Poker lessons from antiquity: about control and the ability to say no

The great ancient philosophers uttered many wise things that apply to poker in our time.
Under the heading “Psychology of poker” a new article from our regular author Lee Davy.
You don’t have to go far for examples, and today we turn to the sayings of the ancient philosophers Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
More precisely, we use their wisdom in the framework of strategy and psychology for poker players in order to improve their playing skills.

The great ancient philosophers

1. Take control of only what you can

To obey that which does not depend on you, and to improve in yourself that which depends only on you. It is only reasonable to take care of this, and take everything else as it happens.

What will happen not in your will, but to live for good or for evil is in your will. No one bothers you, no matter what happens to you, to act always and in everything in accordance with truth and goodness. Whatever happens, you will turn yourself into a lesson and in favor.

– Epictetus

Was the last time you were annoyed that everything was under control? I doubt.
Ancient philosophers perfectly understood what control is.
They believed that we can control our thoughts and the actions that flow from them.
To be able to distinguish between what we can do and what not. We are not subject to everything that is outside of us, the bodily, external world.
Not these things themselves, but only our ideas about them make us happy or unhappy; but our thoughts, aspirations, and, consequently, our happiness are subject to us.
Do not waste time on the fact that you can not control.

Applicable to the game at the poker table, we have the following “things” that are out of your control:

  • Card deck
  • Dealer
  • The moves of your opponents
  • Blind structure

Learn to understand what real control is, use a simple trick in the morning. Just write a list of the things you expect today, but they will be out of your control.

Also write how you intend to respond to them, and in the evening take a look at the list and check it. Rate your progress.

2. Poker is not just a game

We never learned anything if we did as soon as we wanted. So, in order to be a free person, you should not wish in vain for all that only comes to mind. On the contrary, a free person must learn to want and agree with everything that happens to him, because what happens to a person happens not in vain, but by the will of the One who rules the whole world.

– Epictetus

Poker is not just a game

Not so long ago, I conducted a study among professional poker players. I asked them what they thought of a possible poker career for their children.
Most reacted negatively, but everyone was not opposed to their children “learning the lessons of life that poker can give.”
Poker is such a separate world. This is a game in which teachers themselves go to school. Not only for understanding fundamental mathematics, but also for deduction, rationality, sociability, and other no less important things.
And when studying poker, the eyes should be wide open, like an owl. No need to be a moth. Do not take poker as a game.
Think of poker as an opportunity to get further education. In poker, the learning process does not go so that you become smarter or look better in the eyes of friends. In poker, you study life.
None of us received instructions for life at birth. So use poker as a guide.

3. Learn to say no

If you look closely, it turns out that most of the life of many is wasted on bad deeds, a considerable part is spent on idleness, and all life as a whole is not at all what is needed.

No matter how hard we try, life runs faster than us, and if we still hesitate, it sweeps as if it were not ours, and although it ends on the last day, it leaves us daily.

– Seneca


In one day 1440 minutes. Most of us spend 480 minutes of them sleeping. Consequently, only 960 minutes a day remain for life.

Time – not money – is the most valuable resource in life. You need to use every minute, and for this you need to be able to say no.

One of the bonuses from the knowledge of a poker player is that you can realize what consequences negative emotions have and why tilt occurs.

Remember the anger that gripped you when the next flush did not reach the river.

What about those moments when you lost confidence because “the deck of cards was clearly not on your side”? How many poker apps did you download before choosing the one that suits you best?

Just say no to anger, frustration, loss, and abstraction. Make poker profit and succeed.

A multitasking trap, or the limit of your brain

Why is doing several things at the same time always worse than focusing on one thing? And how does the answer to this question apply in poker? This is one of PokerListings’ regulars.
Below is a translation of the text by Lee Davy, one of the most active authors of the English-language site PokerListings.
Recently, I flew from Los Angeles to London and during the flight I managed to watch a documentary about the guys who climb tall towers and then hang on them on one arm (they are called ruffers – approx.).
No ropes, no insurance. No second chances. One mistake and you are dead.
And while all these funs seem pointless and stupid, they can teach us poker players something to teach.
When these guys climb a building or crane, when they perform life-threatening tricks, there is total silence. Not a sound.
Concentration is where the whole point is.

Who says multitasking is cool?

Everyone has been in similar situations. Well, they did not hang upside down at the height of a nine-story building, of course, but knew that any mistake would lead to bad consequences.
I was skiing here in Colorado and I had to use the lift. Two young people sat down to me. They did not lower the horizontal bar, which prevents them from falling out of the seat. I didn’t do that either. I didn’t want to seem weak. A matter of principle.
We set off. I discovered a strange thing: all my attention was focused on one thought – to keep my ass and not fall.
The effectiveness of multitasking is not only exaggerated, it is a myth. That’s why ruffers don’t talk when they need to concentrate, which is why I only thought about my fifth point on that lift and for the same reason I once had an accident when talking on the phone while driving.

Johnjo Shelvey scores a goal

Sunday night I decided to play online poker. He opened four tables, the skating rink went. He started at three in the night, and at four began the football: Southampton – Swansea. I didn’t root for those or the others, but I turned it on anyway.
Then he opened the mail, decided to make a plan for the new week, as I usually do. Opened Google Calendar, opened Wunderlist, started compiling lists.
And here is my move. In the big blind I have an ace-jack, the cutoff pushes 15 BB.
I was taken by surprise. Who is this player? What did this push mean? Is he doing this for the first time? Is he loose or tight?
Johnjo Shelvey scores. I fold my hand.

Confirmed by science

Which of the tasks that Sunday was the most important for me? Poker. So why was I distracted by other things, making my brain work less efficiently?
And I’m sure that this has happened and is happening with a huge number of amateurs and even professionals. So where do the legs grow from?
Multitasking is one of the skills attributed to job candidates in modern companies. But this is nonsense, nonsense and nonsense. The ability to perform several actions at a time is just a common misconception.
Experiments on this topic have been carried out many times. Even real businessmen took part and became convinced by their own example: multitasking not only reduces work efficiency, but also tires much faster.
At Stanford University, it was found that people chasing two hares work just worse, they need more time to filter out unnecessary information.
Similar results were obtained at the University of London. They generally came to the conclusion that  multitasking reduces IQ.

Brain limit

No matter how amazing the organ the brain is, it has a limit of possibilities. At a certain point in time, he can process so much information and no more. And we are trying to share this potential is not large flows.
Take for example my Sunday rink. What is the impact of the allocation of only 25% of their attention to poker at a distance? When compared with a player who concentrates on the game completely. And if he plays only one table?
At the very beginning of my acquaintance with poker, I played two tables. Then he went over to four, then ten, and later returned to four again. Now I play one, two or four tables at a time.
I opened more than one because I was bored. And not because it increased profit. I just wanted more action.

Much safer with crane tricks

Then I realized that I could not keep up with the game with multi-tabling. My attention was again scattered. I started watching videos, football, watching mail and even writing articles. Not so long ago, I reached the final of the H.O.R.S.E event in the MicroMillions series, recording a new article along the way.
I considered myself smart. In fact, I was just lucky.
If you need poker for fun, then for God’s sake – at the same time do what your heart desires. But a serious approach always requires maximum concentration.
Reduce the number of tables, free your brain for one task. And remember that after the fold the game continues.
I would even recommend playing only one table. All your attention will be paid to the game, and this will significantly improve performance.
In the end, it is much safer than hanging on the boom of a tall industrial crane.

Beginner Tips from Lee Davy and Ian Maynert on Poker Strategy

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