May

8

 There is a point of view out there that the best performance comes when you're having fun. In my lifetime I have played in more than 10,000 refereed squash matches, and won at least 50 national tournaments, and I never had fun in any of my matches. When I tried to have fun, it was disastrous, and I shudder at what a horse's ass I was on those occasions.

To someone who's a serious competitor, the idea of having fun in a tournament is ridiculous. There's so much work, and so many better athletes that you have to beat. So many officials working to do you in, and so much equipment to properly deploy. So much practice and preparation before and during the event. You might think that this is a matter of individual differences or different sports, and I grant that there are some so great that they can soar so high and so much better that it's possible for them to have fun.

I believe that Sharif Khan and Hashim Khan had fun when they beat me, but they didn't have that much fun when I beat them, on those much too rare occasions.

I do know it's totally wrong to try to have fun in the market — it's much too hard, and there are no naturals. The cycles are always changing.

One of the best things I've done in my operation is to make sure that no one has fun in my office. Every now and then, I catch someone who doesn't get the joke, and I upbraid them. 

I try to suppress all exuberance, and when I hear of some former trader who loves to have fun by trading I know he's a straw man waiting to be exposed, and I only wish I could short his fund. Normally I wouldn't comment on a subject like this but I am sure that all frivolity should forever be knoced out of the speculative arena, especially when even an iota of other people's money is involved. They should have their own fun with money you make for them through serious and scholarly discipline and improvement, with no fun whatsover.

Charles Pennington adds: 

I don't know whether he considered himself to be having fun, but I remember a quote from Rod Laver in which he said that he would just swing for his big shots until they started landing in. If they didn't, then he would lose. I guess he knew that losing when you're having a bad day was inevitable when you're playing at the top of the game.

Regardless, I remember that he was my favorite player to watch when I was a kid. It's difficult to find footage of those old matches now, except for a few minutes of a match with Borg in 1977. Laver is past his prime, but he's definitely holding his own with Borg. His modest height of 5'8'' makes the court look like a football field. Notice the beautiful drop shots he makes, even from near the baseline, which are so startling when mixed among his blasting drives. 

From Alan Millhone:

Your remarks carry over into competitive checkers with ease and are sound advice. When you play in a competitive tournament you had better be focused 100% or get crushed by your opponent. I have not had the proper time to devote to serious study for some time and my game has suffered accordingly. You have to spend time preparing for any tournament. The better players have obviously prepared with diligence.

Our World's 3-Move Champion, Mr. Alexander Moiseyev has often said that he is wary when making a move as his opponent (regardless of their strength) can make any reply move, and their reply may be a very good move. He is watchful in every game regardless if he is playing one of the top players or an average player as myself. You might play 'skittle' checkers at a party for fun on occasion, but in a tournament leave the fun outside of the playing room or suffer the consequences .

" Knowledge is power" in the market, checkers, chess, or any athletic event.

From Russell Sears:

At least in marathoning nobody comes to the line and expects to "have fun." The fans don't say, "look at how much fun he is having out there." The best they used to say of me was "he doesn't even look like he is trying." But believe me I was "trying." It's funny now that I am older, and much slower, they don't say that any more.

It's good to hear from Vic, that it's only the weekend warriors that think it's all about fun even for the serious competitor. The fun is left for after the finish. Or as the old country song goes, "time enough for counting, when the dealings done."

Nigel Davies writes: 

I think there must be a difference between how a games player or sportsman defines 'fun' and how the average person on the street does so.

Steve Leslie adds: 

Here is a profound clarification of fun that is so on the mark from my perspective.

I heard tournament poker pro Amir Fahidi say "If you are not willing to die you cannot live."

George Patton said, "Compared to war, all acts of human endeavor pale in comparison." In the movie Patton there is a dialogue between Omar Bradley played by Karl Malden and George C. Scott as Patton.

Bradley: "You know the difference between you and me George? I do this because it is my job. You do it because you love it."

Upon reflection Patton remarks: "God help me I do love it so."

From Alfonso Sammassimo:

Playing a tournament match with the aim of having fun has only occasionally entered my mind since junior days, simply because it has always been such a costly attitude to take onto the court. In particular I recall matches where I subtly tried to imitate players whose styles I admired and envied, especially when I had only recently watched them, and how badly it affected the score for me, cost me more matches than I can count.

I recently had my first competitive match (our annual club championships) in a while after a shoulder injury, meeting up in the second round against an older fellow who used to tour our satellite circuit and played a for a few years as a pro. He had been playing club matches for months and was in sharp form, typical Australian grass style player. I was very fit going into the match but hadn't played much, and my plan was to just enjoy myself. But after realizing my range was way out and seeing that the guy couldn't hit three high forehands in a row I decided to turn the match into a hack-fest, the only game plan I was capable of executing well on the day.

Fortunately fitness and concentration won the day for me, and as ugly as the game was it satisfying to win knowing that I managed to change plan, use my available strengths to make him push himself to hurt me - no fun involved until shaking hands.

The tournament player walks onto the court to win, and it's no fun losing no matter how fancy you looked - the fun is in the prize. With so many things that need to be done in consecutive matches to win a tournament and the concentration that is required, there is no room to think of enjoying it. My P&L tends to suffer the same fate when I trade for fun or try to get fancy, not playing the game that feels most natural to me. And I have more recently been prone to some imitation of market players, but that hasn't hurt me much.

From Stefan Jovanovich:

What poker has to do with either running or baseball, I have no idea. I do know that Don Schlitz wrote "The Gambler" in 1976, and Kenny Rogers' recording of it was a hit in 1978. As "old" wisdom, that is bit on the short side even for the more synthetic products of Nashville. I will defer to one of the many poker experts like SL to comment on whether players at the table count. My amateur observation tells me that they can tell you the history of every chip they have in the stacks in front of them.

Those of us whose sporting careers were limited to the John Kruk school of athletics ("M'am, I'm not an athlete; I am a ball player") have no way of understanding what Russell Sears knows as a marathon runner. We are even more puzzled by why he is so moved to anger when told that fun is a necessary part of baseball. Baseball is a game that you can only play well after 10 years of daily practice, study and good teaching. The first time a player gets to the major leagues he fails - either mostly or completely. (Tim Lincecum's debut yesterday with the Giants was a "mostly" so he may, in fact, be the next "pheenom".)

If, thereafter, you are hard working and talented and lucky enough to stick at the major league level, you get to fail only 3 out of every 4 tries. If you are that 1 in a million player whom God has truly blessed, you fail only 2 out of 3 tries instead. Precisely because it mostly about failure, baseball has one cardinal rule: you never "show the other guy up". If you do, the guy standing 60 feet 6 inches away holding a rock-hard ball has the right to aim it for your ribs instead of the inside corner; and even the players on your own team will think you had it coming. What almost all baseball players share, whatever their degree of success, is the capacity to find joy in its daily grind of failure and humor even in its worst moments of humiliation.

Rodger Bastien writes:

Have fun all of the time? Ha!! I think the struggle to excel is universal, in any sport. The idea that it's more "fun" in baseball or that the struggle is less is to me absurd. However, I would give anything to be able to enjoy that struggle again! 

Russell Sears adds: 

Perhaps there is an element of frustration, in what I wrote. The original reply was not meant in anger, but from a Spartan spirit. Nigel said it much better.

Age has forced me to run marathons for "fun" and feel many of the same sentiments Nigel expressed. However, unlike Nigel, my game suffers no matter the discipline I bring to it. But discipline can be exhilarating, even in defeat. Discipline can make the game fun.

Nigel Davies adds:

After some further thought I think I know exactly what the fun is in competitive sports (and trading) if you play for blood. It's the intensity of the experience which is completely off the spectrum of those we have in 'normal life'.

A chess game in which one puts everything in can lead one to feel either great highs or great lows, but always the feeling that one is more intensely alive because of the rich tapestry of emotions. Strong players will also tend to have feelings of pride and self-worth linked to good performance, and not necessarily to favorable outcomes, though the two tend to run side by side.

Those who can't bring themselves to play with much intensity are those I'd describe as dabblers. And they'll never be much good because they won't be able to fire on all cylinders.

Rodger Bastien adds:

My intent wasn't to diminish Mr. Jovanovich's knowledge or opinion pertaining to baseball as much as to respectfully disagree with the idea there are absolutes unique to baseball, especially regarding that difficult period at the beginning of a major league career.

I suspect that the first year in any sport at the major league level is especially daunting. The NBA is a prime example where the first or second year is often a year of learning. I'm convinced that these elite athletes do such a good job of making it look easy that we mere mortals can't begin to understand how gifted they are. When we relate our experience playing the game to the game they play at that level it is truly comparing apples to oranges, their game being that much more difficult.

That all said, I have always enjoyed Mr. J.'s musings and am partial to anyone who loves baseball and respectful to their opinions of it as it certainly is expressed from the viewpoint of greatest affection. Now Vic, I am still trying to figure out how you achieved such great success in the racquet sports without indulging yourself in a modicum of fun! Is it that to label it as fun is to infer a lack of seriousness? I know that at the moment of my most outstanding athletic achievement the almost orgiastic release would be defined in many ways, fun being nearing the top of the list.

Stefan Jovanovich replies:

Rodger: I think you are right. I was going to offer pitcher's WHIP stats as an example of baseball's uniquely absolute level of failure and compare that to the number of unforced errors in a tennis match. But, when I looked at the statistics for matches between professional players at the same level of excellence as the best major league hitters and pitchers (the top 25), their ratios of points won on service games vs. double-faults, unforced errors and winners by their opponents were roughly the same - 1 in 3 or 4. I am afraid that I got mesmerized by my memories of looking at the game through a mask and the joys of doing something well, at least at the orange level. 


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