Vail Daily column: All aces
January 29, 2016
I was fortunate it was only a $20 buy-in. The hold ’em crew I was playing with were a hodgepodge group of seasoned professionals, most who had been around the game for most of their careers. We sat around the worn card table focusing mostly on the drinks and the company. As I was the only truly inexperienced player there, I was disproportionately mocked for using tequila to mix my mojito. Laughs rolled around the table as each of us took shots back and forth, and I watched the hands of some of the men grasping at the ghosts of the cigarettes that they could no longer smoke inside.
The cards go out and conversation instantly stops for a few seconds.
Pocket twos. Being third from the dealer, I paid to play and raised aggressively. A few fold. The gentleman dealing the cards that night stays in, takes a good long look at me, and sees the bet. The flop. Nothing for me … but it's too late now. I raise again. He matches again. The turn. Nothing. Raise again. Matched again. The river. Nothing. Up again and matched. I lose to a higher pair.
"How did you know to see it through," I asked, smiling.
"I didn't. I was just willing to lose to know."
Risk and reward. One of the only truths I knew. His win was not unlike just about any success I had ever had in our little world. I've always been willing to lose so that I could know.
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It seems to me people are playing this game of life a little too conservatively these days. They hand out these nice safe hands with benefits and 401(k)s and try to convince us that you can win the game. There seem to be a strangely high number of fives and sixes in everyone's hands. I've spent most of the past five years hunting for the aces, but I'm realizing more than ever that they can be tough to find and identify even when you stumble across them.
I'm not saying that life is like cards, and I'm perfectly aware that this isn't a $20 game. It is pretty crazy though, as I reflect over the past years, how only a few people were the ones that made the biggest difference in my business and my life. Just a few aces at the right time.
The way I was raised, I was always taught that you never screw around with the bad hands. If the cards aren't in your favor, fold and move on. What I'm learning more and more though is that if you are patient, you can turn those cards into aces. The hand they dealt you — I'm here to tell you it doesn't matter. You can cultivate your own hand.
You see, when you play like all the aces are coming your way, pretty soon they start to show up. I've attracted a few aces over my lifetime, but before it happened, I realized I had to play the game differently. It's a very simple truth: In order to bring the aces to you, you have to be an ace to someone else.
When you start playing the game like you are the only ace out there, you actually get the chance to be the ace. Of course, for consistency, you must actually become an ace — you can't fake it. The simple act of deciding that you are the ace in the hole helps you to become the person that you need to be. Over time, as you become the ace, the other aces start showing up to strengthen your own personal hand.
Then one day, you'll have your shot to sit at the no limit tables. The cards will come out, and you can just sit back and smile. You've spent years stacking that little deck. All the cards in your hand, for every hand, are aces. Long-term relationships with the people that have been playing like aces long before you ever showed up — they're all ready to play.
When that day comes, you'll have to decide what the endgame should be. When you know that you can't lose, what should your win look like? You can get selfish and disappear into the gray masses lost to history, or you can decide to play the game at a table that truly matters to you. Whatever table you choose to win at, just make sure you play the game in a way to teach the other players how to win. You might just be sitting across from a young banker who is still trying to play his pocket twos.
Benjamin A. Gochberg was once a banker. He now lives full time. He can be reached for business, questions, or comments at email@example.com or 801-725-7344.
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