Poker and The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome

There is a deviousness about Darren.

He has more moves than John Travolta, the gift of the gab, and always makes you feel like you are on the toilet wiping your ass with sandpaper. 

He is a great poker player.

Meanwhile Gary is the manifestation of a brick. He doesn't do much, and when he does, you don't notice it. A coward, always folding, and easy to read.

He is not a great poker player.

We want to become Darren. We don’t want to become Gary.

We buy the best books; we join the elite online training courses; we buy a Heads Up Display (HUD), participate in a forum, and hire technical and mindset coaches. We start playing eight tables at a time online. We play every hand in the live Dealers Choice game.

And we never seem to leave a table with any money.

What is going wrong?

“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.” — Confucious

Joe Ingram recently interviewed Phil Galfond on the Poker Life Podcast. Galfond is one of the greatest players of his generation and the founder of the online training site RunItOnce.

Phil Galfond
Phil Galfond talks about poker in an intelligent but easy-to-understand manner.

During the interview, the pair started talking about the complexity of language that some professional players use to describe simple things in the game.

It reminded me of an interview I did with Barny Boatman during the World Series of Poker when I asked him why he didn't sign up to be part of the Global Poker League Draft?

There were many reasons, but this point, in particular, attracted my interest.

“I haven't necessarily put the work in to have the vocabulary to talk about things in the way people expect us to. I don’t think I am the best person for that job,” said Boatman.

The Hendon Mob founder was talking about the unfortunate need for modern poker players to use unbelievable streams of verbal diarrhea to explain moves that pioneers like Boatman can churn out in a single sentence.

The two-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner was tip-toeing along the same lines as both Ingram and Galfond.

"I can tell when people are making a good decision for the right reasons at a poker table, regardless of whether they dress it up in a certain way. I can also tell when someone has learned some terminology, and they don't have the depth of knowledge and understanding to back it up,” said Boatman.

Can You Back Up Your Talk?

Do you have the depth and knowledge and understanding to back up the fancy terminology you are using to describe your plays?

jesse may 2
Jesse May: "Commentary should be simple."

One of the problems Boatman pointed to was the increase in the need for intellectual buggery by the to commentator's, often pros, who are asked by tournament organizers to ‘help out'.

Rather than sound ‘simple', these ‘experts' talk about Bayes' Theorem, Triple Range Merges, and ICM Calculations, often confusing, and scaring the living hell out of the recreational player.

It’s no wonder they all want to be Darren when they first start playing.

Jesse May is the greatest poker commentator EVER, hands down, it’s not even close, and this is what he had to say about commentary:

“Commentary should be simple. Have a conversation and say what you see. Complicated stuff is fine, as long as you can get it into 20 seconds.”

Poker Players Massively Over Complicate the Game

Paul Jackson
Paul Jackson calls it "The New Emperor's Clothes" syndrome.

Paul Jackson is another player you could herd into the ‘old school' category of players who prefer to keep things simple.

Here's what Paul had to say on the over-complication of all things poker.

“People massively over complicate the game, especially the language in discussing poker, and this often leads to people playing beneath themselves as they can’t see the wood for the trees.

"They spend too much time trying to justify an action with fancy language rather than using simple logic to make the best decision at the time.

"This is often compounded by many people using what I call the ‘Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome.’

"People try to sound more intelligent or knowledgeable about strategy by using phrases which sound intellectual while, in reality, they are just over complicating something that is quite simple to either camouflage their ignorance or to make themselves feel more superior than others."

So Why Do We Complicate Life?

I want to talk about padding.

Before I wrote this article, I sat and stared at the screen for a long time figuring out the theme.

People make life so complicated when it's very simple.

I could have left the article like that, but I don't think PokerListings would have believed they had gotten value for money.

So I padded.


I fill the white space up with fancy words, phrases, and quotes. But in reality, those ten words are all you need to know, and once you chew on them, swallow them, and digest them, it will improve your poker game and your life.

Online training sites pad.

Poker books pad.

Coaches pad.

We all talk, write, and film an incredible amount of bollocks to deliver a very simple point, and it's all about ego. I want you to finish reading this and to (a) have learned something, (b) think that I am great.

Let’s go back to our friend Darren.

Some of you believe he's a great player because he plays every hand. You see all of his moves, see him win some pots, see his joie de vivre, and get caught up in the excitement of it all.

You don't believe Gary is a great player because you have seen sloths with more get up and go.

The Pursuit of Excellence

So you pick Darren as your role model.

You are doing everything that Darren does. You are soaking in all of his advice. You have taken advanced mathematics classes. You have a HUD that would confuse Spock. You watch every single one of Phil Galfond’s videos.

And you still can’t win money.

What a loser.

You started to play poker because it was fun. The game made you feel alive. The money didn't matter. And then you won some. It felt great. You earned more in a session that you made working for a week shearing sheep down the farm. You had a freebase high. And now you can't win you have an insufferable low. It's horrible. What's the point in playing if you can't earn any money?

You have to quit.

You are going crazy.

It’s consuming your life.

And then, one day, Gary finds you by the bar ordering from the top shelf.

"What's up?" Gary asks.


“What about it?”

“I hate it.”


“Because I can’t win.”

“Well stop playing so many hands.”

“What do you mean?”

“You need to learn to fold, son.”

It Was Staring You in the Face All Along

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word; freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.” — Winston Churchill

It was staring you in the face all along.

The obviousness of the truth was like a kick in the balls by a Moroccan man wearing those pointy shoes.

Maybe fold more?

Darren had more moves than a bowl of jelly, but over the long run, he never won any money. He was always broke, borrowing, and promising to pay the money back the following week.

Gary was the one giving him all the money.

Gary rarely lost.

Gary had a few simple moves.

He didn't know what Darren was talking about half of the time, but he knew to what hands to play, how to fold, and he knew to raise when he had it.

He didn’t bluff.

The online training sites teach you to have bluffs in your range.

Gary and Darren play in a pub where fights break out over someone stealing your peanuts. Who cares if you have bluffs in your range? Darren bluffs all of the time, and he loses more money bluffing that he does winning. Gary never bluffs, always folds, and Darren always pays him off when he has it.

And it’s not just poker.

Gary walked into Marks & Spencers to buy some underpants. He was standing in line. The woman at the counter was in a foul mood. By the time Gary got there, she was seething. Gary looked at her name tag, smiled at her, and said:

“How are you doing, Wendy?”

Her face lit up.


Life Can Be Simple, So Can Poker

“We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do.” — Mother Theresa


Steven Pressfield calls procrastination ‘resistance' and writes about it in an easy way in a marvelous book called The War of Art.

A group of German entrepreneurs realize that non-fiction books are padded with a lot of complicated garbage and created an app called Blinkist that allows you to read the main points of the book in under 15-minutes.

William Martin reads the Tao Te Ching and transfers the simple wisdom into the greatest parenting book in history called The Parent's Tao Te Ching, making the most complex of interpersonal relationships so simple.

Life is simple, and that means poker is simple.

Don't be fooled by all the big words.

Remember the Emperor's New Clothes.

If you don't, you may never play a hand.

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