HOLLY MIRANDA SMALE

Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.







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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Poker face.

Last night I played Poker for the first time, and - as two of us were absolute beginners (but I can play Snap like a Goddess, just so you know) - at the beginning it was all a bit confusing.
"Why are you tapping on the table?" we asked a friend who seemed to know what she was doing.
"I'm holding."
"What for?"
"To see how the cards play out."
"What will they play out to?"
"I don't know."
"Do you have a good hand?"
"I don't know."
"Right," we said, because it was obviously all ridiculous. And then, a few minutes later - without having any more idea of what kind of hand she might have - our friend piled three blue chips in.
"I'm raising it," she explained rather dramatically.
"To what?"
"To a thousand." (Or something like that; I was judging by colours.)
"But you don't know what everyone else has got!"
"I don't care."
The other players groaned.
"We've only just seen the flop," they muttered.
"Has she got a strong hand?" we whispered to the others.
"Might do," one explained, slightly crossly. "Or she might be bluffing. Or she might think she does, but it's not actually as good as it could be, in which case we either risk assuming that our hands are better and invest more money, bail out now and save our money or hold and see what happens."
My friend and I both shrugged at each other, made faces that meant this is clearly a game for drunks and idiots, decided that we were - as it happened - drunks and idiots, and handed our money over, even though not one word of any of it made the blindest bit of sense and we really just wanted to play Snakes and Ladders or I Have Never.

It continued making no sense for the majority of the evening. Just when I thought I had got the hang of it, I got it all wrong and lost everything again. In the end I gave up because I was tired and couldn't be bothered any more, and just piled in everything I had with nothing useful in my hand at all.
"I don't think that was a very good idea," the girl who knew what she was doing said as I pushed 1,000 yen worth of plastic into the middle of the table and stood up.
"I don't give a crap," I said, yawning; "I need a cigarette and my butt is dead."

As I was outside, stretching my bum and killing my lungs, I pondered the ridiculous game I'd just been playing and realised with a jolt that - far from being the "biggest pile of shit I had ever come across" (this is what I called it when I lost half of my winnings in one hand) - Poker is probably the single most important game in the entire world. It's life, condensed into an evening and played around a table. And I was bad at both of them.

What I realised is this; poker is part luck, yes - you can only do what you can with what you've been given - but it's more than that. The difference between a good poker player and a bad poker player is that - no matter what is in their hand - a good poker player knows when to risk everything, when to give up and cut their losses, when to move on before they lose more, when to keep giving and keep their fingers crossed, when to hold and see what happens. They know when to accept that their hand just sucked and bow out gracefully, and when to trust in their instincts and bravely stand behind their cards. They know when to play, and when to sit it out. And, most importantly, a good poker player knows that no matter how good they are at playing poker, and no matter how great their strategy is, or even their hand, fate might just come along and take all their chips with one wrong card, or give somebody else a better one. And so a good player knows that they can never relax, but at the same time they have to remain calm: that they always have to keep playing, and they always have to keep trying, and they always have to keep making difficult decisions even when they won't know the outcome until it's too late. Because the game doesn't stop, and somebody who has nothing one minute can have everything the next. And somebody who has everything can end up with nothing. And there isn't a lot you can do about it but try and stay in the game.

There are so many disadvantages to getting older; I can't even kneel down anymore without my knees cracking (I blame my hip hop class, incidentally; they hip popped their way right out of their sockets). But - just as everything has its yin and its yang, its light and its shadows - so age brings with it something amazing too; it brings with it experience to help us play the game of life better. Because what are we living, if it isn't just a huge game of poker? What are our tragedies and our hopes and our dreams and our failures if they aren't a series of lessons that teach us when to stick, when to raise, when to leave, when to give everything; a series of lessons that ultimately teach us that everything - every single thing we do - is a combination of luck in the hand we were dealt, and in the choices that we make with those cards?

I was not very good at poker last night, and I have never been very good at life either. I hold on for too long when I shouldn't; I keep throwing everything in when I know, deep down, that I've already lost; I lose my nerve and withdraw when I could have won it all. And - worst of all - I always think that the next hand might be a better one. I always look at the cards that life has dealt me and think: the next ones might be cards I can be brave with. It's only after the game has played out I realise that I had a better hand than I thought I did. And it's too late, because I've already lost it.

If age is bringing with it noisy knee joints, it is also bringing with it the rules of poker. Nichinan - the quietness, the sea, the solitude - is a hand that I know I would have thrown away five years ago; traded in for the possibility, or hope, of something better or more exciting. But it isn't five years ago, and in that time - five years of hurts and disappointments and successes and confusion and achievements and loves and losses - I am beginning to work out when to stick, and when to walk away before I've played everything I have (and - even more importantly - who to walk away from). I am beginning to learn how to play the game.

I went back into the room, last night, and I bought myself back a handful of chips. I decided to keep trying, despite being so incredibly tired (and my butt still being dead).

I didn't win, but it didn't matter. All that really mattered to me last night - and all that matters to me this morning - was that the cards in my hand had finally started to make some kind of sense.