Polar Opposites of Poker

Face Down Ass Up

One of the delights – and indeed horrors – of social media is the way in which people you’ve never had any particular interest in or moments of pop culture that you’d rather wish you’d not witnessed, are nonetheless thrust forcefully into your consciousness. The sensation being even more visceral when accompanied by a photo like the one above. For this gem from the world of Dan Bilzerian popped up in my timeline with the accompanying tag…

Face Down Ass Up

How very charming.

I couldn’t help contrasting this with a pic sent out recently by the man of the moment, Martin Jacobson…

jacob mount

This had been  tweeted in the days before his triumphant win and in one fell swoop not only sums up his winning philosophy but also – if I may add my own subjective critique of the photo  – invites us to see through his eyes the world that he sees. We are encouraged to take his perspective and become one with a landscape broad and wide, everything in its natural place. A glorious vista open to opportunity yet not there to be dominated or used wilfully. Rather, we are inspired to simply ‘be’. To sit and humbly ponder, to be at peace and in perfect harmony with the environment. To meditate on the natural wonder all around us. He – and in turn we – are at one for a sacred moment with a universe that stretches out before us.

And not an ass – of any sort – in sight.

For this photo, Martin attached the following tagline –

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Now naturally I am aware that it’s arguably not fair to compare what are clearly two very different individuals. Poker – like any other major activity – does not by any means demand a homogenous identity from its players. Also I recognise that Bilzerian is to some extent a self-created parody of the party animal. A manufactured image that is as much about branding as any other aspirational product (depending of course on whether it’s actually something you aspire to in the first place). And judging by the gushing tributes that his photos usually invite, clearly it is an image that appeals to a huge constituency of both men and women. Although admittedly the most fervent words of support seem to come from the sort of young men for whom this hi-octane brand of testosterone soaked bling is utterly intoxicating.

You only have to look at the faces of adoration and envy to see what an object of desire Bilzerian and this imagined life is for those who grasp – quite literally in this particular moment – after him. The posing, the posturing, the stylised pornography of an enhanced vision of hyper masculinity – it’s all there in the midst of the whoops of admiration and clamour. Read the retweeted messages and you will find a litany of devotion tagged with all the #booty #banter #yolo ‘s etc that a stud could ever hope for. All ending with of course the requisite #NoHomo. What I call the ‘methinks-ye-doth-protest-too-much’ hashtag…

I know though that it’s dangerous to harp on too much about role models and examples. Poker will continue to attract its fair share of dubious characters as will any sport that offers the huge payouts and all the requisite glamorous lifestyle choices that comes with that. And our game has always had its ‘dark side’ which famously Daniel Colman has been particularly keen on highlighting in recent times. But for those of us who believe very strongly that poker’s positive benefits – both to the individual and society in general – can potentially vastly outweigh the negative, it is not surprising that we would want to celebrate and laud those who embody what we regard to be the best examples of those beneficial attributes.

One of the things that I love about poker is how very mixed up its demographic is in reality. On the one hand, there’s the ultra masculine aggressive player of the popular imagination. A modern descendant of the sharp shooting (sometimes literally) cardshark of old demonstrated by the language and imagery we use to describe our game. But that is obviously not the full picture. Poker is also a game in which the geeks have truly triumphed and where the maths wizard can reign supreme. A world in which the nerds really are the cool kids to be admired for their success and ability at the table.

And it’s  perhaps good to add the slightly superficial note that although Jacobson may have the face of a Soho hipster, he has the toned body of a muscle Adonis. This is no weedy geek who will ever have his lunch money stolen by the classroom jock. His dedication to attaining a high level of physical fitness and strength is as pronounced as his commitment to his poker training. So it could be argued that he is in himself the physical embodiment of those contradictions that poker posits.

In recent years especially we have seen more of a push to accept poker for the physically demanding game that it can be  and recognise that the sort of health regime that players like Eugene Katchalov and ElkY – and now Jacobson –  have been espousing for a while is arguably as important to success as all the other more obvious forms of poker training.

But it’s the way in which Martin takes that goal of self-development and improvement even further, into the realms of emotional, psychological and spiritual maturity which I think offers such a positive message for other players. It’s the assertion that to be a good poker player doesn’t mean – to put it crudely – you have to be a thuggish asshole. You only have to watch the charm, class and composed manner with which a man like Jacobson plays poker to see that there are other routes to the summit. And it goes without saying, that there lies very much an alternative to the Bilzerian path.

Yet, in the end, we must accept that in the ‘house of poker’ there are many rooms prepared for all of us and there are many social and cultural tribes that gather under its banner. There is space for all of us. So we are of course free to pick whoever we want as our guide for that path ahead;  and for many, Dan Bilzerian offers a vision of a lifestyle that is the stuff of poker dreams:  a land of bottomless drinks, endless laughter and perpetually pert booty where your aces are never cracked and pleasure is always on tap.

And perhaps in this world of free choice and unlimited opportunities, that is as valid a dream as any other. Although if an impressionable young – or for that matter old! – player asked me which I thought was the better role model to emulate, I suspect my answer would be pretty clear. At least, I know which one is less likely to put a person on the path to ruin if not at least to rehab.

There’s an old Buddhist saying that the three great curses of life are fame, beauty and wealth  because of the troubles that human beings often end up with when trying to handle such ‘blessings’ in a healthy way. And clearly both Messrs Jacobson and Bilzerian possess all three attributes in spades. But I think of the two, I know which one I would put my money on being truly up to that task…