Maria’s Mind … The Value of a Friend

Friends come and go, figure out which ones to keep

Nobody tells you, when you sign up for a career as a poker player (like any of us “sign up” for this occupation or could have ever predicted we’d end up here) that your life will basically become a 24/7 party. Not that you want it to be that way or even have a single party bone in your body. It’s just inevitable. Even if you don’t drink, dance, oft engage in debaucheries activities or consider yourself a “partier,” the party atmosphere will find its way to you, hop on your back and follow you around like an annoying little sibling. You just can’t help it!

Mari Ho and Daniel Negreanu in pool attireIt’s like this: PGA golfers are likely to be tan all the time, based on the very nature of their occupation; they’re outside on the golf course 24/7. Similarly, when your occupation has you working in casinos, or spending months in Las Vegas on end, you’re likely to end up in a lobby bar, nightclub or other social party venue, at one point or another … time and time again. PGA golfers are tan, thus poker players are partiers.

In my early years as a baby poker player, I loved all the social engagements and parties that surrounded poker. I traveled in a pack of friends. If one person was doing something, everyone was doing something. Post tourney happy hour Friday night, so-and-so’s birthday at the club Saturday night, Bloody Marys and mimosas at the pool Sunday, bust out drinks Monday night, “just dinner” Tuesday night, which would somehow turn into a drunken 7 a.m. morning at the strip club … and so forth. I had hundreds of numbers on speed dial and could quickly rally a small army, in the event I found myself alone, bored and sober on a given night. It was fun and exciting. I had a ton of friends. There was never a dull moment.

Ironically, 10 years later, if I were to look in my phone book and see whom from that social circle I still talk to on a regular basis or consider a friend today I’d probably spot one or two names. With age, I’ve come to learn the value of a true friend and prioritize quality over quantity.

Blah, blah, blah. Yes, every adage your parent has ever told you turns out to be true.

In an occupation, which boasts skills such as: reading people, good decision-making, investing your money (or chips) wisely and getting the most value out of a hand, I think poker players often fail to apply these skills in their personal life and relationships.

Sure, we’ll hop on a flight at the drop of a hat to go play some tournament, but will we hop on a flight (when we’re kind of tired and sort of not feeling up for it) to celebrate a friend’s birthday or special life event that matters in their life? Do we seek the same value from our friends and the people we surround ourselves with, as we do with the pots we play?

In my later, my wise-old-owl Maria, years, I now try to prioritize my relationships. As much as possible, I focus on investing as much time and effort in my friends and family as I do the game of poker — and not in just a “call your mother” more way. It’s amazing how much just showing up to something can mean so much to a person. I know it means a lot to me. Someone being present and making the effort, especially in moments that are inconvenient for them, is one way I’ve learned to weed the muckers from +EV friends.

Daniel Negreanu (who has been a longtime friend of mine, on and off the felt), recently invited me to his 40th birthday party in Vegas. I had just packed up my WSOP house and left that desert black hole us poker players call “home” for seven weeks in the dead heat of summer only 10 days prior. Lord knows the last thing I wanted to do was turn around and drag my ass back to Vegas with my recently shattered WSOP Main Event final table dreams in hand. But, ironically, Daniel has been one person in my life, and in this game, who has exemplified what it means to be a real friend.

For my 30th birthday, Daniel coordinated his tricky poker schedule to fly out and celebrate with me. He showed up, even if it was just for one evening to have an intimate birthday dinner with a bunch of people he didn’t know. With all the success in the game, he knows a thing or two about investing in what matters and he’s the kind of guy who shows up for people. If you have to pick someone who’s poker career and character you want to emulate, go with that guy. He’s a real winner ;)

In turn, I was reminded of the kind of friend I want to be and the value of Daniel’s friendship in my life. So, I too coordinated my tricky schedule to hop on flight and be present for his milestone birthday.

It’s people who keep me sane through the ups and downs of poker. It’s friends who I want to share my successes with, and who are my source of strength during the down swings. In this game, I’ve come to realize, more and more, that you can break records and make all the money in the world but where the real value (and happiness) lies is in sharing the journey with friends. Investing in people. Investing in causes. And mucking the friends and social acquaintances who don’t bring any value and depth to your life.

My social circle may have dwindled over the years, which is fine by me. Not that I don’t still appreciate a fun night out with friends, but the definition and value of a “friend” has changed for me over the years. These days, I’m all about the quality. I’m less about the fun factor and more about the fuel factor. Who fuels me, energizes me and challenges me? Find people that spur you on and make you better. Befriend people you want to emulate. Take those poker skills and apply them to your relationships. And most importantly, “Seek to be worth knowing rather than be well-known.” –Unknown.

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October 2014