The Art of Poker

By: Jonno Pittock

Yesterday, I spent the morning training at the Tiger Muay Thai gym in the middle of the Phuket jungle.  Since the transplant I have been getting slowly back into the martial arts trying to rebuild my body, and while I have come a long way in the last 12 months, I am still a long way from where I want to be.  These guys are insane, and the Tiger facility is just ridiculous.  My heart and lungs managed to hold up, but my shins, feet, fists and elbows are a whole other matter.  I could barely walk this morning and my left leg is basically black from knee to toe.  As I was working the pads and trying not to vomit, I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered what one of my Doctors said to me about what my life would be like after the transplant – “you know, you won’t be able to take up kickboxing or anything…”

People love to tell you what you can’t do - it’s easier that way, much less messy.  It’s also weak.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not reckless.  I took every precaution possible to make sure I wasn’t in any danger, but I will not waste this second chance I was given living in fear.  In the martial arts, just like in poker and life, it is all about calculated risk and controlled aggression.  It is this last point where the biggest parallels can be drawn - be recklessly aggressive and expose yourself to too much risk; be too passive and get walked all over.

Poker has many parallels to the fighting arts.  In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee talks about the different ranges in a fight, and breaks it down into four basic areas – long, medium, and close range, and grappling.  The early stages of a tournament are exactly like the beginnings of a bout, where opponents generally keep their distance, throwing long range techniques trying to feel each other out.  When a strong opponent comes up against a weaker one, they may even score that knock out blow with a simple, well-timed jab.  Daniel Negreanu often talks about always wanting to play the early stages, as he can take cheap flops and try to double trough weaker players who tend to overplay marginal hands.

The middle stages of a tournament generally occur around the money bubble and in the lead up to the final table.  This is where the players are close enough to get inside and trade body blows, winning big chunks of chips of each other.  They can double up, leaving their opponent crippled but not bust, effectively scoring a knockdown, but not a knockout.  As the final table is reached they enter the close range stage, where uppercuts, elbows and knees need to be avoided.  Players who have been quiet usually tend to come out swinging once the final two tables are merged, and depending on the structure and payout scale, anything can happen.  Heads-up is the ultimate grapple, and in poker, as in the fighting arts, it is usually the guy who can keep his guard up and maintain his focus who will come out on top.

My advice for this week?  Live your life, take calculated risks, learn to use controlled aggression and fight for what you believe in.  Never live in fear and do not die wondering.  A coward dies a thousand deaths.

Until next time…



Jonno Pittock has worked in the Poker industry for over 10 years and is one of the most respected names in the game.  He has worked as Director of Poker Operations for Crown, as Poker Operations Manager for PokerNews, and has consulted on numerous other projects for online, offline and TV.

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