I used to write about poker a lot on this blog. It’s always been a game that fascinates me. It’s so simple, but the amount of strategy involved is nearly endless. I always viewed it as the ultimate combination of math and the humanities, and I watched and played it with equal fervor.
Time went by, and I simultaneously became busier and realized that I wasn’t any good at the game. I pretty much stopped playing, even though I remained a diehard fan who eagerly watches every minute of ESPN’s World Series of Poker coverage. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and this quarantine made me bust out my old strategy books and start playing online poker again. And to my pleasant surprise, I’ve gotten a lot better.
I probably won’t be winning any bracelets this year, but my understanding of the game has signiﬁcantly improved. It’s ﬁnally clicking due to one realization: if you want to win, you’ll never win.
When I sit down saying “I’m going to play poker for two hours, and my goal is to make the best mathematical decision on each hand, regardless of the outcome,” I tend to do pretty well. But when I set a goal about how many chips I want to win in a certain sitting, I usually end up with absolutely nothing. It’s a game that rewards process, not chasing outcomes. I’ve calmed down a lot this year, and I think it’s being reﬂected here. I used to be ridiculously ambitious, trying to plan my life ten years in advance. I wanted to achieve as much as possible, to rise through the professional ranks rapidly, to accumulate success for myself. Then this year, I started realizing that I was making myself miserable and getting absolutely nothing to show for it. Once I saw that morality and productivity are not inherently connected, I felt a lot calmer, and suddenly things started going better. Poker is no exception.
It’s made me realize why so many Grateful Dead songs use poker as subject matter. The underlying philosophy of their music seems to fuse Eastern spirituality with freedom-loving American libertarianism, and poker is the ultimate intersection of those things. Yes, fortunes can be made or lost based on how the cards are shufﬂed. But at the end of the day, it’s ultimately a zen game. In poker, like in life, the only true path to success is outcome independence.
Still Not Leaving the House