The Zen of Poker – Part I

Poker resembles life in many ways, and just as you can bluff your way out of a personal confrontation you can also apply your life skills and philosophy to your poker game. It has been famously quoted that:

“Poker is the game closest to the western conception of life, where life and thought are recognized as intimately combined, nahls where free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered moral agents …” (John Luckacs, “Poker and the American Character”, 1963)

Some believe that this most “Western” of games can also benefit from Oriental wisdom, just like our everyday lives have been lately enhanced and improved by yoga, meditation, Feng Shui and other distinctly oriental practices. Several high-profile players and authors have tried to apply the Zen philosophy of life to their poker game, and they are quite convincing in their claims that a Zen frame of mind can help a poker player achieve the next level, even if the player does not live according to Zen standards. tipsjanbd


First things first: what is Zen?

Answering this question properly might require years of training in a monastery, but for those of us with less time these are the very basics:

– Zen is a tradition of Buddhism that originated in India, grew in China, and came to fulfillment in Japan, introduced by monks returning from China in the twelfth century.

– Zen teachings are usually transmitted in the form of proverbs, meaningless phrases or paradoxical anecdotes, intended to guide the disciple outside of patterned thought and into absolute consciousness.

– Zen believes in an undivided wholeness of things in a state of constant change and fluidity.

– Zen places a great importance on awareness of the present and being completely concentrated in the moment, not in the past or future.

(This is of course a very simplified overview of Zen philosophy.)

Traditionally, Zen has been associated with the fine arts of flower arranging and calligraphy, but there is also quite a tradition of Zen in swordsmanship and archery – and this is of course where the main link between Zen and poker can be established. Poker is like war: Dog breeders a series of attacks and strategic retreats, and the Zen outlook on martial arts can help a poker player focus his or her strength and keep a clear mind towards victory.


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