Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Poker, butterflies, and ulcers...

During the summer of '99 I had a huge crush on a girl (lets call her Mary) on my summer league ultimate frisbee team which was all well and good until I realized that she was into me also. But the result was a pretty big shock to my system, like when you're looking in a store window at a mannequin and suddenly you realize that it's a real person and they're staring back at you. But the shock went on for weeks, and everytime I thought about Mary I'd get these huge butterflies in my stomach that bordered on an anxiety attack. It didn't help the fact that I was having difficulty clarifying my relationship with her.

About a week earlier I had injured my hamstring quite badly during a game (go to the ER and use crutches for a week badly) and was prescribed horse-sized doses of ibuprofin to keep the swelling down. Like any good college graduate, I dutifully downed my vitamin-I with my morning orange juice and throughout the day, often on an empty stomach. Well, it turned out that was a bad idea, and the combination of stomach-lining-eating pain killers and butterfly wings gave me a nice stomach-ache that lasted about a year, a.k.a. an ulcer.

The funny thing was, I knew that the anxiety that made my stomach cramp every single time I thought of Mary was completely crazy. So, like any good introvert, I tried to figure out what was causing it at fix it. But it was like a spot at the corner of my vision -- every time I tried to look at it, it'd slip away and I'd be left with thin air. Or maybe a better analogy would be my salmonella shrivelled veins when I landed in the hospital at the age of ten -- try to poke them with an IV needle and they'll just slip out of the way at the last minute. Talk about a human pin-cushion.

It seemed like there was a part of my psyche that I poked whenever I thought about Mary which immediately triggered a huge anxiety response. But whenever I actually tried to grab that piece of my mind and take a good hard look at it (or take it out back and beat it with a stick so it'd go away) I'd just be left with slippery fingers holding nothing.


So I've been on a hot streak lately -- something like 15 of the last 17 sessions following my big Garden City loss have been wins (and the two losses were PokerStars tournaments -- one Thursday WWdN blogger tournament, and a $3 rebuy where I managed to drop $36... oops). It really seems like I can do no wrong lately -- I've been having good luck and I know it.

Yet, the past few days I've felt a spot growing at the edge of my vision but I can't seem to pin it down. Granted, it's not an anxiety filled spot, but instead a spot filled with bankroll doom. I know that my play has been slowly decaying, and it is just a matter of time before variance catches up with me and kicks me in the groin.

Its funny how running badly really forces you to focus on your game but running poorly lets you focus on anything but your game. When I was at my low point early this year (which wasn't really that low, it just felt like it) I was extremely focused on squeezing out every value bet and saving bets when I was beat. Now I'm not -- I've hit a new high in my bankroll and I feel like I have enough money. That enough money feeling (TM) in poker will cause you to have less money. Usually quite rapidly.

So, I've made a conscious decision to track down that new slippery spot over the next few days and see if I can stab it, put it under the microscope, and take a good hard look at it. Riding this win streak would be really nice -- especially if I can keep up the good play that started it. The last thing I want to do is give a couple hundred back just because I've let bad habits creep back into my game. Luckily, examining my poker game is much easier for me than examining my anxieties about women.


So what happened to Mary and the ulcer?

Well, Mary ended up moving out to California about the same time I did, so we were able to see each other once or twice (including a memorable hike in Point Reyes that stretched into the night because we got a bit lost). It'd make a great story to say that I married her, but instead it is one of those stories of a friend you've lost track of.

The ulcer, on the other hand, has stuck with me pretty well. I have very fond memories of the driving trip out to CA and hiking in Yellowstone -- me living on a diet of Gatorade, Pepsid AC, and granola bars, and the ulcer being, well, a pain. Took me a year to get rid of it the first time, and it occasionally pops up but I've mostly adjusted my diet and stress to get rid of it.

One of the times it popped back up was when I started playing poker -- I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep playing poker because higher stakes ($25 tournaments, LOL) were causing me enough anxiety to trigger it again. Once I got more used to the games and stakes, it went away.

It will be back though. Good friends like ulcers always come back.

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