When I moved to Melbourne to study, I was petrified. I went from being a comfortable man with a solid job, a car, and a girlfriend, to a single boy living alone with no job, no car, and nobody. I had just moved from a town boasting a population of 30,000 to a city where the population was close to 4,000,000! Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, but excited.
I realized pretty quickly, however, that if I didn’t find a source of income fast, I’d never make it. Applying for jobs successfully felt damn near impossible, and the jobs I was being offered were totally unacceptable for one reason or another. There’s a lot of reasons that can turn you off a job when you’re studying! I needed the freedom to design my own timeline, the means to actually get to my place of work, and I needed to make good money.
I had played some online poker as a hobby. As a total strategy nerd and a staunch fan of StarCraft: Brood Wars professionals like “SlayerS_`BoxeR`” and “ElkY” who made the transition to online poker after their careers began to dwindle, I had always been intrigued by the mathematics, mechanics, and economic principles of the game.
I decided to give playing online poker full-time a shot. In other words, I decided to go pro.
What I didn’t know, at the time, was that playing poker for a living was about to teach me resilience like I’d never known at a time when resilience was what I needed more than anything. I was going to learn things that I’d be able to use for my entire life! Luckily for you, you don’t have to play online poker as a professional for a year to learn these things. Here’s the most important thing I learned playing poker that I keep in the back of my mind whenever things get tough:
You’re NEVER Above Setbacks!
When you first get into online poker as a profession, you almost immediately learn that movies like Casino Royale and Rounders have it all wrong. Dead wrong. The entire thing is portrayed as an epic battle of psychology and soul reading, but poker (ESPECIALLY online poker) isn’t about that at all.
Poker is fundamentally a game of probability whereby the value of each decision is assessed on a hypothetically infinite timeline. You don’t play a hand based on your gut feeling, you play it whilst asking yourself a fairly loaded question through each decision that you make:
“If I made this decision in this situation an infinite amount of times, would the expected value of that decision be positive or negative?”
That’s a question that I ask myself every time I do anything. What else can you ask? How else can you view decisions? You can’t control the outcome, and you can’t change nature. Setbacks are not setbacks to a poker player, they’re just down swings. An inevitability that anyone playing online poker signs up for. It’s no different than any other entrepreneurial venture. It’s no different than playing League of Legends and being stuck with a crap mid who insists on using Rammus.
Just Like In Life, Sometimes Lady Luck Gets In the Way.
Your edge, or what makes you a better player than others, stems from your ability to calculate a large amount of information more accurately than others and therefore make the most profitable decision more often. No matter how well you do this though, you cannot override luck. Sometimes you have only a 13% chance of losing a hand, but statistical probability will slap you in the face and put you in that unlucky 13% several times in a row. You do not see results immediately, and due to the nature of game, you can actually lose money for weeks even though you’re playing perfectly.
You will be subject to brutal down swings, or bouts of horrendous luck, just like in life! Even though you’re making a decision that on an infinite timeline will produce money for you, the simple fact is that a few weeks is extremely short-term compared to infinity, so there will be entire weeks and months where you burn money even though you’re playing completely optimally.
The best poker players in the world all know the down swing intimately. They’ve dealt with down swings and up swings their entire life. Their success comes plainly from their ability to just press on and play the game, regardless of what effects factors completely outside of their control are having on their bottom line. Regardless of the setbacks they knowingly sign up for when they pursue the dream.
The very nature and heart of success is in persevering through bouts of unfortunate circumstance. Poker taught me that even if something seems pointless, fruitless, and unobtainable, the only solution is to simply press on and try to make decisions that have higher expected value. Results can be transparent, and the pay-off of hours of labour and study can sometimes seem distant and unclear, but can you imagine a poker player who only plays when he’s running well? A player who gave up as soon as the cards didn’t go his way?
What a preposterous idea. Bad luck is a part of poker, and a part of life. Nobody is immune to the down swing. I want you to think this way about every decision you ever make. To persist through thick and thin, to weather the down swings, to detach emotion from result, and to simply make the right choices. That’s what I learned, and I can apply that lesson to literally everything and see results, just as long as I remember that no matter how talented or “deserving” I might think I am, I am never above setbacks.