Poker Lessons from The Stoics: On No Control & Saying No

Stoic philosophy and its lessons are en vogue in entrepreneurial circles right now.

Tim Ferriss wrote a blog post called Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs and also created a 3-volume audio book called The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters From a Stoic Master. 

Author and entrepreneur, Ryan Holiday, went one step further and created a website called The Daily Stoic and created a book of the same name called The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.

If entrepreneurs can learn to implement the wisdom of EpictetusSeneca and Marcus Aurelius into their daily lives, then so can poker players.

With that in mind I offer you three pieces of Stoic wisdom that will improve your game.

1. Take Control of No Control in Poker

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.

"Where do I then look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.”

-- Epictetus


The last time you were annoyed was the cause under your control? I doubt it.

Stoic philosophers have a thing about control. They believe we only have the power to control our thoughts and the choices that arise from them.

Understanding this philosophy means it's our reaction to causality that creates the annoyance, not the other way around (unless someone physically hurts you). 

Don’t spend time concerned about things you can’t control. Spend that time figuring out how best to react to external stimuli.

Think about all the things that are outside of your control at the poker table. Here is a short list.

  • The deck
  • The dealer
  • The action of your opponents
  • The blind structure
poker stoics
So much you can't control.

Learn to cultivate a greater understanding of control and choice by building this habit into your morning routine.

Upon waking up, write a list of all the things you expect to happen in your day that are outside of your control and how you will react.

At the end of the day, when checking-in, evaluate progress.

Related Reading:

2. Poker Is More Than a Game

“What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated-tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom.

"We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”

-- Epictetus

Poker is life.
Poker is life.

recently conducted a survey of professional poker players. I asked them if they would want their children to choose poker as their profession.

The overwhelming response was negative but all of them said they wanted their children to learn the lessons of life that poker has to teach.

Poker is a microcosm of life. It's a game that teachers should teach in school, for many reasons.

Not only for the fundamentals of mathematics but deductive reasoning, rationality, how to communicate and a whole host of other benefits.

When approaching poker it's important to take up the vision of the owl and not the mole. Don't consider poker games games.

Think of them as an opportunity for education. Then understand that we seek education not to become smarter or to look better amongst our peers. We look towards education to learn how to live.

None of us is born with the rulebook of life. Turn poker into much more than a game. Turn it into a game of life.

Related Reading:

3. Learn to Say No

stoicism poker
Say no to anger, cockiness and distraction

“How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire and social amusements - how little of your own was left to you.

"You will realise you are dying before your time!”

-- Seneca

There are 1,440 minutes in the day. The majority of us spend 480 of them asleep. That leaves 960 minutes to learn to live.

Time - not money - is the most precious of resources. We have to make every minute count and to do this we need to learn to say 'no.'

One of the ways poker players can benefit from this wisdom is to think of all the negative emotions and behaviours that lead to tilt. Think about the times when the missed flush results in anger.

What about the time you become over confident because the deck kept hitting you in the face? How many poker apps do you have open on your phone when you are supposed to be playing?

Just say no to anger, frustration, cockiness and distraction. What else in life do you need to say 'no' to so your poker game can prosper?

Related Reading:

My gratitude goes out to Ryan Holiday, the author of The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living for the ideas and concepts covered in this article.

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