Poker Philosophy 101


It’s time for a little Poker Philosophy 101.



This is the greatest game in the world. It’s not even close.




I love video games as much as the next guy. I love strategy games. I would like to say I love chess, but I am not smart enough for that game.




The thing is: Anyone can beat anyone at poker on any day. That makes it gloriously meritocratic. No title you have away from the table can save you. If you want to win you’re going to have to put in the hours.




How many hours? No one knows. Some guys walk in off the street and win a tournament for millions of dollars. Ben Affleck has a larger tournament score than I do. Other guys plug away for decades without getting their “one time.”




To decry the game in any way though is to miss the point. Did you play games growing up? Did you enjoy them? Would you have liked to play them for money? Would a $50.00 game of Madden get you going?




Poker is so fun because it assumes monetary investment. However, it’s up to the user to make sure they are playing with a true recreational budget. To play with money one cannot afford to lose is gambling addiction, and should not be treated as if it were anything else.




That said, most of us live in the first world. We get paid well for our jobs. We can manage our finances and sock away an unimportant percentage. If we let that money build up for months, it will allow us to play larger (and more enjoyable) tournaments and cash games.




I try to tell people this all the time: Poker is an awful way to make a fortune. If I had put 30,000+ hours of focused practice into working at McDonald’s I’d likely be a regional manager right now clearing six figures with benefits. I will never buy a condo in Manhattan with my poker winnings. And that’s just fine.




You should play poker because you love all of it. You have to love it even when you don’t like it.




You don’t get to pick and choose what you like about poker. You must accept the entire game. You have to love the triumphant sessions BECAUSE the possibility of losing is so real. You need to respect the downswings for teaching you lessons. You have to put your headphones in when someone is belligerent at the table because those lonely people are allowed to play as well. You need to wish recreational players “good luck” when they three out you because they could be investing in cocaine, new furniture, or dog breeding. Instead, they’re playing cards with you.




Chess, I’m sure, is a beautiful game, far more intricate than poker. It’s called “The Immortal Game” for a reason. Yet, no one gets paid to study it, because nobody comes in off the street to play a $200 match with a grandmaster. Why would anybody? They have no chance of winning.




Many people are very talented at basketball, but will never earn a real living at it because there are so few jobs available in the industry and so so much competition.




In poker, the limits are the market itself. You can play it all over the world. It’s like a science fiction universe: You can play a game on the internet and cash out the digital chips for real currency all over the globe?




Would you like to live in China? You may live in China if you choose to do so. Would you like to pursue researching a book on Liberian history in Monrovia? You may do so while drawing a check from online poker.




Would you like to play just for fun? There is a game going on at all times day or night. You can always play. The game will never die. You will be gone long before this game is.




Poker is a lot like music. You do it because you love performing, touring, sharing your art with the world. You don’t do it to get paid. You get on the road for the experiences, for the opportunity to live other people’s dreams, for the chance to be a road warrior with thousands of stories to tell at the pub one day. You do it to perfect your craft and get paid something meager while doing so.




Could you make a ton of money from music? Yes, of course, but chances are it won’t happen. Most successful musicians I’ve spoken to said, “I did it for nine years practically for free before anyone paid me…and I had no idea I was about to start getting paid when it happened. If you’d asked me back then what I would be doing right now, I would have probably said I’d still be in the back of a truck trying to get an old amp and a dusty mic to work.”




The crazy thing about poker is you can tour the world doing it as little or as much as you want. You don’t have to go hard for decades like most musicians have to. You can do it recreationally or professionally. You can show the game as much love as you deem necessary.




Poker tournaments are stunning to me in that they provide a visceral experience for a fixed amount of money and there is a potential payoff that is monstrously larger than your investment. Of course, it’s not likely to happen right away, but what’s the rush? People waste stupid amounts of money on golf all the time, and no one blinks an eye. They go to expensive motivational seminars that have no lasting impact. They buy cars they don’t need. Yet, they still make their mortgage payments. They still buy their children’s school clothes come September.




The idea is to just STAY IN THE GAME. The more you play, the more opportunities you will get. The more you manage your finances, the more possibilities will open to you. The more you study, the more chances you’ll have.
You can learn to be frugal while you’re waiting for the turning point. You can develop other meaningful interests that don’t require a significant monetary investment.




And if you do one day stand in the winner’s circle? You can buy a humble home in a small town. You can have more time to focus on your more meaningful pursuits. You can live life on your terms, albeit with less money than most would expect when you say the words, “professional poker player.”




But that misses the point: What is most important is you’re living life on your terms by your wits in an industry where you can’t be discriminated against. The cards know no logic or prejudice. They are purely random, and divinely so.




As long as you keep your day job, finish your education, and manage your money, so you are indeed using discretionary income, then you can play till you die. There is no height or age requirement.




Unlike music, there is a very real chance your “breakout hit” will happen at some point. Then, if you’re blessed, you might get another.




I love this game so much. Montreal reminded me of that. We had to shovel off a foot of snow every time we left the car for 45 minutes. It looks like we’re playing poker in a warehouse in the tundra of Siberia.




…But everyone in the cardroom was fun to hang out with. I’d have no reason to go to Montreal if it wasn’t for poker. Instead, my trip here is purposeful. The excursions outdoors have to mean something because I don’t always have time to venture out. I also know many smarter people I grew up with will never get to see this city, due to either a deficit of money, time, or reason.




I got to see McGill University today and look at the brick buildings that have stood for centuries. I saw an American football field adorned with French signs. I saw all colors of people speaking French and English, before kindly turning to me to help with something. I ate poutine. I had to decipher French titles on American brands in the grocery store. I now know that cheddar cheese is insanely cheap in Montreal.
Who gets to see this? Who gets to live this life? Who gets to live by their wits all over the world, outside of a dimestore novel?


I know I’m goofy, an over-sharer, a hopeless romantic, and annoyingly optimistic. I also know I don’t care. I get to be a pessimist when I prepare my poker game. There is no hand iteration or horrible beat I can afford to be unaware of.

However, in my personal life, it is a strategy, yes a strategy, to be this stupidly happy. I demand of myself that I enjoy this. I commit to smiling even when I don’t feel like doing so. I refuse to not think of all the people who never got to do this who were so much more deserving. I have no choice but to enjoy it for them.

It is a strategy because the more I love meeting people, going places, and competing for money then the more measured a person I become. This, in turn, makes me a better poker player and businessman, which provides me more financial resources, thus perpetuating a positive feedback loop which improves my financial, personal, and spiritual life indefinitely.

It has helped me stay in the game much much longer than most of my peers.

This is why poker, to me, is the greatest game that has ever been created.



  • Strac

    I really like to read this, it’s been years since I read your blog, but today I register in Disqus just to leave my comment. Nice poker and LIFE philosophy :)

  • Fresko

    Alex, fantastic writing. I appreciate all the writing/info you provide. My BR does not provide enough to buy the webinars and lessons (it once did and why Pasagno is right was great). Enjoy your new life…I’ll be rooting for ya.