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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Absolute & Zen (sounds like the name of a drink, doesn't it?)
What kind of game is it, the player may wonder, what kind of exquisite torture, that requires a person to be both highly skillfull and lucky on a given day? What torturer of a medieval age dreamed up such a combination as this?
---Larry W. Phillips, Zen and the Art of Poker
I won $2.78 at the Absolute .25/.50 tables last night. While I was grinding out this incredible win, I started reading Zen and the Art of Poker. It's a very easy read so I'm about 2/3 through it now. I'm really liking it. It's very repetitive, but it's all sound advice. I'm glad I wrote my "Why Poker?" post before I started reading Zen, though, or else I might've borrowed too much language from the book in describing the appeal of poker. I called poker an "open-ended game"; Zen calls poker a "continuum." I talked about the appeal of a game in which aggression is normal; Zen talks about the power of "ego-less aggression." (Nah, that's a term I wouldn't have borrowed.)

I wrote that "I feel I've got the math parts of the game down pretty well. I think the major leaks in my game right now are psychological," and talked about the appeal of poker as a game you can always get better at. Zen puts it in so much cooler terms:
It is . . . important to come to the table with the goal of mastering yourself, not just the game. In many ways, this is more important than mastering the game. The reason is simple: For the most part, you already know the game. The mastering of yourself, however, is the work of a lifetime. (p. 63)
Another quote that stood out for me:
Poker expertise (at least emotionally) could be said to exist at the point where caring and not caring intersect. (p. 56)
Overall, a solid book packed with sound advice. It's a book that players should read whenever they're on tilt or think they might be, and I may have to buy it (I borrowed the copy I have now from the library) just for that reason. However, I'd never read it before a tourney. I think the calm, peaceful, patient state that it helps you achieve--Phillips calls it "detaching yourself emotionally"--essentially amounts to very tight play and might be counterproductive in playing the looser, more aggressive manner that tourneys require. But maybe I just haven't fully absorbed the Zen teachings.

[Update: June 27, 2004] Just wanted to follow up on my thoughts about Zen and the Art of Poker. I've since purchased it and now consider it among the Top 5 books in my poker book collection. For me improving as a poker player has been just as much about learning to control tilt and deal with swings in luck as it has been about learning how to play different kinds of flops. Zen and the Art of Poker is just a fantastic book to reread whenever I feel like I'm not playing as well as I should be. If you've ever had problems with tilt (and you're lying if you say you haven't), I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Also, the end of the book does have a short appendix on tournament play. Phillips's advice: "The Zen suggestion on tournament poker is this: Do not become too heavily invested emotionally in the outcome. Luck is a big factor in these events." Spoken like a true ring game player! I also want to add that while Phillips does advocate tight play (not always great for tourneys), he does not advocate passive play. The entire section on "warrior Zen" emphasizes the need to recognize moments when aggression is warranted, and to pounce accordingly. But he tempers that with advice on resepcting your opponents, just as a "Zen warrior" would do. It's really great stuff.

I'm considering picking up The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life, also by Phillips, even though it looks very much like more of the same. [End update.]

Absolute technical difficulties

I came in 3rd tonight at a $5 + .50 SnG on Absolute. I experienced two crashes during the game. The first happened because whenever I "alt + tab" to another app from Absolute, I need to reboot. Real annoying, but I blame Windows ME more than Absolute (this isn't a problem on our other, newer computer), and it's an avoidable problem. But the second freeze-up happened for no apparant reason. It was down to 5 players, I was the second shortest stack, and I get KK. Betting through the flop and turn just fine, then I go all in on the river, and it tells me I've been disconnected. By the time I got back on there were only 4 players left, and my hand had been folded. Of course, for all I know, the KK disconnect kept me alive in the tourney, but dang was it frustrating. I ended up finishing 3rd--actually going out when my second KK of the tourney went all-in preflop againt an opponent's AA--the same opponent I had been up against when I had my first KK and got booted off. Weird stuff.

Well, I'm off to play another one.

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