How a Stoic Mindset Can Make You a Much Better Poker Player
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This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan. When looking at a high-stakes professional poker player losing a half a million dollar pot, or busting out of a huge tournament “in the bubble” and taking it in stride, the word “stoic” might come to mind.  While colloquially referred to as someone who is calm and emotionless in the face of adversity, this kind of definition doesn’t quite do justice to the original philosophy of Stoicism and doesn’t really tell the full story. Like most things, the original meaning and the ideas have changed and molded with the times, and what we’re left with today is a superficial understanding of what once was.  There is a lot more to being stoic than merely showing (or even feeling) no emotion and accepting your cruel fate. It’s not about suppressing emotions either, for doing so tends to backfire, sooner or later.  The surface-level understanding of Stoicism would indeed have us picture a totally cold and detached person, but it’s just a facade.  It’s not about the appearances, it’s about the underlying principles beneath the surface that guide our thinking and behaviour. What is Stoicism and How it Can Make You a Better Poker Player   Stoicism is a holistic philosophy that encompasses physics, logic and ethics. It surmises that the path to a good life is to be found in pursuing virtue, using reason, and living in accordance with nature.  According to the Stoics, the four main virtues were wisdom, courage, justice and temperance (or self-discipline). Certainly great things to have at your side, especially when things don’t go your way.  And they won’t.  Anyone who has played poker for some period of time can attest to that.  Quite simply put, stoic philosophy emphasizes virtues as a means of achieving what they called Apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια; literally, "without passion"). It’s not to be confused with apathy. The most accurate translation would be equanimity, similar to the Buddhist concept of the enlightenment, (i.e. a state of stability and composure in the face of adversity). In practical terms, it means reacting logically and reasonably to external events beyond our control, rather than our decision-making process being hijacked by emotions.  That is not to say to be emotionless or robotic, but clear-headed, objective and aware. Awareness being the key. Poker and Stoicism - The Hidden Connection The less aware you are, the more likely you are to react negatively to external events beyond your control. The poker fish are the best example of this.  They don’t make their decisions based on odds, probabilities, previous action, player types, ranges and so on. A lot of advanced technical poker knowledge is completely foreign to them.  Sure, they might be familiar with some concepts to a certain extent, but knowing that something exists and being able to apply it effectively are not the same thing.  I might have some theoretical knowledge about internal combustion engines. It doesn’t mean I have the slightest clue how to go about fixing my car.  Poker is deceptively simple, and fish are notorious for overestimating their skill level and playing in games they have no business being in.  You will often hear players say something along the lines of: I’m not a math person. I’m more of a feel player. This is mostly a BS excuse.  Sure, intuition and gut feelings are not to be underestimated, but they are usually the consequence of acquired knowledge and reasoning that isn’t quite articulated yet.  It can be useful at times, but it can also be dead wrong, because emotions can be unreliable at best, and highly destructive at worst.  Example of How a Poker Amateur Reasons Incorrectly You may think someone who is overbet shoving on the river is bluffing because they’ve been overly aggressive and have been pushing you out of pots for more than an hour So you decide to make a hero call, only to be shown the absolute stone cold nuts.  The problem is you only considered a piece of the puzzle, and built a narrative around it. You didn’t consider previous action, bet sizing, their probable range, the board runout and what have you.  You were probably more motivated to get even, or to make a sick call, or show you won’t be pushed around. Probably a combination of those actually.  Either way, you let emotions (anger or pride) guide your decision-making process, even if you weren’t quite aware of it at the time.  You did make a conscious decision, and there was certainly merit to your line of thinking (i.e. the villain WAS overly aggressive and could have been bluffing), but it’s not the whole story.  It’s a single piece of the variable that stood out to you because of previous events and your personal involvement.  And that’s the core problem:  We might think we are making rational decisions, and we aren’t even aware of the ways our decision-making process is compromised before it’s too late. How to Mitigate the Negative Effects of Emotional Based Reasoning in Poker If we could mitigate the negative effects of emotions and let the rational part of our brain take the wheel, poker would be a fundamentally different (and quite easier) game.  This is where a little bit of stoic wisdom can come in handy. This article will provide some insight into the mind of one of stoicism’s most stellar personalities, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.   Marcus Aurelius was quite an impressive person. He was dubbed the Philosopher king by his contemporaries and was known as the last of the five good emperors of Rome.  He ruled from 161 to 180, and his reign will mark the beginning of an end of a period which will later be called Pax Romana (lat. Roman peace), the golden age of the Roman empire.  As one of the most prominent Stoic philosophers, a lot of what we know about Stoicism today can be ascribed to Marcus Aurelius and his capital work, "The Meditations," a series of letters and notes he wrote to himself as a means of self-improvement.  The work was never written to be published, but his ideas survived to this day in one form or another long after the emperor’s passing almost two millennia ago.   All the quotes cited come from The Meditations, so with the history lesson aside, let’s get into the actual tips, starting with the cornerstone of Stoic philosophy… 1. Some Things Are Out of Your Control “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” - Marcus Aurelius As poker players, there is a lot we can do to improve our results, and how much we win or lose depends greatly on us. We choose the game to play, we choose a site, a table, a seat.   We choose the stakes, when to play, how long, what cards to play, how to play in a certain spot and so on.  We are just not entirely sure about the outcome in a lot of situations. And it certainly can be a deal-breaker to many people who want to be in control of their life’s outcomes, and playing dice just isn’t their particular cup of tea.  But for the rest of us degenerate gamblers, it’s a cruel reality that we need to make peace with in order to survive this brutal game.  You need to be aware that the prospect of loss is ever present, and disasters are just waiting to happen.  And there is absolutely no way around it, no matter how good you are. Sometimes you will do everything right and lose anyway. It’s beyond you. But the way you react when things don’t go your way is the true mark of character. Everyone can play well when the deck keeps hitting them, but as soon as things go south, their game collapses along with their fortunes.  And this is what makes poker a lucrative endeavour for some, and a losing investment for most.  The key Stoic takeaway is this: True wisdom is identifying and separating what’s within our control and what isn’t, and focusing exclusively on the former. So how do we do that?  With another piece of advice from Marcus Aurelius… 2. Stay Present “At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice — giving yourself a break from all other considerations.  You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share.” - Marcus Aurelius Making peace with things beyond our control and focusing only on what is within our control means letting go of past and future.  The past is fixed and impossible to change, the future is uncertain and impossible to predict. That is not to say that Stoics were just living in the moment, partying non-stop and to hell with the consequences.  Quite the contrary. They did in fact think extensively about what their life would and could be like, and what was the best course of action to take in order to live a virtuous life.  They also meditated on what has transpired already, but not to dwell on past mistakes and misfortunes, but to learn from them.  But when they weren’t pondering life’s biggest questions and were engaged in a certain activity, they were all in on it, for they believed that anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.  Otherwise, why are you doing it in the first place? So the next time you sit down to play poker, make sure you are focused on the task at hand. Remove all distractions like your phone, email, Netflix etc.  Make sure you are not to be disturbed, either by external forces or by your own internal turmoil of any kind. Leave the past, the future, and your ego at the door and play to the best of your abilities. Focus on every hand individually, street by street, action by action. Pay attention even when you’re not directly involved in the hand.  Don’t let your mind wander off. You can’t expect to have great results if you keep missing key pieces of information. Information is power, and every little piece of it helps.  Stay inquisitive, stay present. Make $500+ Per Month in Low Stakes Poker Games With My Free Poker Cheat Sheet Are you having trouble consistently beating low stakes poker games online or live? Are you looking to make a consistent part time income playing these games?   That is why I wrote this free little 50 page poker cheat sheet to give you the exact strategies to start consistently making $500 (or more) per month in low stakes poker games right now. These are the exact poker strategies that I used by the way as a 10+ year poker pro. And I lay them all out for you step by step in this free guide. Enter your details below and I will send my free poker cheat sheet to your inbox right now. 3. Expect Adversity “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil.  But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind... And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness.  Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him... To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.” - Marcus Aurelius People are here to take your money and you are there to take theirs. It is not a cooperative endeavour.…