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Professional Loser

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jan 13, 2021

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Gavin GriffinWe implemented a new process for my son during school. If he does all of his work and pays attention in class for the whole week, he can pick any of my board games to play with me. Now, this may not sound like a great reward, but he has been reading my board game manuals as a reward since he was five, and some of the games that I have can take three or more hours to play.

My newest acquisition is a game called Pax Pamir (second edition). It’s about The Great Game era in Afghanistan where conflicts arose between Russia, The British Empire, and Afghani nationalists. It’s a game of political intrigue and battle that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. As he had already read the game manual, this was the game he chose to play with me after completing all of his work for the week.

He beat me pretty soundly in about an hour. I posted a proud father image on Twitter (@nhgg) and got quite a few responses. Many people were impressed with my son’s ability to play a game that is suggested for ages 14 and up when he’s only seven, and some were letting me know that I would tire of losing to him eventually.

This made me think of an interview I recently did with Julio Rodriguez for the Poker Stories podcast. (You can find Poker Stories on CardPlayer.com, as well as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or any podcast app.)

He wanted to know what I tell people when they ask what I do for a living, and I told him that I’m not the type that lies about my job. I have, in a fit of cheekiness, told some who ask that I’m an equities analyst (not technically a lie). In general, though, I just tend to tell someone who asks that I play poker for a living.

The inevitable follow ups questions are predictable. “You can make a living at that?” “Do you count cards?” “You must have a good poker face.” Sometimes someone might say, “I’m not very good at poker,” or “I don’t think I could do that.”

My most common response to this is simple. You can always study to get better at poker, and it’s not that hard to be good enough at poker and find a game where you’re better than the people you’re regularly playing against.

The real hard part about poker is that you have to become good at losing.

To put it another way, I lose for a living. Sure, I win in 60-65 percent of my cash game sessions, as I think most winning live cash players do. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that losing is a huge part of playing poker.

There are days when you’re getting dealt cards and you won’t get playable hands for a few hours at a time. Losing for a living means that you don’t adjust the hands that you decide to play just because you haven’t played a hand in a while.

Within winning sessions, you still have hands that you will lose. Losing for a living means not letting those losing hands affect the way you play other hands for the rest of the session. In addition, losing for a living means understanding that just because you had a winning session, that doesn’t mean you didn’t make any mistakes during that session.

Perhaps most importantly, playing poker means you will have lots and lots of losing sessions. Losing for a living means that those losing sessions are a part of your life. Playing your best whether you are winning or losing means fewer losing sessions and a better win rate overall.

Losing for a living means that you understand losses happen, as do a string of losses. It’s important to be able to put a past losing session out of your head when it’s time to play again. If I were to let all of my losing sessions change the way I approach the game the next time I play, things would continue to get worse the more I play.

Instead, I can look at it one of two ways. Either think of each session as part of one long game with ebbs and flows, or I can think of each session as its own new beginning without the baggage of a loss or the excitement of a win from a previous session.

When I play board games, I play them because I like figuring out the puzzle of the game, understanding how the mechanics interact with each other, and learning something new that I can take into my next time playing that game. I sometimes win and I sometimes lose, but that’s a secondary effect to the actual playing of the game for me.

When I play poker, I do it to make money. That means that sometimes I’m going to lose because of mistakes I make or the cards breaking the wrong way. But if I reduce the mistakes I make and can keep playing my best when the cards go against me, I will make money in the long run.

If I take the same approach to board games, perhaps I’ll even manage to steal a win or two away from my son as well. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to win the Triple Crown, capturing a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour title, and has amassed more than $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG