingo. The previous owners opened that store in the late 70’s. There was no internet. There were no big-box office supply stores. All of those things ate into their bottom line when they came along, but they held on. Then the energy boom hit Dinkytown and several local businessmen became greedy bastards and jacked up their prices to take advantage of the mostly Texican oil field trash. That motivated locals to drive down the mountain to the chain supermarkets and big box stores. Even though the office supply store’s prices didn’t go up, and their selection didn’t go down, they were now competing with the big box office supply stores a hundred miles away just because people were driving right past them. So in grand Dinkytown fashion they put the store on the market and waited for a sucker.

How that fits into the ongoing discussion that Amethyst and I are having: When your business fails it’s because you don’t know how to think about business. There’s no other reason. If you want to do a retail thing, then you have to find an adequate retail space with the right amenities in a suitable location at a price the business can afford to pay. You have to have some advantage over your competitors, which means good vendors with wholesale prices that will enable you to make your margins. If you can’t find that space or those vendors, then your plan cannot succeed and you abandon it. Or you pursue it and put your life savings into the landlord’s pocket, then later blame the greedy landlord, the bad location, the missing amenities, and the customers who wouldn’t show up. It’s not my fault that my plan with no chance of succeeding failed!

The poker version: I’d be a winning player if I could just catch some good cards. The dealer hates me.

Another grand Dinkytown business failure: We used to have two grocers. The folks who owned the bigger, newer, cleaner, brighter store owned several businesses here in town. They were doing pretty well in the grocery business and decided they wanted a second store to expand their empire. They did all of the homework they thought necessary, went to the bank for a loan, and after putting up every damn thing they owned as collateral, bought the land and built the store. In a town the same size as Dinkytown where there were already two grocers in operation. I told the guy when he showed me his cool new blueprints, right before the land was bought, that I thought it foolish to open a third store in a town so small, and he told me that he’d hired a consultant who’d assured him that his plan would succeed. “Any consultant who wouldn’t tell you that”, I said, “hasn’t been and isn’t going to be in business for long”. He asked why I had such low regard for consultants. It’s because I am one, though of course it’s not all I do because I’m lousy at it. I tell people the truth.

Sometimes the freaky longhair who works at the liquor store isn’t just a freaky longhair who works at a liquor store. 😀

Now that empire building grocery guy works for wages, and his bigger, newer, cleaner, brighter store here in Dinkytown belongs to the other guy who used to own the smaller, older, dirtier, darker store. He got the newer store at a great price from the bank. Paid cash for it. He tore his old store down and put a hotel in its place. It’s directly across the highway from where the guy who lost his ass works. That guy? He blames the bank. I was in court one day while a portion of his suit against the bank was held. He lost that, too.

One of my favorite plays in Pot Limit Omaha is cracking naked Aces. Players who’ve recently come from NLHE will often make that mistake. They see two Aces in their hole cards and get all kinds of stupid frisky. When I see those telegraphed signals and have the right hand for it, I go gunning for those naked Aces with great relish. I once had a dedicated forum topic on a poker discussion web site called [My Screen Name]’s Corner that came about because I so often posted my Ace cracking exploits. It wasn’t long before professional players who’d always habitually shied away from telegraphed “Aces here!” were having fun and making money cracking Aces. There are several ways to go about it, and if you can find yourself in the right position for it it’s a very profitable play.

So the new kid comes to town with his shiny new store that’s significantly larger than any that already exist. He figures, “Hey, it works for Wal-Mart”. Aces, baby! That new store wasn’t in operation but a few months and the over-commitment cost them everything except their house and one car. Those other two grocers? Still there. They didn’t have crushing debt to service, so they could trim their margins a bit to undersell the empire builder, keep their customers, and drive him out. Cracked Aces, baby.

My father started a business in 1976 with a damn fine idea. First of its kind, and it has since been copied all over the country. Aces, baby! Pretty lucky for a stupid bastard, eh? He bought all of the tools, equipment, and supplies, then brought in a few of my barely legally adult cousins to run it for him. They had no qualifications for the jobs he gave them, but when the business failed he blamed them for it. For his own stupid hiring decisions. Ever since, every time he saw what would have been one of his competitors, he bitched about my “god damned worthless” cousins. Hey, man, you’re the one hired ’em. Blame yourself. Those Aces would have held up but you played them weakly and folded the hand under pressure.

Yes indeed, poker and life have a lot in common. I think I’ll have to play some more and see what I might learn from it.



9 thoughts on “Life Is Like Poker, And Vice Versa

  1. girlforgetful

    Maybe that’s my problem – I didn’t take enough interest in poker to learn how to play well. Bah, maybe in the next life.

  2. sunsetdragon

    Yes poker and life d have a lot in common and we win an loose and just keep trucking.
    This economically depressed timber tow I live outside of, has more closed down, boarded up stores here than it does businesses open and running.
    Many home son every block, abandoned to the banks, board up and decaying.
    Walmart moved in and everything went to hell. Downtown business people complain it is all Walmarts fault and the people who shop there.
    Well when I can get a loaf of bread at walmart for $1 and it is $5 downtown you can bet your butt I am going to walmart.
    This area is now mainly made up of retirees and we have to count our pennys to.
    So I say they put themselves out of business with their high prices.
    Oh well that is my rant for the day.

  3. theinfiniterally

    I think it would be really interesting (and quite an honor) to watch you play poker. Not that I play myself. (The missus decided a long time ago that if I was going to win the games she taught me, she wasn’t going to play anymore.)

    1. happierheathen Post author

      We’ll have to find a way to set that up. You’d have to install a client for the online cardroom and set up an account, but it’s free and you don’t have to give up a credit card unless you decide you want to throw some money on the table. That’s a bit of a risky proposition even if you’re a winning player — ain’t no tellin’ when the DOJ is going to do a repeat of Black Friday.

      Once you’re signed up we just need to find a way to tell you when and where I’ll be, and you can then railbird to your heart’s content. Or, on the play money tables you could just jump right in and play along. That might be less boring than just hanging around watching me fold over and over and over, which is what I do best.

      If you’d like, I can hang out a one-time email address and we can set things up that way.

      1. theinfiniterally

        See, now I was thinking back to the good old days when I used to hang over the shoulder of an older brother or cousin and watch them give a computer game what for. I will shamefully admit that your proposed way sends my anxiety levels skyrocketing (what if I do it wrong? what if heathen dude thinks (or finds out, rather) that I’m a total idiot? what if I accidentally transfer the contents of my savings account to an Ethiopian prince?), but I suppose it could also work and requires a lot less travel and imposition. Thanks for the invite, I definitely want to try to make it happen!

        1. happierheathen Post author

          Well, hell, if you make it to Colorado we can do that. In the meantime, though, the play money online games are pretty handy. Unless you make a deposit, they won’t have any information that could be used to empty your bank account. And I wouldn’t be thinking that you’re an idiot no matter your poker skill level — you’re not an idiot.

          I guess we need to figure a time when it’s likely that you’ll get around to WordPress not long after I drop a one-time email address so that one time doesn’t go to some random other person or spam harvester. I usually crawl out of bed between noon and 2PM and am up until at least 3AM (Mountain Time), and am not often too far from the office, so just say when with enough notice that I have an opportunity to let you know if I won’t be around.

          1. theinfiniterally

            That sounds terrific. My babysitter went to train for a different job this week, so this one is pretty much shot to shit, but when and if she comes back, I ought to be able to make something happen in your time-frame. Thanks, man!

            1. happierheathen Post author

              We should do that. Murphy’s Law demands it of me, in fact. I’ll lose my ass clean off with someone sweating me, but that’s a challenge I need to master and if you’re a willing volunteer I’d be stupid not to accept that challenge. You’d be doing me a great service — if I can’t explain my reasoning to a dispassionate observer then my reasoning is unsound and I’m therefor a losing poker player. Fuckin’ Aaaayyyy.

              I hope the babysitter chick returns. 🙂


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