It Depends…

When that  fateful moment comes when we all go to the great poker room in the sky, they could do worse than inscribe on our tombstones this epitaph – “It Depends”. Because let’s face it, poker players seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in life giving it as a reply to every question so we might as well spend eternity mulling over it too…

It’s definitely an answer that you can’t miss whether you watch training videos, read textbooks or forum posts. And as I’ve been trying to upscale my study levels recently – hence my blog neglect of late! –  many is the time during my evening sessions that I spot these classic words. But I was watching last night a video that James ‘Splitsuit’ Sweeney did for the Red Chip Poker site (shout out to all my wonderful fellow Red Chippers!) in which he put a slightly different spin on the traditional ‘It Depends’ mentality.

I have a a particular fondness for James and his famously dulcet tones. As anyone who has used PokerTracker will know, his is the voice of all its various in-program help videos. And as I acquired PT4 almost as soon as I started learning poker, he has been for me right from the start, quite literally the voice of wisdom. It’s not quite divine tones booming from a burning bush but close enough 🙂

So I was watching his video from the RCP July Archives in which he talks about the aforementioned much loved ‘It Depends’ while in relation to “Always” and “Never” and how those three answers form a sort of structure which can help us as we analyse and study our play. Obviously he explains it a lot better than I can but basically he suggests a lens through which we should examine  every action we take at the table and then ask ourselves how it is placed within that ‘always, never, it depends‘ paradigm. What are those situations when we can say ‘I never call here’ as opposed to ‘This is always a raise’ etc.

But instead of me just regurgitating clumsily his thoughts on how we apply this concept to our game, instead it got me thinking – as of course poker often does! – about how it very much goes beyond the intricacies of hand analyses and in fact is what governs the way in which we choose to live our lives. For in the end, hopefully everything we do in some way helps us to work towards that classic ideal of all philosophers, ‘The Good Life’.

I know it’s very easy for us all without really thinking about it to fall into something of a post-modern mush in which we spend our wholes lives saying things like ‘It depends’ when faced by any problem. Or we mutter about how ‘everything is relative’ and how we ‘each have our own truth’. Nothing can be known and we just have to be nice to each other and polite and accept that everything is built on the shifting sands of ‘It Depends’…

And it’s true that much of life is not comfortably yes or no, black or white. Indeed, those of us who are not superheroes, live for better or for worse, in the ‘grey’ where all sorts of potentially dubious moral and ethical judgments are made according to the circumstances of the moment.  Pragmatism is often for good reason seen as an attractive quality and a flexibility in the midst of ever changing events is something to be admired.

Although I do still smile at my ultimately failed attempt to try to explain to someone once why her statement ‘There is without doubt no such thing as absolute truth!’ was perhaps somewhat self-contradictory 😉

But as Splitsuit explained in his video concerning poker (and so I would argue for life) there are times when it is useful to identify those moments when we can define clearly what actions we must take within a certain context. No wishy-washy prevarication but a strong affirmation of what is right and good. Which reminds me of something that I heard a rabbi say once…

 “Don’t be too much of an ‘ish’ person in life. The sort who says they’ll meet at 5-ish. Or describe things as ok-ish. Drop that ‘ish’! Don’t let it pollute your thinking so much that nothing is certain and everything ambiguous. The ‘ish’ mentality will dull the soul and brings a bland taste to everything. Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’. And if you agree to meet at 5 then meet at 5! And don’t allow your mind to fall into a state of ‘ish’…

Obviously he wasn’t just referring to people saying what time they would come to a party but rather, he was admonishing that wider lazy mentality which avoids taking a stand for anything while preferring that easy path of no resistance. But as both the good rabbi and James would argue, before we set out whether pre-flop or in life, it’s essential that we have a clear plan as to how we will act when faced by certain challenges rather than just hoping to aimlessly muddle our way through.

This is a vital skill if only to save time and live/play efficiently but even more importantly so that we can enjoy that happiness which  – as St Augustine argued – comes from the freedom in knowing that you are doing what is correct and right. And as all good poker players will know, the results should never matter. Satisfaction lies purely in knowing that we chose the best action with carefully applied thought and reason. The rest is beyond our power and therefore, to put it bluntly, not of our concern.

Of course as we get older, there is a danger that we get more and more set in our ways so we have to be careful we don’t impose red lines that must not be crossed on situations that would benefit from a little more flexible thinking.

Still, I feel there is a lot to be said for affirming and sticking resolutely to one’s own defined ‘dealbreakers’ especially when it comes to the vagaries of human relationships. I hope that I won’t incur Cupid’s wrath if as witness for the prosecution I offer as evidence this sorry (but very funny)  list of First Date Disasters to prove that sometimes, he’s just not right for you 🙂

So here is an impromptu selection of some of my ‘always, never, it depends’ guidelines for life. Totally arbitrary. Utterly personal. And arguably closeminded. But I have found that having them prepared and ready in my emotional toolbox  has on the whole meant that without too much wasting of time and energy, I’ve avoided all sorts of potentially ghastly situations and people.

The one that always comes to mind first and which I believe really is a good way of assessing a person quickly:

Never have anything to do with someone who is rude without reasonable cause or provocation to a waiter.  If they deride and treat such staff badly simply because of the job they are doing, it is a clear mark of unsound character.

Or there’s my own personal tip that I give to anyone checking out a prospective date or partner:

Never date anyone who is incapable of a good old fashioned belly laugh. If you can’t imagine them helpless with delirious tearful laughter then it’s doubtful you will ever be helpless in love with them.

Then there’s my father’s advice – in stark contrast the earlier piece – which has always put me (and my stomach) in tremendously good stead…

Always be good to the chef. Treat well those who bring you food, and they will look after you well. Be nice to those who feed you. Along with those who shelter you, they are the most important people in life.

Or if you want someone a little more illustrious to give you a rule to live your life by, I find this comment by George Bernard Shaw very useful. Particularly whenever I’m foolishly tempted to get embroiled in online discussions….

Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

And finally on a more serious note, I am reminded of the advice that a columnist I was reading the other was given by her father. Apparently he was never one to share any sage wisdom with his daughters apart from the one time when he asked them to sit down as teenagers and he said…

Girls, I want to tell you something very important that you must never forget for the rest of your life. If a man that you are with ever lays a hand on you, you must leave him immediately. And never go back. He will say sorry. He will say that he’ll never do it again. It will be a lie and you must never believe him.

I think that albeit on a much darker note, that last piece of advice is as good as it gets when it comes to an example of a rule that is very much not under the heading of ‘it depends’. Yes, there are many ambiguities and grey areas in life but as much as possible, we must strive to maintain a firm intellectual and emotional foundation upon which we can stand for what is right and true.

And of course it’s important that we maintain flexibility and that we are not stubbornly attached to pre-conceived ideas about how to tackle particular challenges. One of the marks of a good player is needless to say that ability to adjust to an opponent and/or table conditions and change accordingly. The goal though for us whether in poker or in life, is to be able when necessary to call upon past experience and learnt wisdom – while not allowing it to unduly cloud our judgment – and so make sure that we have a strong and stable framework of correctly defined responses to each potential situation facing us.

Whether I can manage this successfully in my own life? I guess you could say….

It depends…