April 06, 2010

Playing poker on a high level can be good for you and the world

Every few weeks or so, the forums (any poker forum) get to a point where they start to question poker’s “value”. Does the successful pro contribute anything to society? Isn’t he/she leeching off the vices of the addicts? Isn’t that (young), brilliant mind, that can beat poker an opportunity lost? Shouldn’t the pro spend his time bettering the world than wasting the hours away at the tables?

A lot of players also don’t feel fulfillment. Is this really what I was set out to do? Am I ok withering away at home, in my underwear, with no social interaction and horrible eating and sleeping habits?

Last week Mike “Timex” McDonald decided to retire (link to blog , read it, it’s quite good). He referred to poker as “a way to let time pass”. Now before you go saying, “wft, a 20-year old having deep insights into life and poker, hahaha”, read the blog and the follow up interview: link ; they are really quite interesting, but a bit depressing at the time. He’s saying that because of the special circumstances that surround you with poker, you end up having basically 0 non-poker friends, you end up in a spiral of ever recurring activities and prop bets. Is that really fulfilling?!?!?!

So is there a point to this blog post? Am I here to depress you? Quite the opposite! As with everything, done with moderation it is my belief that poker can be quite good for you!

About a week or two ago, I was having my vegging out day, playing poker, WoW and watching TED videos, when I ran across this:

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world (link to TED talk)

Watch it, it’s nice, go on. I’ll wait…

I don’t agree or are very “meh” with a lot of the conclusions at the end, they seem a bit hippy, “oh look at all the good we’re doing”, but there are some salient points that stood out to me in the video:

a) The game hooks us by giving us little chunks, little pockets of satisfaction, quests that are doable. Poker is the quintessential game that does that. Play every hand (chunk) to the best of your abilities and you’ll make money in the long run. Plus the game keeps you hooked, because no matter how awful you run in the session, you’re still gonna win a few hands. The look of that geeky kid playing the game that the lady showed in the beginning, could have been just mine, running a huge bluff on somebody and getting the pot shipped my way, being at a final table on some tourney – an epic win! I’m engaged, the world around me is gone! Gaming doesn’t mean alternative reality, poker is very much gaming, imo.

b) People are playing a lot, we’re talking about human evolution timescales! In poker, too. It’s not just: read a book, play a few hours and you’ve got the game figured out. No, it takes months and months to learn, refine and become a very good player. 10,000 hours to become a master a la Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (link – http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017922)? Yeah, I believe there are many poker masters out there among you!

c) What exactly are poker players getting so good at (174 million people in the world spend at least an hour a day on average playing online games)? In my mind, every skill you pick up in poker has an application to the outside world. If you do want to make a difference it is up to you to get involved with it, be it to go learn about investing and risk management, for example or to give back to society in a way that you see fit as a another.

Let me elaborate on the last point a little bit. McGonigal says: “we feel that we are not as good in games as we are in real life! In game world, we are the most likely to stick with it, to stand up after failure, much more than in real world.”

But as poker players, successful ones, that is, we do have the drives that she mentions. Optimism, we are doers, we wanna bet this thing! We are great at finding groups of like minded people and put all our energy together to tackle the problem together. What else is DC, but a great community that tackles the poker as a group, might as well be a raid! :) As of now, twoplustwo is the 6th largest gaming forum on the internet, yes that includes all of the role playing forums!

We are productive, we put a lot of work into beating it. I know that I watch at least 20 hours of poker videos every month, play thousands of hands, discuss, do session reviews, do research. One thing’s for sure, we are not the lazy bums a lot of people depict us at. We are happy working hard at poker!

I guess that’s where the similarities end and the video then goes on to talk about some games like “World without Oil”, which I find to be a bit condescending to gamers out there.

BUT, you do have the skills! You do have all the tools you need to get out there and make a difference. You don’t need to have a “real job” to help the world! You can use your analytical skills, your intelligence, your drive to beat the game of poker to do good in the world. We need motivated thinkers that can break down each big situation (PLO) into little packets (hands) without losing the big picture (reads).

I don’t wanna turn this into a “poker is like life” post. There are enough of those on the internet. My main point is that learning to beat poker can make you into a mean solving machine in real life. And that you can apply that to all sorts of things in life. And that there will always be people be willing to listen to good advice and that you are not a lost opportunity, but actually an opportunity in the making.

Some of the most intelligent conversations go on at meetings I’ve had with poker players. We have the skills to analyze some problem often without sense of attachment (to the pot :P ) or emotion, be able to calculate the risks. We can create value, it is up to you to do it. If you feel you are not bettering yourself or your surroundings with your playing, scale back, invest in new interests, but never forget TO PLAY!!!

Oh, and if you’re thinking of “giving back” to society. If you feel like a leech, may I suggest ONE FOR CHARITY (link) organized by DC’s very own BigBadBabar and OnTheRail15. It encourages you to donate 1% of your winnings to charity. You don’t have to participate, just keep it in mind, that it is up to YOU to better society, not some job or social convention that will magically come flying to you.

Posted By bellatrix at 07:08 AM


Tags: general introspection


PygmyHero posted on April 06, 2010 at 11:55 AM


I think one of the primary objections I had to the TED talk was that her solution essentially seemed to be, 'Here, play this OTHER game!' I would argue that to do some actual tangible good at some point poker players (and gamers) would need to (gasp!) get up, leave their apartments, and participate in the real world.

Lysistrata posted on April 06, 2010 at 13:46 PM


From a purely behavioral psych standpoint, I think that playing poker does a better of job of having already intelligent people apply their skills rather than teach new ones because of the variability of reward. But besides that point, I, personally, have struggled immensely with seeing any cross over of poker skill with rl skill. When I "read" a person, it's because of my psych training. When I calculate pot odds, it's because I learned probability in grade school. Are there specific examples of things that you (as a much better and more volume-d player) can think of that helped you irl?

bellatrix posted on April 06, 2010 at 15:55 PM


Lysistrata: soooo much! I have become a much calmer person, I can smell the BS when somebody is talking to me quicker. I have suddenly made money in stocks and investing analysis and can grasp those risk situations more quickly than anybody in the room ("uh guys, the volatility isn't that bad, the Gaussian just broadened, but your winrate is the same" got quizzical looks once). If physics made me feel like I could tackle any problem, poker gave me the motivation to do it. So yeah, you are presented with a great slew of opportunities and with a lot of financial freedom, you can pursue a lot of your own interests.

That is also the point of PygmyHero which I implore other poker players to follow, please, please get off your butts! It is a sort of affirmation, you ARE valuable, I know you can do it, do it, make a difference. Unfortunately a lot of online players woud rather "play 1000 more hands", which is the comfortable route. Baby steps, I guess.

TecmoSuperBowl posted on April 06, 2010 at 20:07 PM


I'm hoping poker eventually brings me the financial freedom to open my own/join with another pit bull rescue center, among other projects. If $ was my only goal, I wouldn't be nearly as dedicated to getting better at poker. Unlike a lot of my friends, I have a need to make a difference. Maybe it's arrogance on my part, but I have always felt like I have been given certain intellectual talents and that I should use those to "be the change I wish to see in the world." I can see how a pro poker player would have a meaningless, lonely existence, but only if that's how you choose to go about it. My plans involve much grander ideas than both Capt Zeebo and good2cu seem to portray. I don't like to judge others, but the comment Zeebo made in FBTR#1 about only wanting to care for his family and not anyone else seemed really selfish and narrow-minded. I respect the fact that he wants to provide for his family, but imo, if you can help others and choose not to...well...you suck. Wow...I don't even know what I originally started talking about...

merry posted on April 09, 2010 at 19:22 PM


great read, totally agree! keep it up :)

bellatrix posted on April 11, 2010 at 03:40 AM


Update: found this oldie, but I guess recycled goody from Sklansky:

which posted on April 25, 2010 at 18:41 PM



I believe it was 'leatherass' who mentioned p-ing into a bottle while playing, and how it was +EV by thousands a year.

Others have mentioned movies 'costing' them BB/100.

I have not gotten to this point yet, but used to drive a cab. Many of the drivers would think in terms of 'shifts'. If I asked if they were going to this or that they would answer with the "It would cost me $ and a shift which is another $".

Could it be that the amount of time some folks consider necessary to remain good keeps them so closely tied to their computers that it IS in fact isolating?

Pygmy has a great point about life being 'out there' as opposed to 'here, by yourself'. I think many are afraid to let go of their mouse, figuring gettig it back might be too difficult?

I used to work 3 jobs, 7 days a week. Looking back on it, I cannot believe I was able to sustain that. Looking forward? I could never get myself to do it again. Maybe Supernova Elites are the same?


bellatrix posted on April 25, 2010 at 20:32 PM


As I said, everything is good done in moderation. It is a fine line between being an expert at something and an addict / obsessive. I hope we all find that line and don't cross it. I hope we all find something we truly love, but don't become so obsessed with it that we neglect other good things in life, like our family.

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