This past weekend was a good one. As always, you can check out the Rutgers Debate blog for details on how things went for the team. They neither disappointed nor went over the top this weekend, though they were frustrated with their octofinal decision. The disappointment was somewhat mitigated by watching Brandeis run to victory… I gave their floor speech before their 9-4 Opp win.
On Sunday, the much-ballyhooed “APDA Mini-Cup” was held at Harvard, featuring a Harvard-heavy pool of eight teams comprised of fifteen former elite debaters and one current one. This evolved from an earlier idea to hold a year-long “APDA Cup” that would be one giant tournament taking place over the entire season and culminating in one final weekend of out-rounds. Despite widespread interest, that never got off the ground last year, so this idea was implemented instead, perhaps as a lead-in to a future year-long Cup. To sweeten the pot, there was a $1,000 cash prize allotted to the winner, garnered from local teams who wanted the event to be a success (and apparently got first crack at the tapes of all the rounds in return as well – it’s like a basic incentive argument in an APDA round).
Anyway, I was paired with BU’s Jake Campbell, one of the nicest guys ever to grace the circuit and a mutual believer in the power of crazy philosophical opp-choice cases. We wound up in a Harvard-light pod, consisting of a GW team, a Brandeis team (Zimmy & Joel), and a hybrid of two 2010 National semifinalists (one finalist – and TOTY to boot) from Harvard and Amherst. The format was round-robin with the top team advancing straight to Finals.
I really enjoyed our rounds – hopefully they will post the videos sooner than later and I can feature each of them on the blog a la my posting of the Stanford rounds over the summer we moved out to Jersey. I wrote two cases for the festivities, but we only ran one, being handed Opp by GW and flipping Opp against the full ‘Deis team. We ran the table, though each round was by exactly one ballot, so we apparently just squeaked in to a 3-0 record. I had felt pretty confident about all of our rounds, which was apparently warranted and unwarranted. They’ll also be posting the RFD’s (reasons for decision) online, so I’m really curious to see those.
Finals was somewhat disappointing for me, though I guess not for the others, all of whom proved to be BU debaters. We were matched against the only current debater and his partner from two years ago and were given Gov, though we would have grabbed it if we could have, since Jake had wanted nothing more out of this tourney than to run the case we did. It was supposed to be a round about whether ethical systems ought derive from human nature or not, but wound up being a round about how differently people interpret human nature and, ultimately, that most people think everything in human history has derived directly from human nature, which certainly isn’t my understanding of that concept. So it goes. We dropped, 8-3, setting up this weird Lincoln/Kennedy type thing where four years ago I lost to a Harvard team in BU Finals and then just lost to a BU team in Harvard (Mini-Cup) Finals, both running crazy opp-choice cases on Gov. Unlike the BU tourney, though, I don’t have the solace of knowing I put on a real showcase Final Round. I also don’t have my half of a thousand bucks.
It was still a great weekend and it was awesome to spend so much time with Stina and Dav and Zimmy throughout, as well as to see Drew on Friday night. When I finally got home, bleary and punch-drunk from a hilarious car-ride home with Dave and CBergz, I slept for half a day. But then I got up and it was soon time to listen to the Giants-Braves game on the computer and, as I often do when I want to focus on an audio-only experience, I decided to play a little online poker. I’ve mostly avoided things that can loosely be termed as video games since Emily returned from Liberia, preferring to focus on dealing with our stuff and then trying to focus on moving and dealing with my new life in Highland Park. But since the time was already budgeted for the game and I couldn’t watch the game, I found myself a tournament.
Within minutes of entering, I was facing a tough dilemma with KQ and a high-card Q on the board. I decided to push in all my chips, save one, a fun intimidation move that’s shy of going all-in and is the kind of thing that would never happen in a live game. The other guy called and flipped up AQ. So I had my chip and was going to be out of the tournament, with the 100-chip big blind coming around the next hand. I sighed and berated myself for overvaluing my hand, trying to determine whether to sign up for another tournament immediately since it was only the second inning and my same entertainment interests applied.
Then a funny thing happened. I tripled up on my 1-chip auto-all-in. Okay, great. I was still forced all in with my 3 chips on the small blind. But then I quadrupled up. Twelve chips. And two hands later, I went all in and quadded up again. Forty-eight chips. Soon I was forced in by another big blind, but this time I tripled up once more and could finally see over the top of the big blind. There was something almost like hope, after this many consecutive wins.
Five hours later, I finally got knocked out of the tournament, 22nd out of 2,666 entrants, having at one point amassed 223,000 chips. The ballgame was long over, long since won by the Giants. I’d listened to the whole post-game show and its litany of champagne-sodden interviews with understated players. I’d listened to hours of music on Pandora, rising and falling with the moods of the music I used to like. And I’d made about sixty bucks. A far cry from the multi-thousand-dollar top prize, but a miracle after facing such an early elimination on the decision to hold back one chip instead of go all-in.
It occurred to me somewhere in hour four or five of the 381-minute run through the tournament that I might make more playing poker that night than I stood to gain in the APDA Mini-Cup. Which I found kind of hilarious, because while poker is a hobby I’ve periodically been successful at, debate is a profound passion where I’m extremely confident in being in a top echelon. Of course, 99.9% of the debates out there don’t pay at all, while every poker tournament save for a very few low-level ones pay something to the winner. So the Mini-Cup changed the incentives in some strange way. Or at least my perspectives on them. It never would have occurred to me to compare a poker payoff to a debate round without the random financial carrot tacked on to the showcase event.
Perhaps the larger issue is the one that Russ pointed out when I shared the results of the tournament with him, just before sleeping hard this morning as well. He observed my one-chip miracle as a metaphor for my larger emotional state of being. Which, remarkably, for all my emotionality of late and patternistic vision in general, hadn’t hit me at all. Of course as soon as I read it, I had to begrudgingly admit that he had a real point. I was at death’s door and found a way to survive again and again when the odds were clearly against me. I was already mentally resigned and found a way to carry on. I wound up doing quite well.
It’s the doing quite well that I just can’t be sure about. Except, of course, in the context of debate. It’s funny to look at the Mini-Cup performance as almost the reverse of the poker run… I had soaring confidence about rounds I was just barely winning. And then grand anticipation for a case that sort of ran aground. Which I really shouldn’t put too fine a point on, because I had a great time debating. And it was nice to be judged by so many current and former (but still far younger than me) debaters. There’s a feeling of invincibility that dinos often bring to the circuit, of having paid their dues and being above reproach. Events like the Mini-Cup are good if only for their ability to remind former debaters that they are still capable of being judged. And when the seasoned aged dinos judging me are people like Jon Bateman, who I judged in National Finals five years after my own last Nationals, it really puts the whole thing into perspective.
Then again, maybe I just like the concept of judgment in all its forms. Or less than people perceive, as my current Rutgers debaters found out from spending a weekend hearing crazy stories from ‘Deis of old. Who knows? More and more, I think that Judgment may end up being the key watchword for my life. Part of a larger theory about everyone having a watchword – a singular concept that sums up the dilemmas, tests, and challenges that seem to recur in their life. As though we all were put here for one reason, one purpose, and our respective uniqueness makes bridging our gaps harder than might otherwise seem necessary. I’ve perused this concept before, though perhaps never in public. My Dad’s word is Survival. My mother’s is Motivation. Emily’s, I think, is Expectation. Mine… mine is almost certainly Judgment.
Don’t spell it with an extra e.
Miles walked today: 3.5