The Poker School of Life: Lessons from a doctor with verbal diarrhoea

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Lee Davy turns a terrible morning with the doctor into a poker lesson about the need to be authentic and not to be scared of big long words.

The Poker School of Life: essons from a doctor with verbal diarrhoeaIt started in school.

I never raised my hand in class because I didn’t want people to think I was stupid.

That was stupid.

Years later, spurred on by this memory I found myself in a risk assessment course for locomotive engineers. It was a mistake. I should have been attending a risk assessment course for operations. My boss told me to stay as he had stumped up the hotel costs.

I kept putting my hand up.

In the beginning, the tutor cheerfully answered my questions. Over time his enthusiasm waned like that of a Beagle waiting to have hair products poured into its eye. During the dinner break, he told me he would give me a pass if I stopped asking questions.

Where did these two memories come from?

This morning I went to the doctors about my hypothyroidism. Now that’s a long word, but it’s nowhere as long as the words my doctor used when trying to make me look stupid.

I made the mistake of telling him that I had done research on hypothyroidism and had some questions for him. Little did he know, that 10-minutes earlier, I had written in my diary that I was anxious because I didn’t want to look stupid by asking a medical professional some questions about his profession.

And so while I am standing in his office arguing with him over his passive-aggressive mimicking, two things spring to mind about my poker game.

The Tribe

We tease some kids because they are fat. Others, because they are poor. I looked Chinese, and that was enough for the ‘whiteys’. One day I asked my Mum if we had Chinese relatives?

“Sit down, son.”

I was eight years old when I learned that my Dad wasn’t my real Dad; my real Dad had left my Mum before I was born, and yes, he was Chinese.

I didn’t take it well – the teasing. I would punch people. They would punch me back. And all because I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. A curse that would follow me all the way to the Doctor’s office this morning.

I didn’t want to ask him questions because I didn’t want to be different. I have a belief, based on zero evidence that people walk into the Doctors and believe everything that he tells them because he is a Doctor, and it’s the same with opticians, dentists and poker players.

When I decided to become a professional poker player I knew to be successful I had to find someone who was a professional and learn from them. And I did that, several times, but it never worked out, because something was preventing me from asking the right questions, persistently.

The final word of the preceding paragraph is vital. My coaches would explain a principle, and if I didn’t understand it, I would ask them to clarify. Once they had specified, if I still didn’t understand, I would leave it at that. I was leaving a ton of value off the table because of this belief that I was different, and my desire to be anything but. And the smarter the coach, and the fancier his words, the less likely I was to learn anything.

The Triple Barrel Merge Super Dunk

The Doctor asked me what I did for a living.

“I help people quit alcohol,” I said.

I should have told him that I wrote poker articles. The Doctor started to reel off a series of chemicals, the likes of which you will only find on the side of a shampoo bottle, in a bid to show me who was intellectually superior.

“But you know that don’t you.” He kept repeating, knowing damn well that I didn’t have a clue. “You have done your research. You help people quit alcohol.”

I wanted him to explain my thyroid issues like I was a newborn. Only we had gone too far. He wanted me to leave as quickly as possible. I wanted to carve out his thyroid with a rusty earring to see if it really did look like a butterfly.

The Doctor didn’t have to make it that complicated. By choosing that path, he made himself look like a cock, and his customer, me, learned nothing.

And I have run into this problem in poker.

When starting out, I would watch poker training videos, or read poker articles, only to be lost in a series of complicated words and phrases that would make Sherlock seem like an imbecile.

And I thought poker was a simple game?

There were all of these complex words and phrases and then one day a man with millions of dollars in winnings told me that I just needed to learn to fold when I didn’t have it and bet for value when I did.


I wondered if I had gotten the Doctor all wrong?

Perhaps, my anxiety led to the mix-up. Maybe, when I told him, I had done some research and worked in the recovery field he thought I was ‘clued up’ in that area? Maybe he thought he was talking on my level. Little did he know that I was hanging around in Danny DeVitoville.

It has happened before.

Take Raising for Effective Giving (REG) and the Effective Altruism movement. It’s a cause that makes sense to me, and yet, when I try to spread their message to others I find it difficult. Everyone seems to talk in a very intellectual and rational way. Sometimes the message goes over my head in the same way the Doctors shampoo bottle did.

The same happens in poker all the time and this is why it’s paramount to shop around for a coach who understands YOU and YOUR LEVEL. Poker players who have reached a certain level in the game, unskilled as a coach, will often talk to you at that level. They mean no disrespect. It comes naturally to them.

What I learned in school, on the playground, during that risk assessment course, when learning to be a poker player and in my linguistic wrestling match with my Doctor this morning, is that you have to be comfortable with who you are, and not to try and be someone else.

There is a poster on the wall of Lester Nygaard’s basement in the hit TV show Fargo. It shows a red fish swimming in the opposite direction of 12 yellow fish. It reads:

“What if you’re right, and they’re wrong.”

I wish I had remembered that poster before I saw the doctor this morning. Not only could I have rolled it up and stuffed it down his throat, but it would have reminded me that it’s ok to be different, otherwise there is a danger that you end up like all the other fish.


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