Tuesday, February 14, 2012

“It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Guy”

Years back, when I ran a weekly poker game, I started using a phrase after someone beat me in a pot that began a funny trend. Instead of getting mad, I would simply look over at my opponent and say, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Among my friends, it became an inside joke that could usually provoke a good chuckle after a tense moment. Other people began to use the line and it was all in the good fun of a weekly home game. I was greatly amused to see Jason Alexander (of George Costanza fame) use the same line a few years later on ESPN.

Playing poker among friends is obviously a much different experience than playing with strangers. It is often more driven by entertainment than the desire for profit. Poker competition among friends develops a special light-hearted type of tension as the chips move from person to person. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy” was intentionally designed as a way to diffuse this tension. Handling the strain of defeat with grace and class is a skill that must be practiced and mastered.

Ultimately, poker, like most games, reveals the true soul of a person. Emily Post, in her immortal treatise on manners, writes,

“Nothing more quickly reveals the man whose gentlemanly appearance is only a veneer than the card table, for that veneer melts equally with success or failure. Being carried away by the game, he forgets to keep on his company polish. If he wins, he becomes grasping or overbearing because of his skill; if he loses, he complains constantly about the cards he has been holding and sneers at the luck of others.”
Hence, years of playing poker has taught me a lot about myself as well as important lessons in patience and fellowship, even when confronting opponents whose gentlemanly veneer has become badly tarnished in the swings of luck.