The Art of Losing by Robert Turner

What can I do today that differs from yesterday? I recently watched a clip of the late Kobe Bryant where he talked about what we can learn from losing. In it, he talked about Beyonce watching a tape of her just-finished show, just to see what she could improve next time.

The great always strive toward perfection.

I once was at a live concert given by Barbra Streisand that was also being taped for later airing. We had paid hundreds of dollars for tickets to see her. Her opening was amazing, her voice incredible as usual.

Then, suddenly, she stopped. She appeared furious about something with her orchestra. It wasn’t perfect, and she wasn’t settling for less. 

It took four re-starts. We were shocked at first, but finally, she got this opening song to the level she wanted the world to see. The earlier starts sounded great, but Barbra knew they weren’t perfect. 

This need for perfection many people couldn’t understand, but the greats do. What Kobe was expressing was the same: You can learn from your failures, no matter how talented you’ve become. And when you have a natural talent and you’ve spent it on something that failed, see if more work would have made the difference.

The Long Ride Home

I’ve gambled for over fifty years and, honestly, I’ve often failed to correct my mistakes. It’s a lifetime work, always in progress. I see where I’ve erred and vowed never to do that again, and yet I do.

I know from experience that in college basketball you cannot bet against a home team for  reasons beyond stated odds. For example, some teams can shoot over 60 percent at home. The crowd can take the visitors out of their game, or the referees can get caught up in the emotions. On any given night, the home team is more likely to play way over its ability. No other sport has as large a home advantage.

Now, look at why you lost a bet. It likely wasn’t a “bad” call or a team letting you down. By not fully valuing the intangibles, you didn’t do the hard work to win. So, learn from it. Losing makes you a winner when you can reevaluate your poor choices.

Once after going broke in a poker game, I had an hour-long drive home, which was plenty of time to reflect on my play. I realized that most of the time I lost I never held a proper starting hand. I began behind and stayed there. There was no reason for me to blame the dealer or the cards. I’d put myself in a position to get beat.

When You Are Your Worst Opponent

When playing poker, have you targeted a player but instead trapped yourself? I remember a WPT event where I’d decided that if I could flop a set, I could break a solid player who was dominating the table. I’ll never forget this hand. We both had lots of chips; neither one of us had lost a pot in hours. I did want to beat her. And yes, my ego can be a horrible thing.  

She raised preflop and I called with pocket fours. The flop came ace-four-deuce. I knew she had ace-king and I had flopped my set. Her chips were mine. We were soon all in… and she showed me a set of aces. 

Looking back, I asked myself, “Who was to blame for me losing?” It wasn’t my opponent, the dealer, or even plain bad luck. It was my stupid play. There was little reason to play against her at all, given her solid style. I busted because of my stupid ego: I got what I’d wished for but so did she. Talk about a walk of shame! 

Many of my beats in life or gambling occurred because I didn’t do the hard work needed to be the best. Kobe knew this. You can learn so much from losing that it can make you a winner. What made Kobe one of best basketball players ever was his unending search for perfection.

Barbra Streisand knew she’d made mistakes in her timing, so she kept doing the song over to get it right. That’s what greatness is: the will to get things perfect, not just better.

In gambling we can’t do it over, but we can learn to do it right. I can learn that the next time I want to bet a college basketball road favorite, while there are so many other games to choose from, I deserve to lose. Do your work and factor in the intangibles.

There are plenty of games where you can give yourself the best edge. Just do the work.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982.

He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.