Going all in
Texas hold ‘em always breaks my heart. As much as I love cards, I can never get the game just right. For years, I thought it was plain bad luck. I never seemed to be dealt the cards I needed, and I was forever betting on the wrong hand — bluffing when I should have folded, dropping out early when I should have staked everything.
Only recently did I discover what I had been doing wrong: I liked to bet on the unknown future cards in the hope that I could make my hand work. I might have been sitting on nothing, but I’d still throw in my chips on the off chance that a good card was coming.
On a recent Saturday night, curled up on the couch with the man I’m seeing, I flipped through the channels until we came across a high-stakes poker championship. The game was down to the final bet as two players competed for a multi-million dollar pot. The player on the right decided to go all in; the player on the left matched him. Both men stood, and the audience stood with them. The lights in the TV studio dimmed and the music slowed, suddenly full of tense percussive beats. The players revealed their cards. The player on the left, the reigning champion with a sizable pot, held a low pair that matched a third card in the community pile. Three-of-a-kind. The player on the right, younger and more nervous-looking, held two diamonds. Among the community cards, two more diamonds sparkled. A near-flush. He needed just one more card, one more diamond, to win the hand and the championship.
But he was in for heartbreak. The dealer turned the final card to reveal a spade and the player’s face fell. In holding out for something better, he ended up losing everything.
Which is, in many ways, a parable for relationships. I have these lovely female friends, single women in their mid-to-late 30s who seem to be forever searching for something better, always believing that the winning card is bound to turn up.
These are the women Lori Gottlieb called out in her book “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” Ms. Gottlieb, herself near 40 and still unmarried, wrote about how women often chase an elusive idea of Mr. Right — to our detriment. In her book, she encouraged women to consider a range of suitors, especially the ones who are solid mate material but who perhaps lack qualities the women once considered crucial (chiseled abs, soulful eyes, a plush bank account). In Texas hold ‘em terms: Better to bet high on a low pair in the hole than to go all in hoping for good cards to come.
Which is perhaps one of the qualities I appreciate most about the man I’m dating, who turns out to be an excellent poker player. He knows better than to hold out for an anticipated card, some promise of a future good thing. He takes what he has in his hand, and if it’s workable, if he thinks it might be a winner, he goes all in.
And that’s something I can bet on. ¦