Good Guys & Bad Guys: Using your One Time in 2024

Brad Willis
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Posted on: December 30, 2023 12:32 pm EST

This year at the WPT World Championship, I watched a guy use his One Time in a situation that prompted a nearby pro to ask, “You’re using your One Time for that?”

The implication was clear. 

It’s your One Time, man. Save it for a time that it’s going to really matter. Using it now seems less than optimal. 

But the dude was resolute. “Yes. One time,” he said.

Neither the pro nor I understood Mr. One Time’s motivation, but it wasn’t our One Time, and he owed us no explanation. 

He wasn’t necessarily a Good Guy, nor was the incredulous pro a Bad Guy. They were just guys playing one of the biggest tournaments of the year, and they disagreed. It was up and down in less than 60 seconds. And the world still turned.

It made me think about how we use our fabled, fictional, fault-ridden One Times. Very often, it’s because we’ve gotten our money in bad, or we’re behind in a big spot because we’ve not made the best decisions. Or maybe we’re so tenuously-ahead that disaster is equally as likely as salvation. If a soldier finds God in a foxhole, poker players–the Good Guys and the Bad Guys–find their One Time as they are pushing back their chairs from the table.

As the new year approaches, I’m thinking about using my One Time, and while you may neither require nor want an explanation, this is it.

Call me (almost) anything you want

A famous poker guy sent me a private message a few nights ago. He’s a well-respected pro and a guy I genuinely admire on a lot of levels. His message was as succinct as it was painful to read. He wrote to tell me that I had been unkind. 

I’ve lived long enough and in enough worlds to absorb my share of criticism. I can roll with being called all the things I’ve been called in my life. I’ve been called an idiot (on video during a state police investigation of law enforcement malfeasance , no less), a loser (more times and more accurately than I care to admit), and, once, a “pencil-dick” (by a girl I dared to approach to say hello when I was a goofy pre-teen). Lazy, goofy, soft…bring them all on. I’ve heard it all at one point or another.

But, calling me unkind? That’s how you get to me. Well-played.

If I were to call the floor on myself and ask for a ruling, I honestly don’t know what the outcome would be. I live and work in a poker world where being unkind is routinely celebrated. Trolling is an artform. Takedowns are a matter of sport. The villains have as many fans as the heroes. 

If it were a team game between good and evil, I know what jersey I’d wear. Nevertheless, on the days that I embrace my inner pollyanna, I like to pretend there is a way for everyone to make a buck in the poker game without a need for teams, or–to just say what I mean–without constantly celebrating the assholes around us. 

Setting the table for Just a Guy

The same day I sat reflecting on kindness, I got another private message from a guy I know in another life

“I have never been a gambler,” he began before going on to call himself, “just a guy who loves tournament poker.”

He enjoys play-money poker online and in recent years decided to treat himself to playing a WSOP Circuit event. The first time he tried, he made it into the top 300 of 970 entries. This year, his only goal was to make the money by finishing better than 143rd. That day, he took a picture just before he cashed out, Weeks later, and apropos of nothing, he sent that picture to me with this message.

“Not any real money, but a lot of self-pride to know I could do it,” he wrote. “It still makes me smile to this day. Happy New Year, Brad.”

This Just A Guy wasn’t bragging or celebrating about cashing a poker tournament. He was celebrating his love of the game, and he knew his happiness would bring a smile to my face. 

I feel like we need more Just A Guys, and I say that meaning this:

We need Just A Guys.

And Just A Gals.

And Just A Theys.

And Just A Whatever They Want To Be Calleds.

It may just be me getting soft at the end of a long year, but maybe we could attract more folks to the game if so many of us weren’t assholes all the time. 

And, yeah, I wrote “us” there, because I’m not incapable of being a dick. I’m actually good at it sometimes. Occasionally, I forget to jab and go for the knockout uppercut. Because, it feels good to win, doesn’t it?

I’m still thinking about that DM I got and about whether I was genuinely unkind. I’ll figure it out. No matter where I land on it, I’ll end up addressing it in the same forum where I took my swings. Regardless, the whole thing has made me think a lot about the hard refresh of a new year and what to do with it.

One Time, 2024. One Time.

If you’re in my business or any like it, the end of the year is full of Top Ten lists, predictions for the new year, and all the things that will fill out the end-of-year editorial calendar. I started about five of those pieces–some nice, some not-so-nice–before scrapping them all for this.

I look back on the last year, and I think it was one of poker’s best in a really long time. I look back on this year, and it’s given me every reason to be excited about the game’s future. I look back on this year, and…well, I also see a lot of stuff that makes me cringe. I’m not going to ruin the festivity of the new year by reminding everyone about it, but you will remember it either fondly…or as I do: with the grudging acceptance that I work in an industry that often booms because Bad Guys are winning.

Every year, we start anew, hoping–maybe foolishly–for the run-bad to end. We treat the new year like we have a renewable One Time, and so we sing Auld Lang Syne, we watch the Times Square ball drop, and we try to find a cure for the incurable champagne hangover. Some of us make resolutions to be better, and oftentimes those resolutions are based on how we can be better for ourselves. None of those things are wrong, even if they are mostly based in nostalgia, hyper-optimism, and Pixar movies.

Tonight, I’m left one with one Tiny Tim wish…a head-in-the-sand, unicorns and rainbows dream…a simple question that keeps running over and over again in my head:

If I knew that fate would deliver me my One Time, would I use it to turn the poker world into a much kinder place that was more welcoming to everyone who wanted to play it? Would I use it to acknowledge that poker is a tough game that requires winners and losers but doesn’t require gutting an opponent and leaving them bleeding, broke, and ashamed? Would I use it to just try to encourage poker people to be nice? Would I use it to celebrate people who try harder to be kind more often than they are not? Would I use my One Time for all of that? 

Yeah, I think I would. Most folks would laugh at me like I’d folded kings pre-flop, and the rest would use it as ammunition against me every time I come out swinging at somebody who deserves it. But, yeah. I think I’d use my One Time for that, and I’d let everyone snicker. Once you’ve been called “pencil-dick,” everything else is noise.

So, one time, poker folks.

Go be kind in 2024.

And if you can’t manage that, join me in trying to not be unkind.

We’ve somehow lasted another year, so we might as well try to make the next one better. And who knows? Maybe next year, we’ll have a lot more people enjoying the game we love. 

I sure hope so.

But, you know, your mileage may vary.

I’m just a guy who loves poker.