Wednesday, January 28, 2015

You Know Poker Is A Skill, Right?

I want to change the world. Since I was old enough to understand what was going on, I knew that I didn’t like it and that I wanted it to be different. Writing is one means to that end.
I’ve also always loved building things and developing skills. Lego was my favorite toy. Perhaps I should have moved to Denmark and become an architect. But writing can be done anywhere, and it’s like building something out of words. Writing is a skill, and I’ve spent a lot of time working to improve at it.
I started learning martial arts to defend myself as a kid. I picked it up again to develop focus as a teenager. As a young adult, I followed through with it because I wanted to be a black belt. I set that goal for myself because martial arts is a skill and I wanted to become expert at it.
I play poker because it’s fun. I also play because it’s profitable. I have played very little poker as a hobby, and quite a lot of poker as a professional or semi-pro. I’ve enjoyed it to varying degrees, but there’s always been a bit of passion to it. Great results are fun, but making a great fold or a sick check-back is satisfying in a different way. Put simply, I love outplaying people, especially in the least spectacular fashion. Poker is a skill, and I worked hard to get good at it.
In 2010, I rolled these three passions together into my first published book, Way of the Poker Warrior. In it, I applied the wisdom I’d gathered in my taekwondo uniform to the struggles we face at the poker table. The book sold some copies, but neither I nor the publisher gave it much of a marketing push.
For the next couple years, I continued playing poker for my living and did some writing for fun and supplemental income. At the start of 2012, Pokerfuse published my Poker Player Bill of Rights. One goal of this document was to codify the things that poker players should demand from their governments and poker sites, clubs, and casinos. But something else emerged as well.
It’s a simple idea. Maybe a bit of an oversimplification, but true nonetheless. Poker is a game of skill involving an element of chance. The longer you play, the greater role skill plays and the less influence luck will have.
Despite my excellent editor’s initial objection, I decided that this was item number one on the Poker Player Bill of Rights, ahead of even the right to play. (That was number two.) It’s my belief that, over time, a deep and universal understanding of a thing will lead to rational laws and regulations regarding it. I know that’s a bit idealistic, and maybe even naïve, but people should reach better conclusions if they start with more accurate assumptions.
The fact that poker is a skill, yet is perceived by many to be pure gambling, reveals a deep flaw in human cognition. We can be remarkably results-based creatures. Results matter. They are data. But our brains have a hard time deciphering how much meaning lies in exactly how much data. It’s not an easy task, drawing conclusions from incomplete information. But it’s something we can get better at, the same way we can get better at poker.
In fact, we can get better at it exactly the same way we get better at poker. By focusing on the process. Start with the process. Examine the process. Then gather data and draw conclusions that are in line with the quantity and quality of that data. That’s a process, too, and we can evaluate how well we’re performing it.
I still want to change the world. I also want to make a living as a writer. Writing about poker may seem like an odd way to try to change the world, but poker has so many things to teach us about life and the mind, the same way the martial arts have a book’s worth of wisdom to share with us about poker.
Everything is related.
If learning how to play better poker requires a person to learn to think better, clearer, then that process should help that person make better decisions throughout life. That process should help them understand the relationship between luck and skill in all endeavors.
Imagine Media, the original publisher of Way of the Poker Warrior, is no more. As a result, I have recovered the publishing rights to my first book. I’m tempted to rewrite some parts, add some more No Limit Holdem hands, and publish a second edition. But for now, I’ve uploaded the entirety of the first edition to Leanpub. Let’s call it the first edition, second “printing” (which belongs in quotes because it’s an ebook).
Way of the Poker Warrior is a book with flaws. I think the prose is excellent and the poker analysis superb. (As the book’s author, you could say I’m a biased judge of its quality.) But the front matter is a bit excessive, and the Limit Holdem hand examples may be overly technical to some. Taken as a whole, it contains valuable insight, thoughtfully delivered, amidst some jagged edges. You should read it because you like poker, you like martial arts, or you enjoy understanding how things work.
The following paragraph, taken from the book’s introduction, sums up how I want you to think about poker. It foreshadows the underlying principles of my publishing company, Poker Is A Skill, and it hints at how I’d like to change the world.
“I want you to make more money playing poker. In order to do this, I need you to spend less time thinking about money, and more time thinking about poker. The Way of the Poker Warrior is process oriented. By focusing on the process, you will become less results oriented. You will learn quicker and perform better.”
I want you to learn quicker and perform better at everything you do. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and poker is a fun and profitable place to start.
So yeah. Buy my book. It's just $9.99 on Leanpub.

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