Joe Bob's America: They have won

By JOE BOB BRIGGS  |  Nov. 22, 2001 at 11:02 AM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- You can't go to an elementary-school fundraiser, a late show at the Holiday Inn lounge or an Elks Lodge mixer without eventually being afflicted with ... "The Speech."

"If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed with fear, then they have won."

"We must continue to live our lives or they have won."

"The world has changed, but we must not let it change, or else THEY HAVE WON."

That last one is especially amusing, because it assumes we can screw up our eyebrows, think real hard, and walk around acting like it's Sept. 10.

Among the various literary and scientific journals I subscribe to, are Card Player and Poker Digest -- both of which I highly recommend, by the way -- and lately the dozens of poker strategy columnists have been OBSESSED with Sept.11.

Guys who have written for YEARS about the obscure intricacies of the Disconnected Flop, the Tight Passive Caller in Late Position, the Ace-Queen Offsuit Betting Structure, and what to do with Pocket Kings against two raisers on the river, are suddenly penning long philosophical treatises about "the need to play our best game so that they don't win," "the freedoms that they want to take away," "the importance of making ourselves immune to the objectives of our opponent."

Now some of these guys are among the greatest poker players in the world. And I would assume that a poker player -- or any serious sportsman, for that matter -- would know that, if you're SAYING those things, then your opponent already HAS won.

It's the first principle of the competitive psych-out. You make the guy worry about what MIGHT happen, and adjust his behavior -- it doesn't matter whether he adjusts his behavior in a good way or a bad way, it's just important that he think about ADJUSTING HIS BEHAVIOR -- and you already have the edge.

Poker even has a jillion terms for this: the Bluff, the Check Raise, the Disguised Inside Straight. Poker is itself a form of terrorism in which one guy -- not necessarily the guy with the best hand -- takes the money of every other guy, usually because they think too much. The whole purpose is to produce a state of mind, not a clear military victory.

The Denver Nuggets have known this for years. As soon as the opposing team says, "We're not going to let ourselves be affected by the high altitude -- we're coming in a day early to practice in the mile-high atmosphere," then the Nuggets have all but WON THE GAME.

Even if the visitors AREN'T affected by the high altitude, every little pang in their sides becomes a brain alarm clock: "Uh-oh, could this be the beginning of ... HIGH ALTITUDE FATIGUE?" And it takes a half inch off their jump shot, and the ball rolls off the rim.

Or take Yogi Berra, who wrote the book on batting psychology. He was the greatest psych-out catcher in baseball history. He would say ANYTHING to a batter. If it made the batter laugh, Yogi wins. Concentration is gone. If it made him angry, Yogi wins. Concentration is a little off. If he IGNORES Yogi and says to himself, "I will NOT let him affect me," Yogi still WINS -- because he's affected by trying to not be affected. It only takes a fraction of a second to throw off a batter's timing. You do it by making him think of ANYTHING other than batting.

So one thing we know about the terrorists is that they have obviously made us think of everything EXCEPT "living our lives." People who are living their lives happily bet pocket kings into a possible inside straight, but all of a sudden we're saying, "Okay, I'm going to bet the pocket kings because that's what I would have done before Sept. 11. But he MIGHT have a straight and then I'll be broke."

Are you following this? I didn't think so.

Lemme put it this way. Those speeches at the Elks Lodge would make Osama bin Laden deliriously happy if he had any way of knowing about them. Until we stop talking about it, they HAVE won.

(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at or through his Web site at Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.)

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