Do you feel like there’s something more than GTO to poker? Do you feel like solvers are only a piece of the puzzle? Looking to add another element to your poker mindset? Here’s your opportunity to expand your consciousness and enter the matrix with me, LuckyChewy, and explore what I’ve found exists beyond the logic we already know to love and trust in poker.
When I wrote The Yoga of Poker it was in many ways inspired by these ideas. 5 years later I feel I have a better grasp and ability to articulate what happens during my in-game poker thought process. I enjoy utilizing these more abstract ideas when relevant, which I feel has in part led to my success – coupled with GTO conceptual ideas which are, undeniably, very valuable foundational baselines with which to work from.
This isn’t an attempt to dismantle GTO and dance on it’s grave. Game theory, logical thought processes, and sound poker fundamentals are all integral to becoming successful in poker and I won’t claim otherwise. I do however think there is an imbalance of GTO information publicly available relative to what I intend to share here and, furthermore, that there are only so many people who have any interest in or feel compelled to share it. There may be a lot of ideas in here that seem foreign, challenging to parse, or that you simply disagree with. I imagine, and hope, that in the years to come there will be more information uncovered regarding these ideas and look forward to more light being shed on these topics. What follows is what I have to work with right now though, and is in many ways a philosophical guide to what goes on inside my mind in general life and when I’m playing poker.
“There is no mystery whatsoever –
only inability to perceive the obvious.”
— Wei Wu Wei
The words that follow may be truly useless once you are able to perceive that which cannot be understood outside of your own direct experience. It is simultaneously elusive, yet also very clear. I cannot explain why other than to say that paradox is a powerful mechanism.
Intuition, flow, and present moment awareness
What is intuition and how can it help us in poker? The way I would describe it from my own experience is: spontaneous understanding which pervades logic. It is some aspect of truth that comes to us when we need it, in the way we need it. We can and should apply logic to these truths regardless of how they reach our mind. I think the foremost issue in seeing them clearly is that our biases can creep in and prevent us from seeing what is an intuition and what is merely thought based on negative beliefs. The more we are able to dwell in that space of present moment awareness, where we are in a flow state, and our mind and body are at ease, the more easily we can identify what our intuition is telling us and work with it to make decisions.
There is no shortage of instances where people seem to know things at the right place, right time, right moment that perhaps you can even relate to. Yes, it will not always be the case that these are accurate but, in my opinion, there is enough anecdotal evidence here that something may be happening which we can consider more deeply. Part of what I think may play a role here is that our stomach possesses a myriad of neurotransmitters, similar to what we find in our brains, such that we quite literally have a brain in our gut. In recent times it’s been shown that our gut health is important and I would posit that it’s not only because digestion and physical well being are important aspects of a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. The cliche of ‘going with your gut’ likely has some relevance here. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one, and over thinking things is not the way to go.
Now, as previously mentioned, there are important distinctions to be made internally between accurate and inaccurate perceptions of these intuitive ‘messages’. Acknowledging and accepting our biases, or really any negative beliefs we may have, are integral first steps in being able to see these intuitions clearly. The next section discusses how I think our body’s physiological impulses can further help identify what sort of situation we may find ourselves in, but let’s first further discuss the ideas of thought, intuition, and biases/beliefs.
I think the distinction between thought and intuition needs to be made. After all, both are very personal, internal ‘messages’ in our brain. Intuition, as mentioned, will not always show itself in ‘thought’ form. Think about things this way – if you were in a video game as a character, but also playing the video game as yourself(yes we’re going here) and you wanted to share information with yourself, you would do it in the most practical and efficient way possible. This is my perspective on how intuition takes form. Irrespective of your views on spirituality or any derivation thereof, the idea of intuition has been appreciated and utilized by many of our greatest minds throughout time such as but not limited to Einstein, Tesla, and Edison. The thing I like about this idea is that whatever is going to most effectively grasp your attention and help you in the moment, would be the most sensible form it would to come in.
You can begin to ‘bridge this gap’ of knowledge by creating a thought experiment at your own leisure along the lines of, ‘If I was going to help myself, how would I do it?’, and see what comes of it in your life(or what is already there), in and outside of poker. I recall the first time I began to consider that life was speaking to me in a myriad of ways all the time. I was hanging around with friends playing ping pong and at the very moment I had the thought pondering this idea, one friend blurted out to another, ‘OF COURSE!’. It was enough for me to further consider and it’s been nothing short of life changing since then.
This expanded view begins to encapsulate a variety of different ideas such as parallel realities, alternate dimensions, and the nature of the self and reality as a whole. At the time of writing this, I personally believe that reality is an infinitude of still snapshots experienced at incomprehensible speed such that it feels continuous. If this were the case, what would happen if we broke continuity? Is it even possible? If time is non-linear and only experienced as such, must all possible ‘futures’ already exist? If so, it’s quite empowering to imagine that no future is pre-determined and encourages us to choose wisely which we deem worth of stepping into.
The ideas of cause and effect are interesting to consider as well. The chicken and the egg, what came first? Perhaps they simultaneously come into existence. Why does this even matter in so far as poker goes? Well, something I find interesting is when I get an intuition that I’m going to lose a particular hand after we’re already all-in. I’m not sure if my proverbial ‘video game player’ is alerting me ahead of time to an inevitable outcome or testing me as to whether or not I can shift to the ‘future’ parallel reality where the outcome is different. I prefer to believe the latter as it’s more exciting but either way, thinking outside the box is fun for me.
I think the element of human bias is very relevant here in so far as how it pre-disposes one to feel when certain situations crop up. For example: Player A has an irrational fear of being check-raised and so they are reluctant to bet in a variety of situations where they would be theoretically inclined to do so. This player should trust what they perceive their intuition to be, less, when discerning whether or not to bet in position. The most sensible way to proceed would seem to be to identify and subsequently eliminate, to the best of your ability, biases as they pertain to the poker table. Something you may ask yourself is: Do you single out certain hands or situations and place preconceptions on them before allowing yourself to feel what is going on in the moment? I can say that I certainly have at times. Whenever you find yourself thinking(important distinction here from intuiting) things that are distractions or representative of biases – you have a place to start dismantling them. Simply bringing conscious awareness to them and identifying them as illogical and unhelpful is enough to move past them. If they recur, dig deeper and explore further why they are there and what they can teach you about yourself.
Honest self-investigation and introspection are the foremost relevant tools in order to begin to utilize these concepts. You have to take action to get more in touch with yourself and deepen your connection to life. The more you are able to have this experience, either through meditation or simply following your passions in life and finding a flow state, the more you will be able to perceive these intuitions accurately. If intuition can teach us how to live more fulfilling lives and be a tool to play better poker, why would we turn down such an opportunity?
Body technology and the logic of emotions
Sticking with our analogy of ‘character’ and ‘player’ within the video game of life – sometimes our ‘character'(our human-ness) may get intuitions through physical sensations. Sometimes, for me, these come in the form of increased heart beat. Other times it may come in the form of tightness in stomach/chest or, vice versa, complete relaxation and bliss. It’s important to note that the outcome of a particular hand may not always be determined by the physical sensation or ‘intuitive message’. In my opinion there is more to this life than we know and it may be the case on occasion that it is in your best interest to lose for some unknown purpose at the time. It also wouldn’t necessarily be fun, or fair, if someone always won every time they played poker. Some of my best lessons and realizations have come after losing sessions. It’s extremely helpful to not let circumstances determine your state of being but instead choose to remain in your preferred state irrespective of the ‘external’ experience(s). If it’s possible for us to remain joyful no matter what’s going on around us, why wouldn’t we?
Diving more deeply into what these physical sensations can tell us about the situation we are in, it’s important to identify what exactly we are looking for. Primarily at the poker table, we want to understand how we should proceed in a hand – should we call, raise, or fold? Sometimes I’ll hold the possibility I’m considering in my mind before taking an action and seeing how that makes me feel physically which has at times been a very helpful indicator of what action is most beneficial in that specific situation. This approach becomes a fairly zen-like experience of precise focus and awareness of the situation at hand, the mental on-goings, and the bodily sensations. I also find it helps me to take some deep breaths and continually check in with my breath so that I can more easily tap into this awareness. What works for some may not work for others but I think if you’re reading this you’re open to these ideas – so play with them and see what comes of it. At some point there will likely be ‘aha’ type moments and the signs may already be there if you choose to look for them. All I can do is share what I find valuable and see if it resonates with others.
Sometimes there will be profitable, sensible deviations from a GTO strategy that I can’t foresee until they occur – and most great players abide by this understanding, albeit for different reasons. The funny thing about these deviations is that as previously mentioned, your intuition will have logic to it. It’s not that you’re going to start trying to feel out whether or not you can play 53o UTG(or maybe you will, I don’t want to limit anyone!) but more so that you give close decision points more consideration in a different way. Probably the most common one I find myself in is a flop spot where I bet or check when the default is the inverse. This is besides the fact that we are, at least at this stage, all doing our best to implement GTO concepts and don’t really fully understand what the full scope looks like – and there’s a reason those that have come closer than others in understanding it are justly considered the best in the world. With that said, I won’t sway so far from what I’ve identified GTO to look like so that I start to play super erratically and attempt to ‘re-invent the wheel’. I think there is great benefit in understanding this balance in the dance of poker.
Theory our basis
Illuminating the dark
I have the most fun playing poker when this balance is eloquently expressed. The logical and emotional worlds blended into one through the implementation of intuitive insight. To further touch on the idea of intuition itself having a logical aspect to it, I think it’s helpful to look at how these intuitions occur and what they look like. Often times they are situations where, in a pure GTO approach, a mixed strategy would be recommended – but the mix therein may be derived through pure randomization. Perhaps intuition can guide some of our mixed strategies.
Occasionally though, these intuitive hits will be more abstract and could be said to be quite ‘off the rails’. These cases are by virtue of the frequency with which they occur, fairly rare, but it’s nice to know that the more practice you have in engaging intuition, the more likely you are to make the right deviation at the right time. One of my biggest pet peeves in poker is when I go against my gut in a big spot and get punished for it – or better put, let my logical thought processes override my gut feeling(s) in a situation when there’s sufficient evidence to justify the veracity of the intangibles.
Empathy the collective consciousness
It’s been my understanding that more than half of our interaction and communication with others is non-verbal. If that’s the case – where is the bulk of our communicative interaction coming from? I’ve read about the idea of our heart having an electromagnetic field which is an underlying factor in this component of non-verbal communication. It is also my experience that there is some sort of less understood component to reality that is the main contributing factor to this idea of non-verbal communication. If we work with this assumption when we are, at a live poker table, immersed in each others ‘heart webs’, there would be a lot of on going communication. I obviously can’t speak specifically for others, but I think this is something many people have some degree of experience with, particularly as it pertains to loved ones in our life. Sometimes you can tell how someone close to you is feeling without them voicing it. How? Why? Beginning to explore this more deeply is an option to see for yourself where it goes and what you discover.
I think there are a lot of similarities between mind coherence and heart coherence, not to mention the synergy they bestow when coupled together. The next section will discuss a bit more about positivity and functionally why it is helpful to achieving our goals. If we want our human ‘machine’ to operate to the best of its ability then it would seem that we would be wise to focus on the ‘parts’ of our machine and have them perform as best we can get them to.
How can the collective consciousness and idea of non-verbal communication change our perception of human interaction? The way it looks to me is that if we are theoretically capable of tapping into this collective consciousness and, not exactly ‘reading’ anyone’s mind, but feeling what they’re feeling or thinking the same thoughts at the same time, this would be a valuable tool. I think about this more like tuning my receiver to the same signal as someone else, such that the broadcast will be the same. If we’re both watching channel 7, we’re both getting the program that comes from channel 7. I perceive this element of empathy more gently than a more ruthless infiltration of someone’s mind or something of the sort.
The way to go about doing this is to simply practice developing more empathy and letting that be the driving force in your ability to ‘read’ other people’s feelings and intentions. I think of empathy in this sense as the ability and accuracy with which you can ‘tune’ your frequency dial, at will, to match someone else’s. When you match someone else and are effectively having a very similar experience for the period of time that you are matched with one another it’s really quite amazing. It may also make you more emotionally mature when you can feel what others are feeling and respond accordingly, which is quite a nice benefit outside of the poker table.
Positive thoughts and good vibrations
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the law of attraction since it has some relevance in this context. It’s certainly a topic which has been, understandably, widely critiqued by many skeptics. In that same respect though, there have been some who have found benefit in the ideas it seeks to share. I think I can help bridge the gap between the two groups by taking from it what I find most valuable and letting you decide for yourself if the ideas resonate.
The first thing I find value in regarding the idea of a ‘law of attraction’ is the premise that vibration precedes manifestation. What this means to me in a practical sense, is that when you are able to generate a particular state of being, you are then opening the door to have a particular experience. The key to the law of attraction that I think a lot of people miss is that it is not possible to unlock the desired experience without some degree of action. The inner work of aligning your mind and creating a coherent emotional state whilst eliminating fear, doubt, and whatever other limiting beliefs stand in the way of your success are what I believe are at the core of this ideology.
Good vibrations, to me, mean uplifting and reframing things for the better. I feel that negativity and positivity both exist a spectrum where there is a central, neutral balance point. This can be a powerful place to perceive from because it is stoic, unbiased, and perhaps ironically, even slightly positive due to its potential. Neutrality is effectively a blank canvas which can be painted over each moment anew. No matter what happens, it’s all up to you in each moment to make of it what you will.
Positivity feels better for us to experience as it’s integrative, connective, and wholesome. Negativity is separative, dis-connective, and isolating. Exploring our thoughts and beliefs to see what they align with and how our experiences may or may not reflect them is very helpful, especially at critical moments within our lives, in and outside poker. A few examples where I’ve found the most value in observation are the moments before we move all-in, during all-ins, before big calls, etc. There is that sweet spot of quiet equanimity where, irrespective of possible aforementioned esoteric factors, we stand to give ourselves the best chance of success by maintaining this mindset. Everyone has experienced this mind state to some degree – just think back to peak moments of your life and feel now what you felt then.
Creativity, fun, and balance
When I play poker it’s very important that I’m having fun. If it begins to feel too much like laborious work then my results and happiness invariably suffer. I like the idea of playing, and especially so with the way that I play poker. I find it to be an effortless dance of creativity and joy when I’m in my flow state. If I play too much and ignore other areas of my life I run the risk of falling victim to that feeling of monotony where each decision feels heavy and clunky. I lose my connection to the game without contrast from other experiences which effectively serve as preparation. In the recent past I’ve taken up a few more creative hobbies which have dramatically helped my mental approach to poker. In no small part I find this to be true thanks to the ability to express oneself more fully and freely creatively in mediums where there is no ‘risk’ in the same way that we know risk in poker. I’ve had the experience of the metaphorical dam being unable to hold back the desire to have that creative expression which results in sporadically spewing off chips in ways I know, in hindsight, I would not do in my right mind. Some few years ago I realized that balance in poker is not as challenging, nor as important, as balance in life, though both are necessary for success.
I think a critical turning point in my ability to find equanimity came when I made, for all intents and purposes, a bad call in a relatively non-interesting poker hand. I felt some degree of shame, frustration, and anger. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and this instance was no different. What was different however was that while I was drenched in my own negativity, I had the inspiration to accept my mistake and direct compassion towards myself. A lot of times I think we are harder on ourselves than we would be on loved ones or even acquaintances. In part I see why this can be valuable because we are responsible for our own actions – but on this day I realized that in making mistakes we give ourselves opportunity to learn. It may sound inconsequential but the timing and way it hit me was profound.
I’ve done a lot of seeking and searching in my life for answers. I thought, at times, that there was some sort of ‘perfect’ or objectively correct lifestyle or approach to life. Eventually and fortunately, I realized that the most important thing is just to be yourself and to honor, express, and act on that in whatever way is truly most authentic. This perspective for me has been fun and makes life fun. It doesn’t mean life will be void of challenges or ups and downs but that’s not really the goal. It’s like a game of poker, if there’s no challenge it isn’t really very fun. Sure, running hot and holding over the table is an amazing feeling, but in part that feeling comes from all the times when you’ve been running poorly.
Although I can only speak for myself, I feel that something which is somewhat pervasive amongst most humans is that we like some degree of routine but don’t like when consistency turns to monotony. I’ve worked to combat this by employing routine in a way that is healthy but allowing myself the freedom to sway from a rigid approach if it feels right. Seems simple but lots of people are challenged by optimizing their lives and most efficiently using their time – ultimately you just have to figure out what works for you.