Team Talk

Forget his cakes, Kipling will make you an exceedingly good player

Just as there are lessons at the poker table that can help you in everyday life, there are things that you can learn away from the baize that will aid you in the cardrooms. Kung-fu masters across the Orient developed their fighting systems by watching Cranes dilly-dallying around in ponds and monkeys leaping around in trees; you, too, can take inspiration from other sources.

For instance, Rudyard Kipling wrote in his autobiography that the inspiring poem If… was penned with one Dr Leander Starr Jameson in mind. You know the poem – it was voted Britain’s favourite in 1995, has been played over numerous films and adverts, and read at Remembrance Day ceremonies and in school assemblies for decades. It’s the one which goes, ‘If you’re able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… then you’ll be a man, my son.’ Dr Jameson supposedly inspired Kipling by leading 500 of his countrymen in a botched raid against Dutch colonists at the end of the 19th century in Africa, which was later considered to be one of the major factors for the start of the second Boer War (1899-1902) – a conflict which evokes an If…-like vision of the Victorian stiff upper lip like nothing else.

But while Kipling himself said his well-versed words were about the Boer war (in his autobiography), I think the old boy was telling a porkie pie. The poem is blatantly about poker, whether Kipling admits it or not, and within its verses beats an anthem that any budding player should take to heart. Read it in its entirety and you’ll see why we at PokerPlayer believe If… should become the international anthem of the poker community. It should be sung by players, arms across chests, before every tournament and recited at gravesides by those left behind when a former rounder has been dealt their final river card.

It’s awe-inspiring prose and anytime that you feel a little offcolour with the game from a poor run of cards or simply just playing beneath your usual standard, I’d recommend you read it. And if you’re wondering what the hell I’m banging on about then read a couple of select verses and try to tell me it hasn’t been written with poker in mind:

IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitchand- toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

Then you’ll be man, indeed. Plenty of dusty academics have upheld this Kipling text as a guide to how to conduct yourself in a gentlemanly manner and, as you should well know by now, that’s exactly the way you should act at the table.

Truly take to heart the line, ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,’ then not only will other players respect you more – never a bad thing – but you’ll be able to roll with the unfortunate blows of outdraws that much better. Learn how to do that and you’ll save yourself chips, humility and an early heart attack.

There are documented references to Kipling playing poker – losing to a royal flush on a transatlantic liner no less – so would it come as any surprise that the poet and journalist hadn’t told the truth 100 percent about the basis for the most printed poem in history?

A poker player never lies. And if you question that statement you’ll be a player, my son!

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