In the 1976 World Series of Poker main event, Doyle Brunson and Jesse Alto were the last two players standing. As the two poker veterans faced off in a head-to-head battle for the illusive title of World Series of Poker Champion, the last thing they could have imagined was that they were about to shape poker history.
On the last hand, Alto was dealt an ace and a jack, a powerful starting hand for heads-up play, while Brunson, affectionately known as “Texas Dolly,” was dealt a far weaker 10 and 2 of spades. Alto placed a standard bet before the flop because he held a strong hand, but Brunson, who had substantially more chips than Alto, called the bet with his weaker 10-2, knowing that he was in a strong position. The first three community cards were turned revealing an ace, a jack and a 10. Alto now had the top two pairs while Brunson had just a pair of 10s. After Alto placed another standard bet, Brunson moved all-in hoping to scare his opponent away, but instead, Alto called the all-in. After the final two cards were turned revealing a 2 and a 10, Brunson was crowned the tournament champion with a full-house, three 10s and a pair of 2s.
Remarkably, the following year, after surviving yet another intensely competitive field of some of the best poker players in the world, Brunson repeated his victory by defeating legendary poker player, Gary “Bones” Berland, becoming the first player to ever win back-to-back World Series of Poker titles.
As if being the first to win this coveted championship in consecutive years wasn’t enough, what made Brunson’s repeat victory even more remarkable was that he won the second tournament with the exact same hand, the seemingly weak 10-2 -- a hand that from that day forward has been respectfully referred to as “Texas Dolly.” We’ve all been dealt a poor hand at one point or another in our lives. The recent recession certainly hasn’t helped. While the economy continues to show some signs of improvement, for many the hands they’re being dealt seem to be getting progressively worse. The fundamental truth we must never forget, however, is that the final outcome does not depend on the quality of our hand, but on how we play the hand we’re dealt.
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If only the players with the strongest hand were to win poker tournaments, then there would be no merit to the game. There would be no creativity, imagination or innovation. In fact there would be no skill involved whatsoever. The game would lack the “human factor” -- that unpredictable seed of hope which helps us to rise above adversity and hardship, and inspires us to succeed against all odds. We’re all capable of it. Each and every one of us, by our very nature, has the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and succeed whether others expect us to or not. What many people do not realize, however, is that playing a poor hand well and succeeding despite adversity is a matter of perception and that is, perhaps, the biggest challenge of all.
If we would only adjust our attitude toward the problems, mistakes and failures we face, and turn them into what author, Steve Young, calls “steppingstones to success,” we would realize that success is a by product of our response to whatever situation we may face, be it good or bad, difficult or pleasant. In his book, “Great Failures of the Extremely Successful,” Steve Young tells the story of Sir Edward Hillary who wanted to climb Mount Everest and, after three failed attempts, finally succeeded. People said, “You’ve conquered the mountain,” and Hillary said, “No, I’ve conquered myself.” Remember, it’s not the problem we face, it’s how we deal with it that determines whether or not we will ultimately be victorious.
There are plenty of examples of highly successful people who endured countless setbacks. Oscar-nominated actor Harrison Ford was told by the vice president of Columbia Pictures that he would never make it in Hollywood. Best-selling novelist, John Grisham’s first book was rejected by 12 publishing houses and sixteen agents. A young Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. Even Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.
But perhaps the best illustration of playing a poor hand well comes from Steve Young’s book “Abraham Lincoln’s Road To The White House.” He failed in business in 1831, was defeated for the Legislature in 1832, had a second business failure in 1833, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836, was defeated for speaker in 1838, defeated for election in 1840, defeated for Congress in 1843 and 1848, defeated for Senate in 1855, defeated for vice president in 1856, defeated for Senate in 1858 and then elected president in 1860.
If you happen to be looking down at a poor hand, don’t fret. Remember Texas Dolly and consider the wise words of Denis Waitley who once said, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but from playing a poor hand well.”
Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of international design-build firm Lemartec, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.