Poker as zen practice

As epitomized by poker television, the most dramatic moment in poker is waiting breathlessly for the showdown between two all-in players. I can’t help but do it in my own play — stare anxiously at the cards appearing in front of me hoping that only good cards will appear.

This does nothing to help me play better. As it is indeed the most exciting moment in poker, it temporarily heightens my sense of emotion and attachment. I really feel a lot more of something as I wait for the cards to be dealt to me.

Lately I have been using the all-in showdown as an opportunity to practice dulling my emotional attachment. Instead of investing my feelings and happiness in the outcome of a specific hand, I try to detach myself from deriving any sorts of feelings or emotions from the cards dealt to me by a random number generator. I want my positive and negative emotions, my internal reward, to come based on my desire to reward myself for good play.

My goal is to feel good for making good plays and bad for making bad plays. I have not yet reached poker enlightenment.

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4 Responses to Poker as zen practice

  1. Frydaze1 says:

    My father’s method is to completely cover the board once he is all in. He will never see what cards came out, only what his opponent had. This allows him to determine whether he made the right decision or not. The results, and whether he lost to a 1-outer on the river or runner-runner flush, don’t matter and therefore he is careful not to see them.
    Of course this only works in online play. But since he always does that online, it has disciplined him not to care when he plays live. I have not yet reached this level of discipline, but I’m getting closer.

    • George Crews says:

      But the betting strategies are more important than the cards.

      Since the best that can usually be done is to put your opponent on a range of hands, seeing your opponent’s actual hole cards are not enough to determine if you actually made the right play. (Much less the results of the flop, turn, and river — all they do is introduce random chance.)

      For example, assume you have determined from previous betting during a hand that your opponent likely has AA, KK, or AK. All other things being equal (e.g., ignoring such things as pot odds), it would be a mistake for you to call his all-in re-raise if you had QQ, even if the showdown revealed he actually had AK, and you were the slight favorite to win the pot.

      Getting to see your opponent’s hole cards is like observing an experiment. So why not use the showdown time to think about the question: Do your opponent’s cards fit your theory of your opponent’s betting strategy? Has your theory been confirmed or falsified? Forcing yourself to think about this should make you a little less focused on the actual outcome of the showdown.

      But I will admit, I have never seen a television poker player celebrate the confirmation of his or her Bayesian priors. 🙂

      • Kevin says:

        Good comment, thanks.

        Louie actually showed me an episode of Poker After Dark where Phil Laak muttered something about conservation of expected Bayesian evidence (or maybe the quote was just “Baye’s Theorem, dude. Baye’s Theorem”) that made us think he has probably read some Yudkowsky.

  2. David says:

    Problem is, how much does seeing your opponent’s hole cards help verify your beliefs? Granted, if they are holding something you had given a probability of 0, you know you made a mistake. But if they show something you had given, say, a probability of 0.2, then you don’t really have much to go on.

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