We started with $30K, 300 Big Blinds. Plenty of M. “It’s all about M,” Coach had told me during our initial training session, and it was one of the ﬁrst things I came to understand, slowly, the hard way, during my AC runs, the secret narrative as I passed through levels. M is how much life you have in you, how much you can take. To calculate M, you add the Big Blind, the Small Blind, and all the antes you have to pay into the pot each round, and the sum is how much it costs to play one orbit ‘round the table. M, for Paul Magriel, who first articulated it, but also M for the Wave of Mutilation.
Above 20M, twenty rounds, you can play your fancy-move poker. But once you dip below that, your spirit is draining away each round, and you have to start playing more aggressively, play a wider range of cards, swipe some blinds, so that you are not erased from existence. Existence, because this is life we’re talking about here, how much can you take before you break. Dear reader, I hope you’re operating at a big M most of the time, I really do. Things are easier that way. But then sometimes things go wrong—you lose your job, get some sort of health issue named after a foreigner, the kid won’t say why he doesn’t want you at the wedding, and the angry voices in your head are now using Auto-Tune. You take a tumble in a thousand ways, big and small: This the Wave of Mutilation, gobbling up your reality. Replay the hand—is there something you could have done differently to keep things the way they were, something you should have said to keep them from walking away? It doesn’t matter, the dealer’s shufﬂing again. You dwindle to 6M and 3M and 2M and you can’t pay the rent next month, nobody’s retuming your e-mails. Things are desperate. This is death. You don’t know how you’re going to survive. And the truth is, you’re not going to. Next level, the blinds will go up, and up, and up.
Colson Whitehead nails the desperation metaphor in his book The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death