Introspection - Strategy Is Philosophy (Part 1)
Posted by Troy M
(Still not satisfied with the title, so it's still a working title. For now, I've stuck with something simple, but if you have a good idea for a title for this philosophy-poker blog, please, let me know)
As many of you learned the rules of poker -- most of you through Texas Hold 'Em, and some through other various games -- you should have also realized that the next step to learning more about the game is adopting a strategic mindset to whatever level you're content with, however simple that level of thinking may be. However, the most ambitious of poker players, whether they consciously realize this or not, will passionately search for a template of strategy that:
...maximizes their long-term profit.
...best suits how they prefer to play, or how they're capable of playing.
...best suits their perspective on life as a whole.
I think the last one is the most important thing to keep in mind in order to support the first two goals. One's experience in life can apply so meaningfully to discovering how well one is capable of playing, and what playstyle best suits someone, that applying it properly to one's poker strategy can truly lead to a big jump in profit.
How could I reinforce that this is the most effective philosophical approach to becoming the best poker player one can be, you say? To me, poker is a game where the best player relies on two things to fulfill the object of the game: controlling the mathematical probabilities revolving around the random dealing of the cards, and understanding the intangibles revolving around the diverse array of people who those cards are being dealt to. This leads to poker becoming a game where some important things are known facts while other things which are just as important can only be answered subjectively. This is the exact same problem that the subject of philosophy is intended to address, and so we can conclude that strategy is derivative of the field of philosophy. Philosophy is even an essential part of military strategy, for instance -- Sun Tzu's The Art Of War, a classic nonfictional work that is said to be over 2500 years old, is heavily influenced by Taoist beliefs.
One gripe of mine about the poker scene, if I say so myself, is that online poker players -- even some of the best players who sit behind the computer screen -- are incomplete in that they're much too reliant on math to guide them, while live poker players are incomplete in that they either lack fundamentals (ie, Daniel Negreanu, Kenny Tran) or mathematical skills which would help to prevent them from leaking more trivial amounts of money here and there. Good math skills are a must in understanding the spots that are considered standard, while good intuition and observation are a must in making the best of spots that are not considered standard.
This is how an online player like Tom Dwan is making a name for himself . You can even see how his live game develops between, for instance, 2008's Heads Up Poker Championship...
...and one of his latest appearances on Poker After Dark.
He took his logical and intuitional skills which he developed for years playing online and slowly, but surely, transitioned those skills onto the real felt. Now he's considered one of the best in the world, along the likes of Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius, the latter of which also made his name playing online.
So, with that said, how does this apply to you? Taking a first-year philosophy course, for instance, puts a lot of things into words that people don't necessarily put into words for their entire lives. However, doing so does enlighten one with many valuable life lessons, in my opinion, and it's my basis for explaining how one can reflect their life philosophy on their poker philosophy. I guess I'll ask some simple, adapted questions for now:
Are you a poker monist or a poker pluralist? Do you believe that a winning poker player can focus on excelling at only one aspect of their game, or is a poker player unable to achieve long-term profit without significantly developing more than one skill set? Can a poker player, for instance, really rely on playing only good cards to achieve long-term profit, or do they need to rely on more than just the cards?
My answer: I'm a poker pluralist. A winning poker player ideally looks to be good all-around, making their weaknesses minimal and, if present, as vague as possible. Most players aren't that stupid. If they're paying any attention, they'll notice if you're just waiting for good cards and waiting to hit even better postflop hands all the time, and they can even exploit this style to their benefit, so it's a bit laughable to think that that strategy would work on anyone aside from complete novices. So how do you throw these people off if they aren't beginners? By relying on more than just getting good cards, of course -- namely, your knowledge of the game and its applications to your own game through several means.
Are you a poker absolutist or a poker relativist? Do you believe that only one style of play will maximize one's profit, or are other styles of play also just as potentially profitable? Is it good to change gears, or do you believe one is getting ahead of themselves when they decide to change up their game?
My answer: I'm a poker relativist. There is no way you can say that TAG's are the only profitable players when LAG's are well known to be winning players at certain levels which are more predominantly comprised of players who at least know basic strategy and are at least somewhat attentive. Since one of the most important things going into making a game plan is knowing the player -- who we know is just one of six or seven billion people in the world -- there's no way that one style of play can truly be considered best, although it's common knowledge that some styles (ie, tight-aggressive) work much better in achieving real-world results than others (ie, loose-passive).
Are you a poker objectivist or a poker subjectivist? Let's say you've posted a close hand in which many people share conflicting opinions, like this one. Is everyone right, or can someone be wrong? Let's say you're a weak-tight player who plays micro-stakes games online, and someone tells you you should be shoving queens preflop against a 4-bet in a spot where you actually fold all the time. Do you think they have to be wrong? Or do you see the answer to poker as being so uncertain that you feel obliged to take any advice you're given seriously?
My answer: I'm an objectivist in some aspects of poker, and a subjectivist in others. I believe the "answer to poker" is so uncertain that it's alright to treat some hand feedback and perspectives on poker strategy subjectively -- for example, believing that certain tactics which I perceive as burning money can actually work for some people in some situations -- but I believe that at least the basics of poker strategy have to be correct, and for people to ignore fundamental aspects of the game by doing things such as checking down a monster hand just because they thought their opponent hit runner-runner quads somehow...
That's just flat-out idiocy.
That's all for this week. Can't tell you what I'll be covering next week, but this week's topic will be revisited at some point. Hopefully, my discussion of this week's topic will compel some of you to re-evaluate your games. I know I will be. I also hope I've compelled you to discuss philosophy here at PokerNations, and I look forward to seeing you around.