I would say the same thing about personal defense. If you want to survive a violent encounter, it helps to have trained and practiced, but you also need the circumstances to work out in your favor, which is just another way to describe luck.
In poker as well as in personal defense, sometimes luck is all you need. Any given casino patron can sit down at a table and win a hand of poker, just like any untrained citizen can survive a violent encounter if the circumstances go in their favor. But in both contexts, the people who know the rules of the game and have done at least some modicum of preparation are far more likely to succeed.
There is a strategy in Texas Hold ‘Em where an aggressive player might bet their entire stack of chips before ever seeing the first three cards hit the table. This strategy is referred to as “going all in before the flop.” The reason for adopting this strategy is that you want to “buy the pot” by forcing all the other players out of the hand with your aggressive bet. Going all in before the flop sends the message that you have been dealt what you believe will be a winning hand, even though you may, in fact, be bluffing. This strategy usually only works if you are surrounded by inexperienced players who are easily scared off of a hand. If you are playing with experienced players, someone is likely to call you if you employ this strategy too often. When someone calls your all-in bet, you may be forced to show your cards. If you were bluffing and don’t have good cards or someone else ends up with a better hand after the rest of the cards are dealt, you’re finished and would have to buy back into the game to continue playing.I bring up this betting strategy because I think a lot of armed citizens make the mistake of going all in before the flop too often in the way they dress, act, and carry their weapons, and a lot of them are just bluffing. Dressing like a tactical ninja, covering your car in gun bumper stickers, or openly carrying your firearm are all-in bets before the flop. By displaying your intent to use deadly force up front before knowing for sure what the nature of your threat is or what the circumstances might lead to if you are assaulted, you are essentially betting that you will win or that your opponents are just scared or stupid.
Just as the all-in bet before the flop in poker usually only works consistently against inexperienced players, the overt display of your intentions as an armed citizen is only likely to work against an undetermined assailant. Police officers make an all-in bet every day when they put on the uniform. And there are frequent instances where they are assaulted and killed or seriously injured by bad guys despite the fact that they are known to be capable of delivering deadly force. Police officers usually don’t have the option of concealing their firearms and dressing like normal people when they are on duty, but most of them will take advantage of that option whenever they are off duty. They understand the stakes of the game they are playing.
As everyday armed citizens, we have the advantage of being able to bet more conservatively and only push our chips into the table when we have a more reasonable expectation of victory. We should at least want to see the flop, if not the turn and the river, before we push our chips forward and show our cards.Even with this advantage, we are never guaranteed a victory. There is always a chance we can be bested by a determined attacker if the circumstances don’t work in our favor. Therefore, we should take every advantage we can to increase our odds of survival. Keeping our intentions and tools concealed until we have seen at least the first set of cards hit the table is the wise strategy. More often than not, when we see those cards, we may decide to fold and avoid the confrontation altogether or get on the phone with the police. If you take the overt and aggressive strategy to self defense, you may well make it through life unscathed, because luck does count. But if you ever get called on your bet, you’d better hope you have the cards after the river, because there are no re-buys.
In the poker room, the guys you can take advantage of are easy to spot if you know what to look for, which is another reason to be careful about how you carry yourself. I like to sit down at the cash games in Vegas being the normal guy that I am and just wait for my personal ATM to sit down with a flat-brim ball cap and sunglasses on at 4 a.m. like it’s the World Series of Poker. On more than one occasion, that guy has paid for my dinner or more with his false bravado. All I have to do is bide my time and I’m going to have his stack more often than not. He’s the guy I can lure into a pot and then bluff into folding without even having top pair.
In the self-defense world, that’s the guy open-carrying a 1911 with no retention on his holster and a “Come and Take It” t-shirt, or rocking the whole 5.11 catalog and American flag patch hat while carrying “concealed” at Subway. Nowhere but inside his own head is that guy ready for the next hand he may be dealt. If he were, he wouldn’t put it on display. True expertise requires no such outward exaggeration. No criminal worth his salt is likely to be dissuaded from his evil intentions just by being in the presence of such obvious empty posturing. All that needs to happen is for the right opportunity to present itself and it’s an easy payday. But luck is still a thing, and sometimes even the easy targets win a hand or two. Is that a bet you want to make?
WHO ARE YOU PLAYING AGAINST?
One important thing I’ve learned since I started playing poker (and I’m still constantly learning) is that you are playing the person across the table from you more than you are playing your cards. Every bet you make is in anticipation of how that person will perceive it and react. What will your opponent think about your hand when you check-raise? What will he think when you push all in? Making sure your bets are sending the intended message to your opponent and making sure you understand what their reactions are telling you are how you win at poker.
It’s not much different in self defense, except for the fact that your table is much larger and you can’t always look your opponent in the eye. But you had better believe your opponent is looking at you. You must ensure you are sending the right message, and it’s usually a mistake to flex if you don’t have the nuts. Even if you think you do, you need to be prepared for the reality that there’s a chance your opponent does too, which may be why they called you in the first place.
If you understand the stakes of the poker game that is personal defense, it stands to reason you would take the more conservative approach whenever feasible, develop a poker face, and play the long game. Impulsive betting to try to buy the pot is a very short-sighted and emotional strategy. It may buy you a few pots in the short run, but eventually someone will call your bluff, and even your pocket aces might not survive what gets dealt from that point forward. Usually the more calculated and deliberate players make it to the final table.
There are no sure things in poker or in self defense. If you understand that, you will choose your strategy appropriately. If not, you may find yourself watching your chips disappear while you wait for an ambulance ride that you could have avoided if you’d played smarter. When you think about personal defense, hum some Kenny Rogers and be careful how you play your cards.