Zen and the Art of Poker Maintenance

    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Considering the fact that I have only just started posting in these parts, I am a little hesitant to dare to venture forth into what is a very wide ranging and impressive bunch of blogs on offer in this forum. Indeed, it feels a bit like that moment when you walk into a party full of fabulous people all talking ten to the dozen about amazing things – half of which you don't understand – and you freeze for a moment, coat still in your hand and all you can do to reassure your nervous self is to say, ”one drink and then if nobody talks to us, we'll go home...”

      Well, I've not gone home just yet but I may just skulk around here for a bit, checking out your vol-au-vents and seeing what booze you have. And if you make a mean martini, then I'm definitely staying....

      As I said in my intro post I would still regard myself as very much the poker beginner, looking up at the Olympian heights that many of you are already scaling. So I will start with this caveat – if you want lots of deep insightful advice on how to improve your game, then I am most definitely not going to be your man. In fact, if you want lots of graphs charting my unsteady progress, then I don't think I can promise you much of that either. When it comes to technique, it's all take and not much give when it comes to what I can offer. I watch, I hopefully learn and even more hopefully, I apply bit by bit what I learn to my game. But I am not sure in a very practical sense whether I have a lot to add to what is an incredible and ever organic archive of poker knowledge that is to be found both in this specific forum and throughout this site.

      So if that's not my goal here, what's my plan for this space? Well, instead of the usual strategy based stuff, I guess I would like in my own humble way to explore some of the deeper lessons, thoughts and revelations that a voyage through the poker universe has already opened up to me. And hopefully to some of you too. A kind of commonplace blog with some of the odds and sods that have fascinated me along the way. With a touch of psychology here, a bit of philosophy there...even some theology and esoterica thrown into the mix to make for something a little more quirky, a little more off the wall.

      Which means rather than discussing when to play AQo or how to size our bets – however important those things surely are! - in this particular blog, I am more interested in looking at what poker does to us as human beings. How does it resonate with us in the challenges and obstacles of life outside? Does it make us better people? If poker is the game of skill that we insist it to be, how does it affect us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually....and if you want to join me in going that little bit further and getting really deep here, then how about we ask those biggy questions that maybe we don't always have time for - What is the meaning of poker...if of course there is a meaning! Although I am guessing that if like me, poker has become a huge part of your life then you would agree that if it doesn't have meaning then God knows what we are doing spending so much of our time on something meaningless :)

      No, I will strongly preempt anything I might say with the firm affirmation that yes, poker does have meaning. Or as I always say, poker is my life now. And life is poker...

      Or to use a concept that the rabbis of Israel were fond of in the time of the Temple of Jerusalem – for a devout Jew there was only two states of being...at the Temple and on the way to the Temple. Which meant that everything that happened on the way would essentially be seen through the lens of the question – how does this help for the supreme quest? What does this mean? Is this useful? So if you'll forgive me transposing that in a potentially sacrilegious way to our own beloved poker, then you could argue that for the committed and indeed devout poker player, there are only two states of being for us....at the poker table and on the way to the poker table :)

      And I would argue without doubt that since starting to learn and play poker, I have not only learnt many valuable lessons about psychology, intelligence, rational thinking, logic and my own emotions – ahhh the joys of tilt!! - but that working with those many challenges thrown up by the game make me a better man. And will continue to do so. For I would go as far as to say that the qualities of a good poker player are qualities that we want to see at large in human society. Big statement huh? Only if this weren't a poker site maybe. Cos surely, here of all places I'm preaching to the converted when talking to this flock, right? :)

      And even if you don't agree with the above assertion then you will surely agree with the bleeding obvious statement that it's not easy. If there's one thing that marks out the fool, it's when he suggests that anything about poker is easy! For all of those qualities that I praise above are in a sense utterly unnatural. Only a weird and wonderful lucky few are innately born with those strange habits that make up the psyche and mentality of the the truly able poker player.

      For as one of the great experts of poker psychology, Dr Alan Schoonmaker writes in The Psychology of Poker the mentality of a successful poker player – the classic TAG style – is not a natural human attribute. Aggression is of course part of our primordial DNA but the ability to switch that aggression on and off in a very controlled and tightly focused way is not something that is naturally present in human beings. It has to be learnt, nurtured and trained and does not come easily. As Dr Schoonmaker suggests, the only people who display it in their regular life are elite soldiers, police and other professions where long periods of calm are momentarily interspersed with explosions of sometimes violent reaction.

      Or as he memorably puts it, a successful poker player must become the stone cold killer. For presumable a professional assassin would make a fine shark. Although if there do happen to be any hit men hanging around on this site, let me just say you're very welcome here....just don't come and play at any of my cash games :)

      And aye, there's the rub – one of the wonderful contradictions that I love about poker: the fact that on the one hand we will argue the virtues of learning this game as a way of improving ourselves while on the other, we accept that our goal is to become stone cold assassins who annihilate anyone who stands in our path :)

      Which is why I always take as my role model the Japanese samurai as the perfect example of how those two states coexist. Hence the title of this blog – partly due to my own experiences living in Japan but also in a wider sense, my studies of Buddhist thought. The way that a samurai would strive to be a refined, civilised, educated warrior – constantly improving himself as a human being while also always being ready in an instant to call upon that wisdom and judgement in the service of brute force and aggression. Surely the ideal template for the perfect poker player?

      And then there is all the other bodies of wisdom that will speak to our experiences in poker. Wisdom that belongs to what we sometimes clumsily refer to as the “Eastern Traditions”. Teachings about the nature of action and of not attaching ourselves to the results of those actions but rather focusing on doing the right thing. Accepting that in the long term, everything works out how it should and how – contrary to what those bad beats will make us feel – that there are certain laws of the universe that cannot be denied. Even if you are a fish who insists on playing J2o to the river and hitting your full house ;) The Buddhists will say “Karma is.” to which the poker player will reply “EV is.” :)

      I was watching one of Boomer's videos earlier and he spoke about his 'favourite subject in the universe – awareness' and it's comments like that which I love as it's the sort of thing that could come straight out of the mouth of a Buddhist monk or Hindu swami. Whether Boomer looks good in saintly robes sitting crosslegged on the top of a mountain is something that I will leave to the imagination of those who know him...

      But this is a classic principle of the synchronicities that you will find in any moment of truth. And what boomer says, applies to any form of mind training just as much as to the specific example of poker. To be aware, to be fully present in the moment – that's a vital foundation for any improved way of life. It is as a Catholic theologian once called it, realising the “the sacrament of the present moment.”

      Or to put it in a more earthly way that will be familiar to us, as a billboard in Vegas once said, “You have to be present to win”.

      Again, that's the sort of message that would have the Buddha nodding strongly in agreement...while he riffled his chips :)

      Anyway, that's a taster of the sort of thing that gets my mind working. Phew! Yeah, who said that less is more huh?! So, I understand that it's not necessarily a take on the game that's shared by everyone but if you've read this far – and well done Sir/Madam, you've already earned karmic merits just for that! - and it's the kind of quirky talk that you like then maybe now and then we can explore this sort of thing a little further together.

      The Buddha always said that one of the essential things for the path is gathering together noble friends to walk with you. And I am sure that if Lord Gautama had happened across his local cash game, that's exactly what he would have said as encouragement to the players ;)

      So if it's a journey that you fancy joining me for from time to time, I'd be happy to have the company while I witter on about whatever weird philosophical thoughts that occupy me at the time :)

      In the meantime, I hope that you go out there and be the civilised, refined, calm....and utterly ruthless killers that you are called to be!

      Charlie
  • 22 replies
    • Lazza61
      Lazza61
      Headadmin
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      Joined: 23.03.2011 Posts: 9,219
      Hey Charlie,

      In a word........ WOW!!!!! :f_biggrin:

      So is that Chapter 1 or the foreword of your new book?, because it certainly had a bookish feel. If not then keep it in mind because I think it'll be a fascinating (albeit lengthy :P ) read. :tongue:

      Looking forward to learning some eye-opening stuff here.

      Cheers

      Laz
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Ha! Don't start tempting me now! I never need much encouragement to get writing at far too much length. In fact, I already have in mind a couple more long winded posts that I might crank out at some point soon. Yes, you've been warned!

      But either way, you're very kind Laz. I am not sure judging by the level of expertise of others, what I can offer but if it's of interest in even a small way to established members like yourself then I'll be happy.

      So I better go off and get working on Chapter One then ;)

      Charlie
    • CekamBoju
      CekamBoju
      Bronze
      Joined: 21.12.2013 Posts: 53
      In my favorites! I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw the name of your blog, since I just wrote about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle of Maintenance in my blog :D

      Cool idea for a blog.
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Hey thank you for that vote of confidence CB! I hope I can continue to write something of interest to you....

      And Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is needless to say a cool book - although I must confess I haven't actually got round to reading it yet! But I listened to a great adaptation of it on BBC Radio 4 last year which confirmed everything I had heard about it. And as the title suggests, it reminds us that Zen is one of those teachings on the right way of living that can apply to all facets of life.

      Including of course Poker :)

      But my interests range well beyond just the specifics of Zen or even Buddhism. So I hope you'll enjoy whatever meanderings I may have in store while considering all things poker...

      Charlie
    • Lurjus
      Lurjus
      Gold
      Joined: 20.05.2008 Posts: 351
      I read your opening post yesterday and i'm already waiting for updates!

      Definitely following this one!

      :f_thumbsup:
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Thank you for the vote of confidence Lurjus!

      I hope that I can continue to interest you with any future posts. I am currently tinkering around with some random ideas I've been exploring about the lessons for Poker that the upcoming Jewish feast of Passover may offer....

      I did warn you that it might be a bit random :D

      Well, at least - hopefully! - I won't be just repeating stuff that has already been discussed in the past on PokerStrategy ;)

      All the best,

      Charlie
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      As some of you may know, the Jewish season of Passover is very much under way. And as I am never one to allow an analogy to ride by without stretching it, I wanted to share some poker related thoughts that arise from the celebrations. Yeah, I know – it’s probably a long shot but bear with me, ok? J But first, allow me to start by wishing any of our Jewish members,  Chag Pesach Sameach!!....
       
      And as I am never one to miss an excuse for a party, I will be going tomorrow night to my friend Alex’s Passover party. And there may even be a spot of poker played into the early hours :) Which will be fitting as it’s thanks to Alex – or more to the point her boyfriend Gav – that I first started playing the game. It was one fateful January night last year when Gav said to me, “Charlie, you should come and play poker with me and the boys sometime....” The boys being his fellow Jazz musicians from his band who regularly hang out for jamming, drinking, partying and poker. Now that's my kinda evening!!

      Gav very kindly offered to teach me on the spot if I came and played....yeah right, I thought. I've heard that one before! I only had to remember an evening once in Beijing when a sweet little old Chinese lady offered to teach me Mah Jong and then said with a twinkle in her eye, “Now let's put a little money in to make it interesting....” after which very rapidly the old dragon gleefully demolished my walls and went to work on my bankroll.

      So this time, I knew the only wise thing was to rush off and get my hands on all the resources I could to learn the game, including of course Pokerstrategy :) Without, needless to say, telling Gav and the jazz boys that I was doing any preparation at all. And that's how I ended up falling under the spell of this magical game. Oh, and not to mention finally having a game with the boys which started with me saying in a purposefully dopey manner - “Remind me again, the cards with the pretty pictures are good, right?” - to a point where after one of them had been felted, the host wagged his finger at me and said, “You've fucking hustled us!!” Moi?! Innocent me?! Surely not...:)

      As I said in my defence, it's all about the edge in this game of incomplete information. And I just kept the information as incomplete as possible :D

      Anyway! Returning to my passover theme....yes, I hadn't forgotten, there was a point to that tangent which hopefully will become clear....tomorrow, one of the things we will be doing at the party in the midst of much drinking, eating and socialising will be the singing of the traditional Dayenu song. Dayenu roughly meaning in Hebrew, 'enough'. And in this song is listed various things that God did for the Israelites followed by the answer “and that was dayenu!” - that would have been enough! And yet, there was more. So if He had only brought them out of Egypt, that would have been enough. If He had only split the Red Sea, that would have been enough. And yet, there was more and more.

      Ok, so now you're wondering what on earth this has to do with poker. Or anything for that matter if you are not of a particularly religious bent. Well, I would in my own very subjective way, argue that it does not matter whether you're the most spiritual person to walk on a cloud this side of the Dalai Lama or an atheist to make Professor Dawkins blush with envy. There is a great lesson here for us that applies both to our enjoyment of poker and life in general.

      Often we are so taken up with the striving and endless desire to improve ourselves in whatever field that we fail in that most important of tasks to just stop and enjoy the scenery for a moment. That proverbial taking time to smell the roses. As every mountaineer knows, you can of course rush and strive to reach the summit as quickly as possible but the wise climber gets to savour the ascent – slowly and surely if necessary – so that he or she never misses those sublime moments of joy which makes the climb truly worthwhile.

      Now of course this doesn't mean we can just forget about our studies and bettering our game but it does mean that in the process, we must never lose sight of what we have achieved and gained. So we look at how far we have come and we can pick out all the wonderful achievements and apply what I call the 'dayenu test' to them. We take that moment to remind ourselves that if we had just experienced this, then that would have been enough. And yet there was more!

      In my case, I would say for example that mathematics was always a subject that I hated. And I regarded it as utterly beyond my ability. And yet, poker has pushed me to study areas I would never have dreamed of tackling before and in the process, I have gained an appreciation and even love for the joys of probabilities, statistics and other such arcane pursuits. And that would have been enough. And yet there was more! I have discovered a game which offers so much in terms of social interaction both in the virtual and real physical sense. If I only had my poker nights with the Jazz boys, then that would have been enough. And yet there is more....

      And so the list goes on. I even have now my own arbitrary Poker Day which is for the record February 2nd when I celebrate the first time I 'came out' as a poker player to some of my non-playing friends. It was when I realised that this was a game that was going to become very much a part of my life. Feb 2nd is also the Christian feast of Candlemas, marking the end of Christmastide but even I would struggle to squeeze an analogy out of that one :) But hey, I never say never so something may come to me in the future ;)

      And on this year's Poker Day, I did something that I would suggest to anybody as a useful psychological exercise, especially if you're in one of those periodic slumps in your game and your confidence is being hit. I took out the very first book on Hold 'Em that I got and flipped through it again. And as I did, I marvelled at how what seemed like at the time incomprehensible pages of strategy and advice, was now perfectly clear. It all made sense. Now, that's not to say that I am managing to apply it all perfectly but rather than that feeling of bewilderment, it was wonderful to realise that I had gained a familiarity with concepts that were once so mysterious.

      So I would suggest that if you're worried about whether you've actually managed to improve at all – which is a classic reaction during for example a bad downswing - look back at how far you've come. Find the first book or online article that you ever read. See how much you understand on a deep level now. Rejoice in what the game has given you. And in spite of the losses and downswings and hits on the confidence, remember well all that has been opened up to you by this amazing gift of Poker. Give thanks and although in one sense, we must never rest on our laurels and relax, it is also good to mark our progress and how far we have journeyed.

      And I hope that it's obvious that this exercise does not only apply to poker but to every element of our lives. Which is why the “dayenu test” has something to offer everyone of all faiths and none. If we can look at what we have done, what we possess and those we love around us and say 'just this alone would have been enough...and yet there is more!' then we will look at life in a much more calm and satisfied way.

      Again, this doesn't mean that we just sit back and see it as an excuse to do nothing. It just means we don't allow our desire to better our situation to cloud our view on how good that situation already is.

      And if that wasn't enough, guess what? There's more for me to say...

      Stop groaning at the back, I promise I'm nearly finished! :)

      You see there's one more thought comes to mind in connection with this feast of the Passover. Traditionally it's a time when those celebrating are encouraged to remember all the various ways in which those who were once held captive have found freedom.

      Now of course in the specific religious context of Passover, this refers to the Israelites and the subsequent experiences through history of the Jewish people. And I am certainly not going to dare to suggest that anything we as poker players experience can be put on the same level as that sort of huge event in human history.

      But I would argue that there are lessons to be drawn here for all human beings, regardless of what they believe. For something that all the great faith traditions share is that they can offer wisdom in varying degrees to anyone who wishes to listen.

      And it is in those tales of liberation and the subsequent long journey through the desert that I think we can all find resonances. For when you look at the journey that the Israelites took as described in the bible, it's a wild and weird and winding path. It was by no means a straight route. And for most of us, isn't that what our journey through life – not to mention poker - ends up looking like? And in fact, exactly like the graphs I see every time I open up my Pokertracker :)

      Again, some might say I am being flippant or even sacriligeous making these associations between a mere game like Poker and the greatest Jewish feast. But that is definitely not my intention. Instead, I would affirm what I said in my original post – my belief that the qualities which make for a good poker player make for a good human being. And so the converse is true – a bad poker player often displays emotional and psychological attributes that not only affect their game but can be seen elsewhere in their life.

      We do not play poker in a hermetically sealed environment. We are thinking feeling human beings with all the emotional and psychological baggage that we drag along behind us. And as Dr John Feeney in his book Inside the Poker Mind covers at great length, a lot of what holds us back in poker is reflected in issues that we may struggle with in our daily life.

      And these are the things that hold us back. The chains that keep us captive as it were and from which it is essential that we strive to liberate ourselves. Both for the sake of our game and in order to be healthy balanced human beings.

      As Dr Feeney says, the player who suffers from for example excess tilt and then goes off on steaming rampages is often likely to demonstrate similar problems around control and anxiety issues in other areas of his or her life.

      Now I'm not saying you all need therapy. Although judging by some of the things I read in the chat box on Pokerstars sometimes, I think Dr Freud would have plenty of pathologies to keep him busy on a Saturday night ;)

      Rather, it's more a case of keeping our eyes open for those chains that we sometimes don't even notice are there. Those repetitive mistakes that I continue to make in spite of the fact that I know they are wrong. All those calls on the river “just to keep him honest” when I know fully well that he has cracked my Aces. All those times playing ATo OOP even though I know what trouble is about to follow. But just like the old definition of madness, I continue to do the same thing expecting a different result. It takes a while to break those old habits and be liberated. Who knows? Maybe only after many years wandering in the desert?

      The rabbis say that the journey out of Egypt where they were in captivity, only took three days. And the journey to the Promised Land if the Israelites had gone in a straight line should have only taken ten days. And yet it took 40 years. The reason they give for this anomaly, is that although it took three days for the Israelites to get out of Egypt, it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites.

      For the question is posed, what is your “Egypt”? What is it in your life that ties you down? And, for us in this specific context as poker players, what is it that chains you to a certain way of thinking or playing? A way that deep down you know may be damaging to your play? What are the leaks and bad habits that you need to be liberated from? How long is it going to take you to free yourself from that non-A game mentality? How are you going to remain true to what you know is the correct play rather than wandering off into all those temptations of loose and wild action?

      So Passover is for all of us as good a time as any to ask these sorts of questions. And indeed, I encourage myself more than anyone to remain aware of all the subtle ways in which I allow myself to be held back, both in life and in poker.

      A time to look back at the journey and rejoice over how far you have come. But also commit yourself anew to the task ahead and the work to be done. And I suspect that striking the correct balance between those two mindsets will help us whether we are playing poker or not.

      At least that's what I'll be trying to do tomorrow night.....along with eating far too much and getting steadily sozzled. And if it means I end up busting Gav and the jazz boys at the table then all the better!! :D

      So as my grandmother would have said – if she were Jewish and was able to speak Yiddish – a freylakhn pesach! :)

      Charlie
    • Lazza61
      Lazza61
      Headadmin
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      Joined: 23.03.2011 Posts: 9,219
      Hey Charlie,

      Another awesome post. Love the story about your first poker night with the musos.

      And btw, It wasn't me groaning from the back. :s_cool:

      Regards

      Laz

      P.S. I designate this as Chapter 2 :coolface:
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Hey thanks for that Laz!

      I don't know about Chapter 2...just wait until you see what I have planned for the third installment :evil:

      I am just flattered that you managed to get through to the end. I did make a resolution this time to try to keep it brief. Yeah, nothing look good intentions huh?

      Anyway, thank you for the kind words. And for putting up with my verbal deluge!

      :)

      Cheers,

      Charlie
    • Lazza61
      Lazza61
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      Joined: 23.03.2011 Posts: 9,219
      Hey Charlie,

      No problem. I've even got a brolly just in case.



      Cheers

      Laz
    • Harrier88
      Harrier88
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      Joined: 01.05.2012 Posts: 1,971
      Thanks for the reminder about the Passover season, I actually plan to celebrate it this year. I'm not Jewish, but I do like their culture. Last November, I bought a small Menorah and did a little Hanukkah ceremony, so I'd like to give another Jewish festival a try now.

      I could really relate to your post. In any competitive environment, where we keep getting pushed to do our best, it is very easy to take all of our prior achievements for granted, not just in poker.
      A few years ago, for example, I used to be a goalkeeper at a local soccer club. If you have ever been between the sticks, you know that it's a tough job where no mistake goes unnoticed. I remember that it was quite difficult at times not to lose my confidence after big losses or tough practice sessions, especially when we had a first choice goalie who played the game for a lot longer than I did and always seemed to do better.
      Then one day, a few mates from school invited me to join their team to compete in a recreational father's day tournament, where we won every game with a clean sheet. This made me realize how far I had come back then, considering that a few years before that, the mere thought of getting inside that goal would have made me nervous, even in a just-for-fun tournament like this one.

      Today, I'm a rugby player (though I plan to retire in a few months), and when the going gets rough, it can be very easy to forget that I used to know this sport only from watching a few televised games, and started out by joining my university's sports course out of pure curiosity (it's a very unknown sport where I live). If someone had told me that I'd be playing this sport at club level some time, I probably would have just stared in disbelief.
      It is only natural to worry about our improvements especially during bad times, and it's a healthy attitude to have, since it motivates us to do better. But I agree that it is important to take a few moments now and then to think about our successes, rather than our failures, and reflect on what an exciting journey it has been so far. Whether it is in poker, sports, or real life.
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Wow, Harrier88 - what a great response! Thank you for sharing this and I am really glad that my as ever longwinded ramblings resonated with you.

      And I loved your thoughts from the perspective of a goalkeeper. It reminds me of my old boss who was a goalie and how he used to always say that we should never forget what a thankless task it was.

      As he would grimly reminisce, the fact is that when the match goes well, the team and its supporters would never really acknowledge the vital contribution of the man in the goal. But if things went badly, then they would always be swift to portion the blame to the hapless soul who'd let in the ball....regardless of how much the other team members may have let him down.

      It was as he said, the true definition of a lose-lose role. And probably why - according to him - goalies are always people of a slightly eccentric temperament. Well, at least he definitely was....although I hasten to add, I certainly wouldn't suggest that that rule applies to you Harrier ;)

      It makes me wonder though whether we all have our own poor old goalie within us....the element of us which when things are going really well, we ignore and take for granted. But then when things go bad, we cast blame and recrimination....

      I think you can see this with poker play in fact. Those times when we are flying high and all the cards seem to be running perfectly, we can end up ignoring all the established wisdom that we have strived hard to inculcate into our game. And then when our strikers get cocky and lose control on the field, we get all angry at how things go awry.

      You see, it doesn't take much for me to get pondering on a new analogy :) So thank you again Harrier88 and all the best for further successes not only at the table but out there on the field!

      All the best,

      Charlie

      PS And with something completely different in mind, I have a tale of a Japanese samurai and a monk in mind for my next post coming up soon. And yet again, I will do my damnedest to stretch those analogies to breaking point :)
    • Harrier88
      Harrier88
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      Joined: 01.05.2012 Posts: 1,971
      Originally posted by ClerkenwellBoi
      goalies are always people of a slightly eccentric temperament.
      There is a well known piece of conventional soccer wisdom over here in Germany (not sure if a similar saying exists in English): "Goalkeepers and left wingers are completely bonkers." There is definitely some truth to that.

      I must admit, though, that my teammates were usually relatively lenient towards me, partially because I joined them at age 17 with no prior experience whatsoever, and because we were a very small club in one of the lowest divisions anyway. The same can't be said about my mates from school, who often only heard about our results from the newspaper or hearsay. I knew that I'd never hear the end of it if we were to suffer another big loss.

      I can only imagine the pressure any goalkeeper who is playing for some big professional club must face, where the goalie is typically one of the spectator's favorite scapegoats (after the team manager and the referee, of course). I once read in a book: If a striker misses five great goal-scoring chances in a row, his teammates will pat him on the back, saying: "You'll hit the next one for sure!". If a goalkeeper pulls off five great saves in a row, and then makes one small mistake, his teammates will say to each other: "How are we supposed to win if this guy keeps throwing the balls in by himself?"
      I guess achieving victories is just considered a more prestigious task than preventing losses. And once again, this can be applied to many things outside of sports.

      Looking forward to your next post, I love Japanese culture :f_love: (Who doesn't?).

      Originally posted by ClerkenwellBoi
      So thank you again Harrier88 and all the best for further successes not only at the table but out there on the field!
      Thanks a lot, but like I said, my goalkeeping days are over, and I only have three more rugby games left to play before I'll retire. However, I will definitely continue to try out other sports. For example, I'd like to give shooting and/or archery a shot (no pun intended).
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      I'd like to give shooting and/or archery a shot (no pun intended).


      Well, seeing that you profess a similar love for Japanese culture then I would definitely suggest you look in the direction of Kyudo if you do ever try taking up archery.

      Ok, maybe I'm biased with my own background in all things Japanese but I do think this is a pure form of the art rather than those weird looking contraptions that you see at the Olympic archery events etc. And apologies to any archers who may take offence at that comment but I just think you look a bit silly :P

      But as with all of the martial arts, kyudo is all about the training of the mind as much as of the body. Finding a natural balance and rhythm in movement while becoming one with the arrow, the bow and the target. And as always, the benefits that can be gained from being able to focus mind and body into one tight aggressive force are manifold.

      And yes you guessed it, there are definite lessons there for the poker player too!!

      Hmmm , maybe I'll return to that thought again in the future ;)
    • Harrier88
      Harrier88
      Bronze
      Joined: 01.05.2012 Posts: 1,971
      Originally posted by ClerkenwellBoi
      those weird looking contraptions that you see at the Olympic archery events
      You mean compound bows?

      I'm not too crazy about them either. They're easier to shoot, but if you're using all that modern equipment to help you, you might as well just shoot a gun instead.

      If I ever take up archery, I'll probably start with recurve bows, which are slightly easier to draw than traditional longbows (but not as easy as compound bows) and give you a nice little spot were you can put your arrow. They seem like a good middle ground for a beginner who also happens to be a traditionalist.
      I'd like to try shooting longbows one time, though, if I get the chance. All you get is one bow, one arrow, and no further help, except for some protective gear so you don't injure yourself. It should be difficult enough to get a clean shot off with those things, accurate or not.
      Not sure if there is a place nearby where I could learn Kyudo, but I'll look into it.

      Hope you didn't mind my off-topic ramblings too much. :f_wink:
    • aikira
      aikira
      Bronze
      Joined: 05.08.2006 Posts: 918
      great blog, will follow
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      As mentioned before, I was going to make my next post here a hopefully illuminating tale about a samurai and a zen monk…but that will have to wait a little longer as I was stopped in my tracks earlier by an article I spotted in today’s Times. It was an interview with the song writer Dan Wilson, the man responsible for Adele’s worldwide hit Someone Like You and who now has a new album out, Love Without Fear

      And in the article, he gives his top ten tips on “how to pen a pop classic”. What has that got to do with poker, I hear you cry? Well, seeing that I never miss a chance to crowbar the game into any lessons of life then it won’t surprise you that I spotted some resonances. But I think you’ll agree that the advice he offers is actually pretty salient for whatever level we are at in the game.

      So, here’s his top ten with my own humble offering of some added poker footnotes….

      1. Write a lot of songs Write songs without concern of whether they are good or bad. Finish them and move on. Don’t worry about quality because once you’ve written 12 bad songs you’ll write one good one and when you write a hundred bad songs one of them will be really good.


      Now obviously we all care about playing quality hands – although I do tend to forget that important point when the devilish charms of KJo UTG are too much to resist ;) – and we want to play our A game at all times so we wouldn’t necessarily argue that it’s ok to play ‘without concern’ as to whether our game is good or bad. We see plenty of players like that at the table (or at least we really hope to!) so we know to what disasters such an attitude can lead.

      But, there is definitely something to be said for getting out there and just playing. Especially at the beginning when finding your feet as a poker player. Get those hands – good and bad – under your belt. I can still remember vividly that panicked feeling when I first opened up a table and saw my first flop….and feeling utterly bewildered. Everything I had read, every inch of Sklansky Strategy went flying out of my mind and it all became a blur of colours and pretty pictures. A total information overload which could only be solved by getting into the deep end and splashing around wildly in a deluge of hand after hand. And after drowning many times, finally managing to float….not to mention smooth, flat and whatever other type of call you care to mention :)

      So yes, put the necessary work into study and theory while needless to say, staying within your limits and keeping an eye on that all important bankroll management; but in the end, experience is all. And that learning curve, even if it takes the decidedly depressing direction of a downswing, requires us to get out there and get dirty. For as Dan Wilson would surely agree, play 100 bad hands and one of them will be really good…


      2. Get in front of an audience Figure out a way to play your pieces to people because when you do that there is an instant internal feedback process. You don’t even need people to say anything; you’ll know which one is bullshit and which one is really great. It takes the audience — and the terror — to tell you what works.


      This is the first of the tips that definitely apply to here and every other community – both online and IRL – which has at its core the study and discussion of poker. I don’t think I have ever read a strategy article or book where the advice does not include the suggestion that to improve we need to share, discuss and analyse together our game. It’s the great contradiction that poker is a pastime which can be at the same time intensely solitary – a shout out to all those valiant grinders out there in darkened rooms! – but one that brings us all together in one big weird, sometimes dysfunctional but always beguiling community.

      But I would also suggest that the above advice also applies to those of us who play in live games. Knowing “which one is bullshit and which one is really great” is a skill that is even more important when you have your opponent sitting in front if you. And that unique ‘terror’ that can come from poker in the flesh will be a great educator as to what works. And again, the ‘internal feedback’ that he mentions is something that we all know is vital to improving at any level of poker play. The cards may speak their own absolute language but it’s the judgement of our peers that will help us become the players that we wish to be.

      3. Forget about getting the number of that famous pop star. Cultivate your friends instead Help people move house, let someone cry on your shoulder, set up a gig with them, write a song with them. Every time someone tells me, “It’s about who you know,” I reply: “Yeah, it’s about who you know now.” Don’t try to find some big dude who will help you. Work with the people around you.


      I love this one as surely it’s great advice for whatever we are doing in life? Instead of always thinking “If only I could hang out with that person, things would be SO much better…” we work with what we have here and now and find the treasures that can be discovered in this moment rather than some fantasy other-world. And that is definitely the case when we consider the resources and huge reservoirs of poker wisdom that surround us on just this site never mind out there in the big bad world of the internet.

      Sure, it would be great to have Esfandiari, Negreanu et al on speed dial - “Eugene, I’ve told you before – stop ringing me when I’m busy!! “ - and pick their brains but again, as Dan W says, you must ‘work with the people around you’. Which means I guess that I should give up hoping that one day Jason Somerville will ask me out for a drink…<sigh> Ok, I’m too much of an optimist to let go of that particular fantasy just for the moment but that notwithstanding, I am perfectly happy to talk to the rest of you :D

      And let’s face it, although the idea of the “big dude” who comes along and helps you reach your goals is great, it’s all those “little dudes” who are with you every step of the way that truly deserve the thanks and appreciation for helping you get where you are today in your game.

      4. Put in the hours, but get out there too After I take my girls to school I come back home and play piano for an hour, then I’ll start trying to come up with something. Songwriters spend hours staring at a blank page, despairing, but once you have a way in, all your history and experience comes into use. And once a week, have a beer with a friend. Force yourself to have a life because it all feeds in.


      “Force yourself to have a life because it all feeds in” - I suspect that for many of us, this mantra should be carved into the wall above our computers. And above our office desks. And above anywhere else that takes up an inordinate amount of our time and energy. For this is a piece of advice that most human beings at some point in their lives should take to heart.

      It's easy to lose perspective especially when we are engaged in a lifelong pursuit of such power and attraction as that of poker. But the message is clear – that we are often strengthened and improved as much by our time away from the table as when we are playing. This is in a sense a counter balance to the advice given by the first tip but the key is to find the happy healthy medium between the two.

      I note that many of the other blogs on here emphasise the importance of a good fitness regime showing how much the mind – and so in turn our game - can benefit from everything from a gym workout to just getting away from it all with a brisk walk or chilling out with mates. And indeed, as every bodybuilder knows – it's in the recovery periods where the true muscle growth occurs. The guy who insists on training hard every day will soon find that all he gets is lots of injury, stress and not much progress compared to the wiser individual who knows when to rest and simply do nothing.


      5. Feed your mind Input is really important. Culture is set up as a gigantic gift that you can then feed back into, which is why I’ve just been to hear an organ recital and have a look around the National Gallery in London.


      Again, it's all about what we feed ourselves with. Whether it be our body or our minds, we do not work and play in hermetically sealed environments. It's all part of one big holistic picture and our poker being something that calls upon both physical and mental stamina, cannot be placed separate from everything else we are doing. Just as feeding ourselves with junk will have consequences for our physical training and well being, we must be aware of how we focus our minds and the resources that we call upon to strengthen our emotional and intellectual muscle.

      Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen various poker players mention how for example meditation has helped their game. This should not be a surprise at all as any mind training can only help improve the sort of skills that are vital at the table. And we are not talking anything woo here. It's not magic or calling upon higher powers. It's the simple realisation that the greatest and most powerful tool that we have at our instant disposal is our mind. And that's something that should be obvious to any poker player who sees this game as one of the ultimate tests of its power. So feed it well and see what that power can do!


      6. Write down your ideas I have a stack of note cards sitting by my piano. The bottom half is blank and the top half has song ideas: titles, lines that rhyme, a staff with a guitar riff on it and so on. When I work with someone I’ll draw on these and it starts something. I made most of my solo album with the help of the cards, often beginning with something I might have written years earlier.


      Well, I guess considering the medium that I am writing this blog in, this tip is pretty self evident. All of us who tap out our thoughts on this forum are trying to follow this advice. Some of you recount the most amazing tales of poker mastery which leave recreational players like myself openmouthed with admiration. Some will detail deep thinking and strategic thinking that proves that this game is truly one of the great intellectual pursuits of humanity. Others share their trials and tribulations, bad beats and downswings. And yes, they definitely have their place too!

      But whatever the content, there's always something here that will inspire, amuse, stimulate or help someone out there. And dare I say it, if you've managed to stick with me this far, I hope that in some tiny way, I can manage to share something worthwhile in the midst of my witterings :)

      So let this be an impetus to anyone who feels like writing down their thoughts or ideas but for whatever reason has felt reluctance – there has never been a better time than now! As a well known sports manufacturer shouts at you on every piece of merchandise....Just do it!


      7. Study the greats, get it wrong, go on your own journey For a while I would try to be inspired by songs I listened to obsessively, but what came out was completely different. That’s because the good thing about someone is the thing that’s impossible to replicate. So you end up doing your own thing, almost by mistake. I can never be as good as Duke Ellington, but I’ll get closer to it if I study his best work.


      Sometimes I like to imagine my fantasy time machine transporting me back to the original golden age of poker's emergence as the great American game. Wandering the dusty roads of the Wild West, hanging out with the likes of Poker Alice in Deadwood or white suited sharks on Mississippi riverboats. OK, there's limits to that fantasy especially when I consider the absence of flushing toilets not to mention Wild Bill Hickok's tendency to shove a gun in an opponent's face if he didn't get the cards he wanted. But still, imagine hanging out with our poker forefathers?

      But just like the musical greats that Dan Wilson references, we are blessed in the fact that we have access to the wealth of knowledge that all the greats of poker history have left to us. And yet, we must ultimately call upon that knowledge while doing our own thing. Because in the end, we are the ones sitting at the table not Doyle, not Amarillo, not Sklansky. The buck – or more to the point, the chip – stops with us. And although we can have our heroes and role models, we have to walk the lonely path alone. Yes, we will fall and make huge mistakes and take massive diversions. But with the map provided by those heroes in hand, we can chart our own unique course. And as the Duke would agree, create our own Jazz riffs that suit our natural playing style.

      As my mate Gav would say, it's no use playing the drums if you have the lips for a trumpet. Which even if that doesn't apply to your poker, it's damn good advice if anyone ever asks you to join a jazz band :)

      8. Don’t do it for the money Some kind of universal force has decreed that every time I’ve demanded upfront payment from a label, it’s been a bad experience. You have to take it on trust that a session will produce that piece of magic that will pay off somehow one day. This is a disastrous way to make money because so few songs do become hits, so you have to do it because you love it. It’s the only way.


      Now I suspect that this tip is probably the one most likely to have you go 'huh?' Or other colourful expressions to that effect....

      So yeah, am I mad for even including this one? The whole point of poker is surely to do it for the money, no? As it's often been said, it's a game of money played with cards not a game of cards played with money. Right?

      Well yes, of course. I'd be a weird player if I suggested that winning money is not a major goal if not the only reason for playing. But I still come back to that perhaps idealistic belief that we play poker because we love this game. And that there are many pleasures that come from it which are not always related to the money. But hey, it certainly helps ;)

      For what is at the core of all the advice and strategy that is given throughout this forum? The insistent belief that we are not results oriented. That it is all about the correct course of action in a given situation. That if the decisions taken are valid then it does not matter what the outcome was. That EV will out. And that it's all about doing the right thing regardless of what happens afterwards.

      And there is surely pleasure to be derived from that? From knowing that we have obeyed the laws of mathematics, probability and logic. That we have followed a perfect strategy and plan. There is a pristine beauty in that...even if we have to find it in the midst of the horrors of a bad beat ;) I can't be the only one who looks back over a session and even if I'm down, be happy in the knowledge that I could not have done any differently and remained true to all that I have learnt.

      So yes, I recognise that this advice may seem counter intuitive. Especially to those of you who are striving to make a living from poker and for whom as professionals, the advice “don't do it for the money” might contradict the rather more pressing need to pay this month's bills. But even if it's your working life, I would still argue that there's much value to be found in making sure that you never stop loving the game. As the old chestnut goes - “Do a job you love and you'll never work another day in your life”.

      With that in mind, as much as you can, try not to lose sight of what it is about this game that first captivated you. And hopefully that's not just the sound of all those chips scooped up. Although as I say, it certainly helps :)

      Which reminds me, there's a wonderful concept in Judaism called lishmah – which means doing something just for the sake and pleasure of doing it. Not worrying about the results or whether you can get anything out of it. Just do it because you love doing it. And with that openminded and almost innocent attitude, all sorts of new discoveries can be made along the way.


      9. Nobody said it was easy . . . Occasionally I console myself that any artistic thing I love was a huge process. There’s no great album, novel or film I love that was easy to make, even if they seem like they were, just like a great footballer makes it look easy. It’s the same with songs.


      And do we need to be reminded that nobody said it would be easy? Didn't that first book or intro article we ever read say that this is a game that can be learned in a few hours but will take a lifetime to master? But be honest – deep down, didn't you think that maybe, just maybe that wouldn't apply to you? That maybe it would all come easily. That you would be different. That you would take to this game in an instant and that all would come easily? Actually what am I saying?! Maybe you WERE different and judging by some of the stratospheric graphs I see in these parts, clearly for some it was that easy path.

      Well, that's as maybe. But I know I am not the only one for whom it has not all been easy sailing. And nor does it continue to be. It's a hard struggle at times and it's taken a while for me to recognise that yes, they weren't lying. At least not to me they weren't! It's not easy and nor is it going to be. It requires lots of work, striving, studying, playing and thinking. And I still need to remind myself of this fact especially when things are going just a little bit too smoothly and that poker demon voice says inside, “Hey Charlie, you shark you! You're getting the hang of this at last!” And with that, oh what penance does ensue!

      And how the poker gods like to punish such hubris!! If only to remind us that good things may come to those who wait but you have to work hard for them first. And let's face it, the best things in life are always those riches that are only attained after great struggle. For nobody ever treasures the easy win. The best victories are those that come after much blood and toil. Just please don't stain the cards while you're at it ;)


      10. . . . but it is easy when you’ve got it right The build-up to writing a song can be difficult. Finding something you care enough to write about is complex, you can find and lose your inspiration from one year to another. But funnily enough when you are in the moment, when you are at your best, it sails by. It’s a beautiful thing.



      Ahhh that journey to Poker Nirvana! The mountains and valleys that we walk through in the quest to find our A game and be in the zone. For when the cards are running just right and position is perfect and the fish are swimming merrily and the chips just seem to flow effortlessly in the right direction towards us – doesn't it feel amazing? Isn't that the Promised Land that we all yearn for? It is after all the reason why we love this game so much. OK, those highs cannot be there all the time and sometimes their memory is an all too distant thing. But even when it's just a faint recollection of a glorious upswing, it's always enough to keep us coming back for more. For it really IS a beautiful thing. And we must never lose sight of that beauty.

      OK, as always that was something of a quest! And again, as always I apologise for the long winded journey. But if you managed to get this far, I hope at least that Dan Wilson's thoughts will resonate in some way or other. Whether that be in terms of your poker or just wherever your life may be leading you at this time.

      So with the lyrics of an upbeat pop song ringing in your ears, may your poker always be top of the charts! :D

      All the best,

      Charlie
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      I was at a dinner party recently when one of the guests proclaimed, “You should never regret anything! Regrets are poison to the soul! Drop them and be free!”

      Clearly the person to whom he was giving the advice seemed pleased with this thought. But as with any absolutist statement, I felt uneasy about this definitive “truth”. Really? You should never feel regret? They serve no purpose at all?

      Unfortunately the conversation moved on before I could properly tackle the subject – and thankfully before he could launch into his impersonation of Piaf's Je ne regrette rien – but on the way home I had that classic l'esprit d'escalier moment and wished I'd asked him if he would say this to a rapist. Or to the woman who had just stolen a pensioner's life savings? Would he say to them that they did not need to regret their actions?

      OK, those are extreme examples but even in normal daily life, isn't it the case that we need to regret some things or else we would never improve? Not to mention the fact that without regrets, we end being dreadful companions to those around us. Because surely the only people who truly have no regrets are psychopaths – those who care nothing about how their actions might affect others and feel no sympathy with any distress caused. Without regret, how could ever understand the true consequences of our actions?

      So how does this apply to poker? (A question which I fear readers of my posts will often ask!) Well, this results directly from a hand earlier today when after a lot of action and feeling sure that I was beat on the river, I folded my KJs and saw K3o claw in the bloated pot. Don't worry, I am not going to labour you with my bad beat story although excuse me while I wipe my tears off the keyboard for a moment...

      Rather, as I tiltfully stomped around my flat in the sudden blast of a dreadful mood, I recalled that conversation at the dinner table. Regrets? I sure could do with zero regrets at this moment, I thought as I logged off in case I did something foolish. What had happened was of course what Sklansky calls clinically a “mathematical catastrophe” and boy, considering how my head was spinning with self-recrimination, my laptop screen was surely in danger of suffering a catastrophe today.

      But as I calmed down, that feeling of doubt from the party then shot into my mind. Really?! No regrets? You don't want to regret this? You don't want to remember this pain? Because how else am I going to avoid doing it again? I can read all the books in the poker universe, but nothing can equal the visceral power of experience. I'd read about mathematical catastrophes hundreds of times but now, oh now, I really did get what it meant. And however much victory is memorable, surely our greatest moments of learning come from those times when we say from the depths of despair, “I wish I hadn't done that....and I must make sure I will never do it again!”

      Now of course, I am not talking about those times when we fold correctly some trash hand which then before our dismayed eyes turns into a full house. The constant advice to every poker player is rightly to keep focused on the play of the hands and never the results which means that we can never regret a correct course of action. However much by the vagaries of luck, it may have won in that particular instant.

      But the moment that we try to nullify the pain of regret that comes from doing something we know to be wrong, then we already stunting the potential for our future growth.

      There's that great story about the actor and avid poker player, James Woods, being interviewed during some tournament where he talked about needing a rubber band around his wrist which he could ping “every time I feel tempted to play KJo from EP”. For without that short sharp shock, he'd be liable to forget the greater pain of those past mistakes.

      Perhaps he wasn't aware of the resonances with a very old tradition found mostly in England and Wales called 'beating the bounds'. It was when a whole village would go en masse to the boundaries of the community and they'd take along with them a boy of an age approaching adulthood. And at each physical marker of the limits of the village, they would whip the child. Charming custom huh? The idea being that it was the only way for him to really know and feel deep inside the limits of his existence. He had to feel the pain to truly understand how far he could go. It was in a sense a form of aversion therapy – teaching in the most visceral of fashions what were the boundaries that should not be normally crossed without caution.

      Ok, so I am not suggesting that any of you should be getting the whips out every time you sit in front of your monitor. What you do in the privacy of your homes is very much your own business. Just as long as you clean up properly afterwards of course. But there will always be times when we need to mark hard those times when we stray from what we know to be the path of poker righteousness.

      Human beings learn from experience. From when we were babies, we learn that certain actions lead to pleasurable results and thereby we decide to stick to those actions as much as possible. It only takes a couple of bursts of such pleasure for our neural pathways to cling stubbornly to the idea that that is what we should be doing from now on.

      But of course poker is dangerous territory for this process, it being a game in which in the short term at least, the right course of action does not always lead to a favourable result. So much pain can come from what is in fact the right thing to be doing. So our experience must be analysed and tested constantly in the light of what is objectively the correct action rather than what our emotions might tell us. (A heartfelt shout-out to the blessing that is Pokertracker is required here!) How many times do we play in a certain way which intellectually we know is not logical but which perhaps won us a huge pot once or twice in the past and which we are loath to drop? How many times do we avoid action which our head tells us is clearly +EV but which due to some unforgettably cracked disaster at the hands of a villain's trash holding, we hesitate to follow?

      The trick is knowing what to regret and what not to. So I suppose we could argue that our friend at the dinner table was partially right. You have to drop the regrets about the bad beats, suckouts and all those catastrophes beyond our control. But on the other hand you must never stop regretting the missed chances and the lost value. For how else are you ever going to learn? You have to feel the pain and regret so as to not forget. It can be the spur to future action. For the best response to any grief or regret, is to use that as a foundation for a renewed dedication to further self-improvement.

      Or it may just spur us on to write something, to help others in a similar bind while getting it off our chests. Which of course is exactly what I am doing now. So I could argue that I definitely shouldn't regret what happened at the table earlier as in response, it got me thinking about what it means to regret and the ways in which something positive can come of that.

      As to whether you regret reading this post all the way to the end, that's a whole different matter which I shall leave for you to decide :)

      All the best,

      Charlie
    • ClerkenwellBoi
      ClerkenwellBoi
      Bronze
      Joined: 15.02.2013 Posts: 85
      Are you a psychopath? As opening greetings go, it’s perhaps not what you’re normally used to hearing. That is unless you’re the person that I read about recently, who thought it a good idea on a blind date to excitedly offer to show the girl his ‘impressive collection of knives and axes’ that he had apparently spent years collecting. Although I gather she hurriedly left before even asking the all-important “Are you a psychopath?” question….

      No, the reason why I am thinking about all things sociopathic, is that I was reading earlier an article about Andy McNab - a kind of celebrity ex special forces operative here in the UK – who has just co-authored a new book called The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success

      In the article, Robert Crampton of the Times undergoes with McNab the sort of neurological test that supposedly can determine a psychopathic character. This involves sitting in a cubicle wired up to various machines monitoring brain functions while watching a succession of scenes: some neutral, some pleasing and then at unexpected moments, images of extreme horror – victims of accidents and murder, dismembered bodies and all sorts of gruesome gore. And throughout this – with the added stress of sudden blasts of white noise through headphones – the electrodes measure how the brain is reacting.

      It’s what is known as the emotionally modulated startle-response test or as the co-author of the book, Professor Kevin Dutton calls it, the gold standard for testing psychopaths. It is by monitoring how a person responds to moments of visual or aural stress that it can be judged to what extent they may have psychopathic tendencies.

      Well, not surprisingly however much Crampton tried to stay calm, his brain reacted with the appropriate levels of stress and anxiety. But McNab on the other hand, the highly trained soldier and indeed killer, showed no noticeable change. As the journalist writes…

      His physiological response….bore no correlation to the image in front of him at the time. He flatlined. “I didn’t care” he says. If anything, his results suggest the trees and lakes stressed him out marginally more than the dismembered bodies.

      So perhaps not the man you want to invite out with you for a nice quiet walk into the forest…

      But needless to say it got me onto the subject of poker. As I mentioned in a previous post, the psychologist Dr Alan Schoonmaker has written at length about how TAGs should emulate the “stone cold killer”. So with that in mind, it could be argued that what we think of as the perfect poker attitude, clearly reflects some psychopathic tendencies.

      It’s that ability to not only be able to unleash aggression but even more importantly to know the exact moment when it is appropriate to do so; while never allowing the inner calmness and emotional balance to be affected by what is unfurling before your eyes. To be able to say at any time in the heat of the battle, just like Andy McNab, “I didn’t care”. It means being utterly unaffected by whatever gory horrors may result from our actions. Of course in our case, withstanding gruesome images is probably best represented by the mental terror of seeing an opponent river quads with his deuces while we watch our AK full house collapse. But gore is gore, in whatever form it comes…

      Of course, it doesn’t mean that we should approach our game with an air of indifferent nonchalance. I don’t know much about armed covert operations but I can guess that McNab didn’t stroll into enemy territory while whistling a happy tune. Rather, like any warrior, he would move with stealth and poise, patiently waiting in a heightened sense of awareness until the moment is right for the lethal attack. Viewing each new development in the light of cool logic rather than allowing emotion to affect the decision as to when to act.

      And it’s that ability to determine between what are valid opportunities for action and what are situations that are a waste of energy and/or potentially dangerous which for most of us does not come naturally but must be developed. And it’s clearly a quality that all poker players can appreciate when for example they find themselves caught up in the maniacal mood of a table and start getting involved in hands which they have no rational business being in!

      Knowing which battles you should fight and which more importantly are the ones you have the right odds to win, is something that every tactician from Sun Tzu onwards has rightly regarded as essential for victory. It all starts with conquering the enemy within, the inner demons who stand in the way of our success. As Lao Zi says, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power."

      And like the ‘good psychopath’, we must remain placid and unmoved, especially in the face of the many elements beyond our control. Indeed, it’s the way that a person handles these ‘non-controllables’ that really shows how much he or she is instead in control of themselves and their actions. As Crampton writes about McNab, “If he can’t influence an event, he simply shuts off from it.”

      So next time the flop hits magically the hand of the fishiest opponent on earth and you’re about to declare all-out war, remember those words. You can’t influence the event so shut yourself off from it and – as difficult as it may be – strive to remain unaffected by what is clearly beyond your control. For by definition, a true psychopath will not go on tilt. They may coldly plan out the downfall and destruction of their enemy but it will never be with an unbalanced mind or erratic play. Which brings us back to the textbook definition of a successful TAG.

      Of course as the journalist showed in today’s article, it’s not something that comes easily to a ‘normal’ person. But hey, nobody ever accused poker addicts of being normal so all the more reason why we should strive to develop this all important poker – psychopathic! – mindset.

      Anyway, you must excuse me now, I have to go and clean my knife collection. I find the machetes are particularly hard work and I have a fish to gut for dinner tonight…
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