I’m heartened to see I got a few comments on my last post. Thanks to all who left comments or read my post, I’ll address the questions raised at some point (even the hooker one, even though I’ve never knowingly patronized one so I guess my opinion isn’t worth a whole lot in that regard). Instead of speaking about weighty issues, I think I’ll talk about the most recent episode of House, entitled “Wilson.” For those who have not yet seen this episode and don’t want to see a bunch of spoilers (this means you, Jason!) I suggest you don’t click through.
When I watched this episode two Mondays ago, I almost felt like it spoke to me. Why? Because the major takeaway is directly applicable to poker. Some background first. The episode is titled “Wilson” because it centers on House’s pushover oncologist buddy Dr. James Wilson. At the beginning of the episode, we learn that Wilson had gotten his patient-turned-not-so-close-friend’s leukemia into remission for 5 years. Not-so-shockingly, the patient suffers mysterious arm paralysis and various other ailments, so Wilson, too damn proud to see the obvious, stumbles and bumbles his way through a diagnosis. Eventually, the extra-powerful chemo Wilson administers fucks up the patient’s liver, necessitating that Wilson donate a chunk of his own liver to save the dude’s life.
But wait, isn’t House the brilliant diagnostician on this show? God damn right he is. Not only does he diagnose what’s wrong with this patient (surprise, it’s cancer!), he pinpoints what makes Wilson a shitty diagnostician. Specifically, Wilson gets way too attached to his patients. He makes the medical process personal. This may make him a great oncologist; after all, there’s a fairly discrete set of treatment options for cancer. And, when a cancer diagnosis becomes a death sentence, compassion and the ability to connect with a dying patient are just as important as medical skill. They make him a bad diagnostician, because a certain level of detachment is essential to an objective analysis of some group of symptoms.
House is always detached. Patients aren’t people to him, they’re puzzles. Walking, talking, fleshy, lying sets of symptoms. Some crazy treatment might kill the patient? Fuck it! He’s going to die anyway, right? Need to do something that is undoubtedly some sort of tort? Fuck it! People have standing to sue, puzzles don’t. Wrong with the initial, or second, or nth diagnosis (like House and his team are every single episode)? Fuck it! Dwelling on those past missteps only hinders progress. In fact, they aren’t missteps at all, they’re just more data that will eventually culminate in a correct diagnosis.
It should be kind of obvious how this applies to poker via tortured analogy. Your chip stack is an ailing patient. What’s going to give it the best chance at getting “healthy?” Being attached to the money in front of you certainly won’t. It’ll make you a lil’ bitch, always pining for what once was, beating yourself up for not making the “right play,” wasting precious neurons on regret instead of using them to plot your next move. Instead, you have to see those chips as House sees a patient. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to maximize them. Sometimes that means putting all of them at risk when you think it’s the right play, then not living with regret when it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it means making a non-standard play with a higher-than-normal chance of failing. Being afraid of failure won’t help you or your stack; you just have to pull the trigger and see what happens. Those little voices warning you that bad shit could happen when you make a risky play at the table? Be like House and tell them to fuck off. They’re evolutionary relics meant to protect us from playing here-kitty-kitty with a saber-toothed tiger, not from losing a few bucks. It’s just money, and the worst that can happen is you might end up with a little less of it.
So, it all boils down to this question: who do I want to be on the poker table? A bitch-made risk-averse pussy like Wilson, for whom success is merely prolonging his patient’s miserable lives? Or a balls-out psycho like House who simply does. not. give. a. fuck. but manages to figure out the puzzle every single week? The answer is obvious, and the key is detachment.
The truth is, after six years of playing this game, I’m still Wilson. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be House.