The Art of Poker

Sun-tzu on Poker

The Art of Poker"Know thy enemy and know thy self and you will win a hundred battles." -- Sun-tzu, The Art of War

Poker is not war. The level of conflict between the two is not comparable. For one thing, poker has "opponents," rather than "enemies." However, poker is game of conflict where different people who have very different goals use conflicting strategies. Strategy from other forms of conflict -- war, sports, relationships -- can easily and often be applied successfully to poker.

When talking with friends and peers about poker I sometimes get insights about my opponents from something they say, but usually this occurs because my friend is telling a story about somebody. In other words, it's secondhand. I started reading and contributing to poker newsgroups for several reasons, but the most unexpected and useful-to-my-poker-game benefit of the group took me awhile to appreciate: I am exposed to a wide variety of poker players who, firsthand, reveal their thinking about the game.

The ability level of forum contributors ranges from experienced, successful players to almost total novices -- and everything in between. Discussions between all these folks range from cordial to extremely nasty. But unlike in the rest of the poker world where we all mostly mix with players who play similar games as we do, on the Internet everybody mixes with everyone else. $1/2 players can and do offer opinions on how to play a $400/800 hand, and vice versa.

That give-and-take is all interesting enough, but the unexpected benefit for me from reading forums is to be continually exposed to how many types of my opponents think about the game. As players we tend to self-select our friends and discussion-mates and end up with a limited number of player types. On forums, to say the least, you get all types.

Naturally, much of the thinking and approaches people use and write about are top-notch. But then there are flawed, muddied, incomplete, fuzzy and just plain peculiar ideas that people put forth as key parts of their game. These open my eyes. Whether these ideas are actually flawed or fuzzy is not the point. I think they are, and I use this information in creating strategies and counter-strategies that I never really thought a lot about before.

I only expect to actually eventually play with a small percentage of the forum contributors, but a great thing about poker is I can learn a lesson from or about John and use it against Mary, maybe even months later.

I know my opponents better now than when I started reading poker forums. I know what makes a lot of them tick. I know what they fear. I know what they treasure. I know what they like to do. I know what they hate to do. I have more ideas to use against timid players. I have more ideas to use against aggressive players. I have more ideas how to attack pompous, know-it-all players who think their sixth-grade level of poker understanding is greater than every other player living or dead. I may never play against players I learn lessons about, but I play against their spiritual cousins all the time.

At the same time, people learn about me and work on strategies they think will be effective against me. But that just means I'll have a tougher time against thoughtful players, while having an easier time against less-thoughtful ones -- and there are a lot more of those! In my case, my tough opponents are plenty tough already. They can't get much tougher. But reading forums blessed me with all kinds of useful information to use against the rest of my opponents -- most especially those who think they know it all, and don't think they have to learn more about the game than they already know.

I try to learn something new about poker every day. Sometimes I don't, and sometimes I stupidly learn something that isn't helpful, but I still try. Since poker is a game of human interaction, the two areas where there is the most to learn are "the enemy" and "thyself." Winning poker is more than winning "a hundred battles", but the art of poker boils down to a very similar root as the art of war: know people, your opponents and yourself.

More of Sun-tzu on The Art of Poker and Poker Structure