Jealousy in poker: An honest look at the green monster
Jealousy used to be my least favorite emotion because of its vicious circularity. I'd feel bad because I want something a friend has and then I felt extra bad that I felt that way in the first place.
I've always been way more jealous about achievements than personal relationships. When I played chess professionally, I would obsessively look up one of my main rivals at tournaments. At the time, I was enrolled at NYU, and she was jetting around the world in international competitions. I was ashamed to be rooting for her to lose. It was the worst feeling because this person was also my friend.
In the world of multi-table tournaments (especially live ones), I believe that jealousy is rampant, though it's hard to tell since it's surely under-reported. Jealousy is built into the structure of MTTs. Part of the dream of having a super deep run in the Main Event or the Sunday Million is the possibility of it not happening. Which means it could be happening to people with similar skill level to you who play similar amounts of volume. If you play mostly live MTT events, you ought to be better than average at handling jealousy, or immune to it (lucky you!).
I now see jealousy as an emotional thermometer. If I see my friends doing well and have little jealousy, it means my emotional temperature is ideal. Recently, many of my best girls have had major accomplishments in the triad of fields I'm most involved in, poker, chess and writing. Katie Dozier became a Supernova, and Jamie Kerstetter signed with a major site. Irina Krush earned the most prestigious title in chess of Grandmaster, and Jean Hoffman, with whom I started 9 Queens, became the first woman to be the Executive Director of the US Chess Federation. Among my writer friends, Samara O'Shea is publishing a new book (on the related topic of unrequited love!), and Nell McShane Wulfhart is now writing regularly for mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal. I was happy to be happy in all these cases, though I can't claim I've "solved jealousy." The green monster could easily return in future stages of my life.
Here are my top tips to combating jealousy and to seeing the positive side of it:
1. Swap Away: If something good happens to a friend and your genuine emotion is jealousy, you should probably express happiness and support for them anyway. Some people may dismiss this as "fake;" I call it "being the change you want to see in the world." Aligning your interests with your friend may help you fake it till you make it. In poker, you could achieve this by swapping or buying pieces (you should also be rolled for this and think your friend is a good investment).
2. Reassess: If you find yourself so jealous that you can barely log on to Twitter without twitching over friends final tabling various events or vacationing around the world, you may need to reassess your own poker and life. Working on your own game may make you feel better. If not, you may need to explore outside your game of choice or poker itself. I'm a big believer in multiple revenue streams (as two of my favorite advice columnists, Jen Dziura and James Altucher, constantly emphasize) for financial and emotional reasons. Learn a new game or try to make a little money outside of poker. Spend less time following your friends and develop a new skill that sets you apart. Then when you're back in a more social mood (think hibernation!), it may be easier for you to root for them.
3. Don't Buy Into the Hype: Things like highlighting the "last woman standing" in poker may force jealousy or competition where none would otherwise exist. In a few recent conversations, I was compared too directly to female friends. Reject such temptations to gossip. It's one thing to indulge in a little internal jealousy, but once you start giving into it in public ways, you are feeding a monster.
4. Recognize the positive attributes of jealousy: You have a group of friends that is successful enough for you to be jealous of. You're probably ambitious and passionate and have some clear visions of what you want. Finally, your jealousy may be valid and help you determine who your real friends are. To take an extreme case, you may wonder if your friend were to become WSOP Main Event Champion, would you still be as close? Possibly not. Be realistic. If I was good friends with everyone I hung out with, I'd be emotionally overwhelmed all the time. Figure out who your real friends are, and do your best to genuinely root for and support them. It will likely come back to you.
Till you can completely rid yourself of the rottenest emotion, remember that when life hands you bitter green vegetables, you can make kale chips.