Monday, March 19, 2012

The Zen of Poker - Faith and Hope

I wish I could figure out how to win at online poker. There's a pattern that's been repeating itself. I put some money on. Sometimes I lose it quickly. But more often than not I win. Great! I turn $30 into $200 (with a mix of HU, Cash, SNG). Then of course, I lose it all. I console myself by noting that along the way I have a few stabs at winning big in tourneys. Its like a mini trade cycle - boom & bust - all of its own.

I wonder whether the losses are inevitable. It makes sense that for every winning streak there must be a losing streak. This is obvious when you play Heads-Up (against just one opponent). Poker pros like to refer to the role of luck in poker as 'variance'. Just like bankers like to refer to gambling as 'investment'. Dress it up how you like, essentially we're all dealing with the same thing.

When you get a run of bad luck its easy to go on tilt. Then you start to make bad decisions that amplify the bad luck you are experiencing. Two things keep you going; faith and hope. Faith in the karmic nature of the universe, or if you prefer, in randomness; the cards you're dealt, and those that appear on the flop are not influenced by anything - over time luck will balance out. And Hope that next time the universe will align, and your AA will hold against your opponents 83 offsuit (AA lost for me every time, in my latest losing streak, including to 83o).

Or you may see things the other way round. You may have Faith in your abilities as a superior poker player and Hope that over time results will adjust to variance.

Whichever way you experience Faith and Hope you'll have picked up that there is some dissonance between them. Something contradictory. I'd like to know the nature of that contradiction. I think it would help with my poker and with life generally.

This is where my thoughts are.

In the abstract Faith does not require Hope. Although in the real world Faith attracts the faithful through the offer of Hope. Faith can use Hope as a means.

The nature of Hope is amoral. I appreciate that Hope is generally seen as a good thing. But of course people are seduced by Hope into doing very bad things. People sometimes wrongly refer to this as false Hope. There is no such thing. The opposite of Hope is Despair. False Hope is actually real Hope that turns out badly.

Now this wouldn't qualify as a poker post unless I went through at least one hand.

This is how I went out of last night's big $22. There were 6456 entrants. This was hand 178. There were (from memory) about 1200 remaining with the 810 getting paid.


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I can remember Short-Stacked Shamus talking about the difference between two types of poker - cash & tournament - over on his blog. He made the point that even the very best tournament poker players lose many many more times than they win. To be successful you have to be able to cope mentally with losing pretty consistently. I expect that Faith and Hope come in handy. Although when those chips flew across the screen to my opponent last night, they were the last things on my mind.

I'm tempted to write more exploring how Faith & Hope are related to Money. Max Weber obviously had a thing or two to say about Faith & Money. And no doubt there'll be some white coated scientist busily searching for an optimism/pessimism gene & correlating its presence with wealth. I think though, that poker (and other games & sports) can give you a insight into these things that maybe scientific research can't. And poker is particularly interesting in this respect because it directly involves pricing (determining the correct level of bet) and and of course it revolves around Money.

But I'll leave that for another time. Meanwhile, this little mantra has popped into my head time and time again since I first read it a few weeks ago. They are very wise words. Words which are sending me back to do some more poker study before I 'invest' any more in the game.

"Never hope harder than you work." Rita Mae Brown

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