Learning Life Lessons Through Poker

Hot girls. Hot girls everywhere. I was about to make eye contact with this hot girl and then some dude walked right in between us, stopped, and pulled out his phone to make a call. That pretty much sums it up for me. I’m trying to find the humor in my failed interactions with women, which isn’t hard because it really is quite hilarious at this point.

Almost every girl I make a connection with ends up living very far away from me. It doesn’t matter if we meet in person. I’ve had so many great conversations with girls since I’ve been here where it’s obvious we could be compatible and I don’t think a single one of them has actually lived in Austin. “I’m just here for the weekend.” “I live in Croatia.” “I’m an actually an alien.” Even when I make progress with a girl on a dating app and it says she’s one mile away, it always turns out she’s using travel mode or somehow hacked the app and actually lives in Brazil.

Alright this is actually really funny. As I was writing this, a hot girl behind me asked me for the wifi password and we ended up talking for ten minutes and she actually lives here… I guess I just had to bitch about it? I don’t know. Life is weird. That was weird. That was weird how that happened.

Anyways, I had a pretty good birthday yesterday. I was able to let myself relax, which isn’t always something I’m good at. I’m so grateful for all of the people who reached out. Birthdays are always a nice reminder that you’re never alone and people love you. After a year and a half of a whole boatload of solitude, those reminders go a long way.

Last night I packed a cooler full of white claws and went on down to the poker room for some birthday action. Poker rooms in Texas are pretty cool. They’re allowed to get around the casino loophole because they don’t take a rake. Instead, you pay for a daily, monthly, or yearly membership and then pay for the amount of time you end up playing. It’s great for me, because I play a lot of hands, so I save more money that way. Plus, they don’t sell booze so you’re allowed to bring your own. Also a big money saver.

I showed up to the poker room with $860. The maximum buy-in for the table is $300. So, I come in and buy in for $300. Thirty minutes in, after trying to bluff the guy next to me because he was annoyingly nice, my $300 was gone. I rebought for another $300. Thirty minutes after that, I tried to bluff the guy on my other side because he was just annoying, but he also happened to have a monster hand. I rebought for my remaining $260 and went for a little walk.

You might be reading this thinking “why would you spend all that money!?” But, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t have that money. I have my own poker money set aside, and I don’t treat it as money. To me it’s just stuff to play poker with. I don’t use it for anything but poker. It makes no difference to me if it goes up or down. That being said, I still didn’t like being down $600 in the first hour.

I came back from my short walk and my luck soon started to shift. I won a big hand and got up to about $800, so pretty close to even on the day. Then I settled in and started to play really well. I was running over the table pretty good for a while, making a lot of right decisions. Poker is such a fascinating game. There’s a lot that goes into it: math, psychology, intuition, game theory… ultimately, though, it comes down to making the right decision. At the end of the night I ended up leaving with about $1300, but that’s neither here nor there. The part I’ll remember is the characters at this table.

There was this kid next to me… and he was a mess. Oh sweet mother of muffin crumbles this kid was a mess. He said a lot of stupid shit, and honestly I don’t even know where to start. I guess it started when he was out of a hand and told everyone what cards he had when the hand was still going on. It’s something you never do at a poker table, but I figured he just didn’t know any better. No, I was wrong. He was just an idiot.


He proceeded to tell us he was coming off of drugs. The guy next to me asked what drugs, and he said meth. He said, “That and banging hoes.” A few of us started laughing pretty hard because that would be funny if it was a joke, but this dude was completely serious. So, it was even funnier. He would also get really mad on occasion and slam the table. Then he started talking about how he was playing with his rent money. Rule number 16. Never gamble with the rent money.


He started rambling on about how he can never win and was talking about his strategy out loud so everyone else could hear it. After a certain point, whenever he was in a hand with me, he would say “I can never beat this guy. He beats me every time.” It became a running joke at the table. People would just randomly look at me and say “you win everyyyyyyy time.” I think I did actually win every hand I played against him, sadly. He wasn’t exactly a tough read. Eventually he lost his rent money to me. “My life is over,” he said.

I tried to explain to him that his life isn’t over and everything happens for a reason. He needs to hit his rock bottom to realize the type of life he’s living isn’t sustainable or healthy. Smoking meth, banging hoes, and gambling with your rent money isn’t a long term solution to anything. I don’t know what his story is, but it didn’t make a difference that I was the one who happened to end up with his “rent money.” It was already gone. He decided to lose it long before he sat down at that poker table.

This is a hard one to explain, but this type of moment was actually progress for me. I’ve had a tendency to be overly empathetic in my life to the point where it’s actually harmful. Too much of any virtue is a vice. Empathy is a great quality, but when it gets to a point where you’re taking on the pain of other people as if it’s your own and convincing yourself it’s at least partly your responsibility even when it’s not, that’s not good.

I guess it’s part of finding peace and acceptance. I accept that everyone is on their own journey, and it’s not my responsibility to take on other people’s burdens. I want to help people as much as I can in the most constructive way possible, but sometimes the best help is letting go. Sometimes it’s advice. Sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes it’s financial help. It depends on the situation. But we’re all responsibly for figuring out our own lives. Nobody is going to make change for us. We have to make the change. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to get to a very low point to truly make that change.

I’ve been there. I’m sure we all have been there. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in what felt like a black hole. I was completely and utterly lost. But it needed to happen. It turns out I was traveling through to the other side, where something better was waiting. The journey sucked. So bad. The black hole was dark and meaningless and I could see no end in sight. And I may not have felt like I was moving, but I was. And eventually I saw a tiny little light. And then another. They flickered and they flashed, and the black hole still had its pull on me. But I just needed one tiny little light to see that that the black hole wouldn’t consume me forever. Eventually I found myself in a landscape of stars, staring back at the black hole and saying, “thank you.”  

Jason Brendel
Jason Brendel

Jason Brendel is an author, poet, and comedian from Northern California. Navigate the buttons below to follow him on social media or purchase his collection of laugh-out-loud poetry on Amazon.

6 thoughts on “Learning Life Lessons Through Poker

  1. Good observations… very astute. My less than trustworthy advise … Don’t overthink life…

  2. I really loved how you arranged the words. So captivating! You are one of the greatest writers we have in this generation. Keep up the great work. Maybe you can look at my works too!

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