Don't Be a Worm: How to Stop Self-Sabotage at the Poker Table

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I looked like the Elephant Man.

I had a swollen left eye. My lips were Jagger-esque. And my nose would have broken had a fly landed on the bridge.

It was a good punch. It found its mark. And he was a big boy - one of the biggest in the school. Here he was, arm outstretched in the form of an apology.

I grabbed it and headbutted him.I was a half-Chinese Englishman living in Wales. I was a tennis racket in a golf bag; mushy peas on a plate full of jelly.

I just didn't fit in. It killed me. I needed to be one of the gang. The kids would punch me and my Dad would tell me to hit them back.

And all I wanted to be was a pea in a pod of other peas.

What About the Amateurs?

I was 10 years old when all of this madness was going on. 31 years later I'm at a poker table in Cardiff City Stadium competing in the partypoker Grand Prix Poker Tour (GPPT) and it seems nothing has changed.

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As a former live reporter, one of the actions that made me want to down 15 bottles of aspirin with a bottle of absinthe was watching players like Byron Kaverman and Jordan Cristos.

It's nothing personal. But when you're looking at a game of poker, it's like dipping your wick in a hole in an icy lake when this pair gets their game faces on.

And these two snails are not alone. Social media and poker media has taken out their fountain pens and written about the speed of poker killing the game verbatim.

Almost all of the major tours have experimented with a shot clock of some type and it's a permanent fixture in made-for-TV tournaments.

It’s all good news for people who are paid to write about live tournaments. It’s also good news for the professional poker players who prefer the elevator-style game to the stairs. But what about the amateurs?

A Worm in Cardiff

I logged all of my hands during my brief encounter at GPPT Cardiff and partypoker pro, Patrick Leonard, was kind enough to analyze them for me.

I hadn’t played for about a year and I found myself rushing to make my decisions. Here is Leonard’s advice on the matter:

"It's important to take your time on every decision and understand the situations and think through previous streets and think about how your opponent will view your play.

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"Always take an extra 10-20 seconds to make sure you're understanding the situation and stack sizes correctly.

Count to 20 seconds. It’s not a long time, is it?

Immanuel Kant once coined the term ‘servility.' It means to serve or please others and I suffer from it more than I realize. I hazard a guess that I won't be alone.

The German philosopher once described the man stuck in a world of servility as someone who ‘makes himself a worm’ and therefore ‘cannot complain afterwards if people step on him.’

I was a worm in Cardiff. And my table stepped all over me.

The Poker Table is One of Those Circumstances

But I'm not complaining about it; I'm learning about it.

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As a sufferer of servility I can tell you with cast-iron certainty that my need to conform to societal conditioning, under certain circumstances, is the norm for me.

The poker table is one of those circumstances. I don't have the intellect or experience to make quick decisions and 20 seconds is not enough time. I need more.

However, as a poker writer, I know that people who take their time over the perceived 'easier decisions' will be ridiculed and mocked. And I don't want to be in that gang.

In some ways I am a coward because I lack self-respect. Unlike the Hues Corporation, I don't want to rock the boat.

I would much rather make a quick decision that makes little sense rather than incur the wrath of nine people I probably will never meet again and who probably don't give a shit that I'm taking my time.

And all of this from a man who doesn't drink alcohol, is vegan and doesn't watch pornography. If there is a societal norm to break, I want to break it. Yet at the poker table, I become the worm.

I Am the Big I Am

I believe it stemmed from that punch in the face when I was 10. It's the desire to fit in and it always seems to arise when I am playing poker.

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I used to play in a local home game for years. I loved it. But I was always playing with money that I couldn't afford to lose.

When I wised up I found it incredibly difficult to explain to the lads that my absence was due to a lack of funds.

I have high self-esteem. I am full of self-importance. I am a Billy Big Potato.

And this is part of the problem. I feel a need to protect my narcissism and it's poker self-sabotage to a tee. I don't want to tell the lads that I don't have any money because 'that's not very manly now is it.'

I am degrading myself and losing self-respect in the process. But there is another way, and it's to learn to embody self-compassion. But how do I do this?

Here is what I am working on and perhaps, if you are worm like me, you can do the same.

I am learning to embody forgiveness. I know that I am pushing aside my values to satisfy the agendas of others. I am also aware that my actions stem from an operating system created when I was too young to know better.

There is slack, and I am cutting it because I have self-awareness and that's the Ginger Nuts right there.

Time the Worm Turned

I am always reminding myself that nobody cares about what I am doing. I have a two-week-old baby daughter and she can only see 15 inches from her face.

Byron Kaverman
Kaverman: Won't rush for anyone.

It won't change as she ages. People barely notice there is anyone else within eyeshot. The perception that people will think I am stupid if I take my time is a story -- and a stupid one at that.

Byron Kaverman is a former Global Poker Index (GPI) Number 1, a member of the Global Poker League (GPL), and has earned over $7.8m playing live tournaments. He takes his time. He is not stupid.

Injecting this type of logic into my fantasies helps. I am learning the importance of choosing self-compassion over self-esteem. I practice positive self-talk and often talk aloud to myself as I believe I get more medicine that way.

I have a heightened awareness, and when a negative thought enters my mind I reframe it. Most importantly I am learning to love myself. Acceptance is an important thing because it fosters growth. And we should all want to grow.

Next time you feel pushed by an internal monologue to rush a decision at the poker table, stop and reflect on what you've learned here today. Take your time, play and practice often, and eventually, your game will speed up.

It's time the worm turned.

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