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July 10, 2020

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It still comes down to this:

Ya gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

This is such a cool post and topic!

When I lived in Cambridge my roommates where poker fanatics. One of them earned his income playing poker. He played with a network of friends at local pubs, “nearby” casinos and homes (including ours so I got to meet a lot of these very diverse characters which made up the group). Of course, a lot of the die hards who who played every day became alcoholics. A great deal of the short-term players were grad students at Harvard and MIT as most of them rented rooms in our neighborhood.

I tried to play with them a few times only to discover that I might just be the worst poker player ever.

I remember Harvard offered an accredited college course (probably still does) on Poker—what you can learn from it and what it teaches you about life.

"There is a flow to poker, to the way the events unfold," he says. "I sort of look at it in a macro sense similar to tai chi. It's all about the movement of energy.”

The type of in-the-moment-concentration one develops from practicing Tai Chi yoga and martial arts is much more fluid than the kind of flow or zone one enters doing an activity that is primarily cerebral like Chess.

By practicing a discipline that requires both physical, observational and strategic skills, one gets much deeper into “flow”. They get into the “still of the moment”. It’s not too far from the psychic zone which allows one to read their opponents if they master their practice.

I learned how to play poker before I arrived at Harvard, but the school is where I learned to play poker for the money, rather than for the companionship. I had some adventures playing in those years, and they shaped my character in important ways. I carried both the poker and the character, and the network connections as well, into the world after graduation; all three have served me well.

Aaron Brown ’78 is an executive director at Morgan Stanley and the author of The Poker Face of Wall Street ($27.95), recently published by John Wiley & Sons. He adapted this essay from the book’s sixth chapter, “Son of a Soft Money Bank.”

The 7 Characteristics of Poker Flow

1. Goal Setting
Csikszentmihalyi determined that people who have a clear purpose and understanding of what to do next are more likely to obtain a state of Flow.

2. Receive Immediate Feedback
After you've played each hand you will receive immediate feedback on how well it played out.

Poker is a game of incomplete information.

3. Balance Between Skills and Challenge
It’s important that the difficulty of the task one is facing is comparable to the skills of the person involved.

4. The Feeling of Control
Phil Ivey
When you're in the Flow, need for control dissipates.

5. Concentration on the Task at Hand
During his study on Flow Csikszentmihalyi found that one of the most frequently discussed stages was the feeling that nothing else mattered but the task at hand.

6. The Loss of Self-Consciousness
Phil Hellmuth
Ego's got to go.
This is ego (everybody’s got one). A lot of the noise and distraction that surrounds us is attracted to the ego. It’s all about me.


7. The Transformation of Time
I think this is the one area of Flow that poker players experience more than most.

When you consider that you're folding most of the time, isn’t it incredible how fast the time goes?

How many times have you played poker for 12+ hours and thought: "where has the time gone?" That is Flow.

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