Poker in the Context of the Rest of Your Life

    On many levels, poker is an inherently disconnecting game – to play your best over long stretches of time, you have to immerse yourself into a world that few people on the outside understand, which by extension makes few people on the outside understand your life. There is certainly a danger in generalizing my experiences and those of my poker friends and claiming that everybody is like the people I know, but I think it is fair to say that there is a good chance making poker as a significant part of your life has had at least some negative effects. Poker also naturally has a lot of positive effects, too – presumably, we wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

    Students really seem to enjoy the cautionary tales of the poker dweeb and the poker bro, so let’s go back to them here at the end of the ebook. The dweeb often has a hard time making the transition between the expected value calculations of poker and the expected utility calculations of life, where amusingly, sometimes the course of action with the best utility is one that requires not making a utility calculation first. The bro has less trouble immersing himself in all the world has to offer, but often has a much tougher time sniffing out what he’s looking for over the stench of his own artificiality. And if you’re thinking “wow, that sounds bitter, you must lean to the dweeb side” – ok, sure, you’re probably right. Which reminds me of another point: You’ll find you are much more confident when you are willing to be comfortable with your faults and able to laugh and make fun of them yourself.

    My biggest piece of advice when it comes to fitting poker in the rest of your life is simply to figure out what you really care about. Utility optimizing, whether attempted through precise calculation or vague intuition, gets much easier when you figure out what genuinely matters to you. Keep in touch with that, be confident in it, and let any haters hate.

    Consciously be aware of how even small poker decisions can have an effect on your life. One specific thing I always advise against is playing poker in bed – seemingly a pretty minor consideration, but doing so can make it much more difficult to separate work from the rest of your life. The bed is for sleeping, reading, and any other ultimately relaxing activities you can think of – when you cause the brain to see it as a place where high complexity, high risk calculations take place, while constantly feeling the electronically generated heat of your laptop, you blur two aspects of your life that are not meant to be blurred. Every time you turn down going out with friends because you want to keep grinding, realize that the brain is pretty bad at making these types of calculations with a broader focus in mind. Awareness of self and of often unconscious decisions helps you make them a lot more effectively.

    However, to finish this ebook, let’s set the emotional talk aside and end on something fun. One of my favorite things about poker goes in contrast with what some people: If you do it right, becoming more and more advanced in poker thinking will also dramatically improve the way you approach life. Poker is great for you in so many ways. It teaches you how to think scientifically and skeptically about the world and how to really know when something is true. It teaches you how to go after something that you want and work harder than someone else for it. It very directly shows you how you can turn talent and diligence into more and more positive results. Poker teaches you about the power of information and the value of keeping your ego in check to learn from people. It teaches you the situational value of both swagger and humility. It shows you how immersing yourself into a community can be so much more effective than going at a problem alone, yet gives you the self-reliance to do so when you’re stuck in a tough situation with a lot on the line. Worth googling for more about this is “Poker is Good For You”, an article by David Sklansky and Allan Schoonmaker. Done right, poker is a tremendous benefit to the rest of your life in a much more meaningful way than simply how much money you make from it or even the pure enjoyment you get from it.

    Going forward in poker, always keep in mind the interaction between poker and your broader life. Use the themes talked about throughout this ebook, like the emphasis on what matters, the process of thinking about new information, the focus on optimal decisions rather than an easy, static strategy, and the willingness to accept new ideas that change your perspective about how to approach problems. Continually expanding on that foundation will serve you well in poker and in whatever else you decide to do with your life.

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