Monday, January 26, 2009

Life Lessons from an Unlikely Source

I like being able to look back at something which became popular and say "I knew it". The first time I watched "The World Poker Tour" on TV, I said "The producers of this show have made a major breakthrough, poker on TV is going to be BIG". Their breakthrough was showing the audience the "hole cards". What makes it compelling TV is that it takes something many people know how to do (play poker), and lets the viewer into the game, while providing drama and expert commentary. When you add camera close-ups of players gulping and sweating as they agonize over decisions, and huge amounts of money, you have a modern day reality sports show. Here's a clip Note: These are some of the top players in the world, and if the announcers voice sounds familiar, it's Gabe Kaplan (Welcome Back Kotter)

The fact is, TV poker sparked an international poker boom. There are many tournaments, many TV shows, plus books, videos, magazines and everything else that goes with something popular. The game played in the tourneys and on the shows is Texas Hold-em....each player gets two cards and you bet, next three shared cards are "flopped" in the middle of the table and you bet, then a fourth shared card (called the "turn") and you bet, then a fifth card (the "river") and you bet. This is a variation on the games people play at home, but the priority of hands is the same. One more big difference, usually the game is "no-limit". This does not mean you can reach into your pocket for more money. Everybody buys in for the same amount and you can't generally add to that, but once the tourney starts, you can bet any part of your "stack" of chips, up to ALL of your chips, on ANY bet. Really affects your strategy. As an aside, there was a great poker movie a few years ago, where they played Texas Hold-em. It was Rounders, with Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich. Worth renting if you've never seen it.

A few months ago I started playing online poker.....yes, for real money. Not a lot of money, because frankly, I don't consider myself a great player. When you play online you can build up "points", which you can use to shop in the online poker store. They had some nice sweatshirts for a zillion points. I had enough points for a poker instructional DVD, so what the heck, I got "Final Table Poker, with Phil Gordon" In this DVD, you are inside the head of Phil Gordon, a top player and commentator, as he plays at a final table. He shows you how he analyzes the other players, and provides about 30 concrete lessons on no-limit hold-em. Here's a sample.

After watching this video, my online play greatly improved. A nice surprise. An even better surprise was the applicability of many of these poker lessons to real life. Here are a few:

1. Be aware of the personalities and tendencies of people you are dealing with, and be aware of how these people perceive YOU. Even in limited involvement situations (poker and business both present these), you are creating your image as you go. Be aware.

2. Certain situations can start out promising, and you can capitalize on them, BUT, those same situations can turn into your worst disasters. He makes you aware of these.....hmmmm.....awareness.

3. Selective aggression. Pick your spots and be the initiator. Much good can come from this.

4. Take time to think. In poker you do not have unlimited time to think, but you have time to think through what has happened so far, who is doing what, and what you should do. Life is easier, we often have more time. Take time to think things through.

5. A poker tourney is a series of decisions. Although some people think poker is about luck, a poker tourney is really about knowing when important decisions are being made, and making a high percentage of good decisions.

6. He has a whole section on "odds and outs". It's about calculating odds, and it's kinda technical. It took some thinking to get a handle on it, and I watched that part a few times. It was not beyond my comprehension, and I feel better having learned it. Are there some things you need to learn, and COULD learn, if you tried a bit? I can't resist, here's a clip...don't be intimidated

7. Very often, you are playing your opponent more than your hand......sometimes WHO is more important than WHAT.

These are only a few....e-mail me to discuss some more.

One last thing.....Happy Groundhog Day to all

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