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Gamble 104: The Importance Of Being Present

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Nov 18, 2020


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(Editor’s Note: This column is a continuation of Gamble 103: Protect Your Ass(ets). You can find the first part on

As the gun made its way into my line of sight, everything stopped, and time stood still. The air was running full blast in the car and was slowly getting colder, yet it felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the world and my lungs were bursting. My heart was beating faster and faster; the car seemed to shrink as blackness filled in the area around us and all I could concentrate on was that exact moment in time.

In reality it was no more than a few seconds, yet it felt like an eternity and gave me a lifetime to think through my options. I decided to just play it out and take every moment in time as a new opportunity. This wasn’t when I needed to fight back, but I had to stay aware in order to stay alive.

Still in shock at my current situation, I did as I was told, slowly putting the keys into the ignition and backing up. We were around the corner from the bank, no more than a five-minute drive, and I used that time to try to figure out what he was after. Was it simply money or something more? He seemed like a man on a mission to get a few dollars to help fuel his habits, but if I made the wrong move at the wrong time, then perhaps he was also a desperate man who had been backed into a corner for far too long and was willing to do whatever it took to make it out alive.

I decided quickly that wherever this adventure was taking me I had to stay alert to make decisions that would benefit me without making him aware of what I was doing. The pressure was on, and the fight for my life had begun.

As we pulled up to the bank, we drove along the side into the drive-through ATMs. It was in that moment that I realized this wasn’t his first rodeo, he knew what he was doing. The closer we drove towards the cameras, the further back in his seat he shrunk. He was pressing himself deeper into the recesses of the car and pulling his baseball cap over his face to hide his features in case anyone took the time to review footage afterward. He shrank so deeply into the seats that he became indiscernible from the chair, blending in to the point of becoming almost non-existent.

His desire to remain far away from me and the bank cameras allowed me to make my first decision, to reclaim a little bit of power over the situation that had spiraled out of my control. As I inserted my debit card into the ATM it asked if I wanted to access my savings account or my checking account. I knew that the savings account had a considerably larger balance as it was where my online poker money flowed. On the other hand, the checking account only had a few hundred dollars. I made the split-second decision to access the lower balance, and send him on his way with a nominal amount of money which would still sate his drug-fueled habit.

I punched in my pin number and withdrew the balance, passing him around $300. As we drove away and he started pulling himself out from his deep recess he let out a smile at his tidy little profit. My impromptu plan had worked, and he was satisfied.

It may not seem like much to most people, giving him a few hundred dollars as opposed to a few thousand. After all I was still trapped in the same car with an unhinged man with a gun, but psychologically it was a victory. I was still capable of making decisions, thinking quickly on my feet and turning any moment into an opportunity to escape. If you read through the memoirs of prisoners of war, they usually kept themselves sane through small victories, because it gives a sense of control to the individual and removes it from the captor.

This situation was no different. I needed something to remind me that I wasn’t alive due to the mercy of someone else, but rather because I was in charge of my own fate. How I reacted over the next few hours could determine how long my life lasted.

As we drove away from the bank, he directed me on the highway and told me to head towards downtown Dallas, specifically to the rough end of town. Once we jumped on the highway it seemed a switch went off in his head, he started rambling about how I was a lucky man, how in his past life he would have already shot me and ditched the car. But he had supposedly reformed and was trying to change his ways.

Apparently, I had an expression of disbelief plastered across my face as he next decided to prove himself to me, lifting up his shirt and twisting it to show me the multiple bullet wounds he had acquired through the years. Some of them had clearly never had proper medical attention and you could see the bullet still lodged within, slightly bulging under a scarred patch of skin. This is when I knew things were even more serious than I had originally believed.

If you ask an amateur how to win at poker, they will inevitably say one of three things: luck, bluffing, or winning large pots. If you ask anyone that has played poker long enough, they will tell you that it’s actually about the small pots, the little decisions that you make over the course of a game that differentiate a winner from a loser.

Over the course of a night you may play 200 hands, but over the same time you make thousands of decisions. Who is in the hand already, are the blinds passive or aggressive, what is your position, how many blinds do you have, how strong is your hand, are there any relevant table dynamics? The list goes on and on. Those are just some of the inflection points a player will consider before even looking at their hand. Most of them happen subconsciously and you aren’t aware they are even happening, yet they can change a losing session into a winning session and vice versa in the blink of an eye.

On that day, trapped in the car, I didn’t have the luxury of thinking subconsciously. I had to be acutely aware of everything that was happening and what my options were at all times. As is evident by me writing this today, I made it, I’m alive.

Most poker players don’t think through their decisions, at least not as well as they believe they do. And while it isn’t their lives on the line, it may be their livelihood, their bankrolls. Stop to think through every decision at the table. Don’t just sit there and stare at the board mindlessly for minutes on end, try to understand the puzzle that is presented to you. While poker is a game of limited information there is a far greater wealth of information accessible to you than most people tend to believe. Be aware, stay alert, keep your bankroll alive. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play the game of hold’em from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 PLO8/b Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community since moving to Las Vegas in 2019, he can often be found playing $80-$160 games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content weekly on twitch under the same moniker.