How Poker Saved My Life

This true story took place years ago in a European metropolitan city….I am probably the only one to remember it even took place.

There are many advantages in every day life learned from playing poker. One quickly learns the value of sound play. One quickly learns the value of money. One quickly learns the value giving away information, and collecting information.

Having a poker face goes a long way in not giving away information. In my case I believe having a poker face once saved my life.

I was visiting a city where English was not the preferred language. I tried to learn a little of the language before arriving, but there was not enough time, and I am a slow learner of languages. I learned just enough to have a semi-intelligent conversation with a three year old, if they do not try to impress me with their command of the language.

As tourists we tend to wander around and go places where the locals fear to tread. I was one of those wandering tourists, wandering around where no one who has any concern for life and limb would be wandering. Poker does take some amount of risk acceptance, but I unknowingly crossed the risk line as a tourist.

I had wandered into a seedy area of town, to a bar where some really bad people hung out. Not only did they hang out there, but they openly discussed business I unfortunately discovered. Business that was not healthy for anyone else to hear.

In my own ignorance, I did not know the place was seedy, nor did I know it was a haunt of some very serious people of criminal intent. All I wanted was a cold beer, and a break from the heat. It was a rather small bar with only five or six tables. I bought a beer at the bar and sat down at a table. Close by were four men who were in guarded, halted conversation. Two of the men had their backs to me.

Sometimes we make poor decisions

Sometimes we make poor decisions

One of the men with his back to me was angry and impatient, I thought by the tone of his speech. I also understood enough to know this was a conversation I should not be hearing. I was becoming nervous. A lone tourist off the beaten path sitting next to serious men talking about a criminal situation.

After a few minutes of back and forth conversation, one of the men with his back to me realized someone was sitting behind him – in hearing range. From hearing the tone of the talk I knew he was in charge. I also knew this could be the last cold beer of my life.

To say I was nervous was to put it mildly. These were hard men. These were serious men. I realized they could take me outside and I would never be heard from again. Some unfortunate tourist disappeared, and no one saw anything.

I did the only thing I could do. I put on my poker face and acted like it was a hot day outside and I was in the bar having a cold beer, ignorant to the conversation I was hearing and partially understanding.

The Leader inspected me for a good twenty or thirty seconds, which in the moment seemed like a good ten minutes. I did my best to act like I did not have a care in the world and only spoke and understood English, oblivious to the men’s presence.

Suddenly he stood up, and asked the men if they thought I understood their talk, while looking at me intently. I calmly took another drink. Two of the men replied to him saying, “no”. The leader walked behind me, stood quietly for a few seconds, turned and walked to the door. The other men got up and followed. I sat still trying to act as if it was a Sunday morning and I was quietly having milk and cookies.

I felt like Jello inside. I calmly took another drink and breathed a silent sigh of relief. A few minutes later I finished my beer, and walked outside, not sure what to expect.

Mine was the only car present in the parking lot. I got in and drove off, thinking to myself, “What a lucky man I am”. I thanked my lucky stars for poker. Without the skills poker taught me, who knows what the outcome of my misadventure may have been.

Thanks to the skills poker taught me, I am able to relate this story, such as it is. Perhaps without poker, I would have let on through facial expression or body posture that I understood enough of the conversation putting myself in danger. I was a serious threat to the men at the table because of what I heard and understood them discussing.

Without my playing time at the poker table, you would not now be reading this story. No matter what you feel about poker in general, poker, once you get past the basics, poker is all about interacting with people and understanding their actions.

If you are in the workforce you interact with people. If you need to make a high dollar purchase you interact with people. Getting groceries you interact with people. You can not get through your day easily without interacting with people.

You may never be in a situation where how you act effects your very survival, but knowing how to act, and how other people are acting around you, is a very important people skill for success in life. Poker is a only game played using money to keep score. The more you practice and learn, the better you may become. Some day you may need the very skills found in a poker game.