Poker can, at times be a levelling war – a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. While the circular nature of the game more resembles a spiral toward a balanced, GTO, salted caramel centre these days, it’s still the case that the ‘max-exploitation’ approach to poker involves nuanced divergences. You have to be careful though. If you underestimate your opponent, you can be leveled. If you overestimate your opponent, you can level yourself.
In my final year of school, a school which played rugby badly and cricket well, there was a tradition of the 6th years putting together a side to play the teachers at football. The teachers had a regular 5-a-side on a Friday after school and while one or two of them were sporty enough, they were, for the most part, a collection of unlikely shaped last picks. The 6th years has a few proper footballers. There was even one lad who had had a trial for Everton. As the day approached, the anticipation grew. It became the talk of the school yard. But the chatter wasn’t about winning the game. This was no ‘Escape to Victory’ with the prisoners rising up against their oppressors. This was ‘Lord of the Flies’ and all the teachers were Piggy.
“I’m gonna foul that fat fuck Mr. X for all those times he gave me 100 lines.”
“I’m gonna late tackle that posh cunt Mr. Y for all those detentions.”
I had my own score to settle too.
“I don’t care if I get red-carded in the first minute, that dickhead Mr. Z is gonna feel my studs down the back of his legs.”
The day finally came. It was just days before the school term finished. There were mutterings in the dressing room about playing a fair game, showing our maturity, putting aside our differences. After all, the teachers were just doing their jobs all these years. “Fuck that”, said one dissenting voice. Okay, yes it was mine. “You can do what u want fellas but I’m here to get my pound of flesh.” There was laughter all round and a few cheers of support but as we took to the field, it was clear something about our demeanour had changed. We were men and this was our opportunity to behave like men. In front of a small crowd of our peers, we would rise above petty differences, petty punishments, petty report card comments and those who had come to watch a bloodbath would witness something more cathartic; magnanimity.
Within seconds of the whistle, that fat fuck Mr. X slid into our striker, getting all man and no ball. A curdling scream rang out. Play continued. Seconds later, our midfield playmaker tried to jink past that posh cunt Mr. Y and was upended, taken out like Keano took out Overmars in the opening seconds of that World Cup qualifier. He even leaned in to deliver a Keanoesque choice word to his fallen pupil. Referee? The referee was the school’s PE teacher. “Play on”, he said defiantly.
Somehow, the ball ended up at my feet. I looked up and to my horror Mr. Z was already mid-air, both sets of studs showing and on a collision course with the shin of my standing leg. Rock, Paper, Scissors? More like ‘Fuck, Bollocks, Shit!’ In the split second it took for him to almost break my leg, the reality that they were fully grown men and we were scrawny teenagers became immediately apparent. It also occurred to me how bleeding obvious this all was.
We had underestimated our opponents. There we were bragging about how we are going to hurt them for all the times they had wronged us, when all along it was them, every Friday after school, venting their frustrations at us, cursing our names for being the insolent brats we were, sharing their stories of who they couldn’t wait to hurt. They were biding their time until they had us where they wanted us, not in the classroom where corporal punishment was banned but on the field of play where they could do their own re-enactment of that famous teachers/pupils rugby scene from Monty Python’s ‘Meaning of Life’. We were lambs to the slaughter.
So next time you are weighing up the pros and cons of a poker decision, make sure not to underestimate your opponent, make sure you know which level they are on or you might be bringing a knife to a gun-fight. Remember that as soon as you diverge from balanced GTO principles, you have declared a levelling war and that is a war you can lose too. I still have a scar on my shin from Mr. Z’s studs to help me remember.