In both poker and in life you must play the hand you are dealt. Nobody gets good cards all of the time. Even when you do, there is no guarantee your hand will win. Often the best course of action is to simply fold your hand.
In life, everybody gets certain opportunities. Recognizing them and capitalizing on them determines your success. Remember, the true test of a person's character is how they behave and react when things go wrong. It is easy to be gracious when things are going your way. It is not so easy when things go south.
The most successful people are the ones who handle adversity properly.
The best I ever saw this in action was at the 2000 World Series of Poker. It was the finals of the main event. Chris Ferguson held a 4-1 chip lead when he got heads up. His opponent was T.J. Cloutier. At the time, T.J. was the most dominant tournament player on the planet. T.J. had a 2nd, a 3rd and a 5th in the main event in previous years. To say he wanted to finally win this tournament would have been a major understatement. Winning this event would be the crowning achievement of his already outstanding career. Chris was a top professional player. He was dressed in western clothes, very dapper, and was wearing a Stetson Cowboy hat. He looked relaxed and confident. T.J. looked grim and determined.
Now let's set the stage for what comes next. T.J. knew very well he had a huge task in front of him. That chip stack of his opponent looked like a tall mountain to climb, but climb he did. He kept chipping away at Chris’ stack. This is when the tide started to turn. T.J. kept getting closer and closer to the lead. The once dapper and confident Chris Ferguson started to sweat. He took his hat off more than once to wipe his brow. You could see him start to crumble. Twice Chris got his money in bad, drawing to a split pot at best. Twice he hit a river card to save himself. This kept Chris in the chip lead, but T.J. again overcame adversity and finally took a very small lead for the very first time. Chris was visibly nervous, and now T.J. looked like the confident one. Chris rallied and won a pot that put him back into a narrow lead. Then the fatal hand of the tournament came up. They raised back and forth and got all their chips in pre-flop. Over 90% of the tournament chips were in the center, so whoever won that pot will probably be the champion. The hands were turned up, Ace-Queen off-suit for T.J. Cloutier, while Chris Ferguson had Ace-nine off-suit. If T.J. could dodge a nine, he would be the overwhelming favorite to finally win the big one.
All eyes were on the flop and the turn card, only a nine at the river would save Chris. T.J. later told me that he could feel that nine coming off the deck--and it certainly did. Chris was ecstatic, and all the audience’s eyes were on him. There was one exception to that though--me. I was watching T.J. after the river card destroyed him. The third and final time Ferguson drew out was the fatal blow.
What happens next tells the true story of a man's character. The first person to congratulate Chris and shake his hand was T.J. He told Chris he had played great the whole tournament. Outwardly, T.J. showed no sign of distress. He admitted to me privately that it was like getting sucker punched. When he was interviewed, T.J. had only praise for Chris, and when asked about this final bad beat he said this, "Well, that's poker." Talk about being a man after taking it on the chin!
A final thought, when life deals you a lemon, make lemonade. Always remember, “The dealer is powerless.” It is no one’s fault. We don’t blame anyone--it was fated.
“There was no one to blame,” said T.J.
In life, many people will try to find blame in someone for their own bad circumstances. This happens when someone loses money in the stock market, or doesn’t get the job they want, or they just feel ripped off. Losers blame others, but winners own their failures.
Sometimes life just sucker punches you. You must learn how to own your losses and find a way to take (what we call in poker) a bad beat, and grow from it. Once you embrace the loss as a learning experience, you can work through it and grow.
If you are busy blaming the world for your bad luck, it is impossible to move forward. So, remember, stop blaming the world for your bad situation. Own the outcomes of your life and find a way to create a breakthrough for yourself, and don’t blame the ultimate dealer – life!
- Tom McEvoy Poker Samadhi Guru, Four-Time World Series of Poker Champion, Poker Hall of Fame Member