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Sticking to Poker Basics

poker 101Complexity science holds that certain systems have multiple interacting agents that do not react to inputs in a linear way. Complexity science is, well, complicated. The coolest thing I learned from attempting to understand it is is this: sometimes small inputs (i.e., changes) can have large outputs (i.e., effects) and large inputs can have small outputs.

The human brain is a complex system. Combine it with the game of poker, a game of incomplete information, and the effect is a hodge podge of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. A lot of it is unpredictable because of the variable circumstances the game presents. However, poker will challenge a person psychologically, physically, and even philosophically. It is hard to have the right answers to a game that provides so many questions. Moreover, it is hard to know if you have answered the questions the game presents correctly because, as mentioned, it is a game of incomplete information. Never mind the role deception has in the equation either.

The game of poker is quite simple to learn. The math takes more time. Then there is a collection of nuances which can take a lifetime to understand. This is what makes the game so appealing to so many people. It is no wonder that it draws out a very intellectual and socially insightful crowd.

One of the hardest parts of navigating poker and the human condition is to identify where you need to get better. Given the above, it is often hard to know when you played well, got lucky, or acted like a donkey. In most competitive contexts, the lay of the land is in plain sight. Even an opponents strategy emerges under basic analysis of a game. This is not so easy in poker as so much information hides behind a proverbial curtain.

In the last 50 years, give or take, there has been billions of dollars spent on health research. When it comes down to our longevity and quality of life, the most trustworthy message is be physically active, eat more vegetables, don’t smoke, and drink in moderation. These are the highest leverage behaviors to lower the risk of dying early and/or having an unhealthy life in old age. Not much has really changed. The rest of the human body is complex just as the brain is. Having a few simple principles like these for your health can have big effects.

So what would some of the simple rules for poker? Scour the web about the 101 of Poker and you are likely to come across these recommendations often:

1) Play in position more often

2) Fold more starting hands

3) Control your emotions

4) Understand your opponent

If you consider when or how most of your mistakes get made, most can be attributed to list. In fact, you can make the argument that these basic principles influence each other.

Occam’s razor states that when competing theories exist, the simplest one that is the better one. Given how poker can yield an analysis to paralysis, it is likely that returning to the fundamentals is never a bad idea when things aren’t going well. The same can be said for targeting areas for improvement. Enhancing your skills or your discipline toward the basics can produce positive effects.


Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about how his work can help your performance at www.KellyDoell.com


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