Friday, October 24, 2008

The Art of Poker - Chapter 4

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

"Tactical Dispositions" is Sun Tzu's title for this chapter. This can be defined as the determination of the tactics and strategy of the enemy. The skilled general will alter tactics so as to hide the true strategy and condition of his army.

Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.

We hold the ability to keep ourselves from being defeated, but the enemy provides the means of their defeat. So the good fighter can make sure they cannot be beaten, but cannot be certain of defeating their enemy. "One may KNOW how to conquer, without being able to DO it." Defense keeps us from being defeated, but offense is what allows us to defeat our enemy. But taking a defensive stance indicates weakness, while attacking shows a "superabundance" of strength.

The skilled defensive general will hide his numbers and conceal everything. The skilled offensive general will attack without warning, not giving the enemy a chance to defend.

Sun Tzu returns to the concept of bloodless war here as the idea of ultimate victory. Seeing a victory after it happens is no great ability, you must see the victory before you attack - ie.- you must be prepared and plan. Nor is it a great victory if everyone says it is, for this means that your plans and motions were not secret, but blunt and visible to all.

To lift the lightest of weights (an "autumn hair") doesn't display strength. Seeing the sun and moon doesn't mean you have great eyesight. Hearing thunder says nothing about your ability to hear. The clever fighter is one who excels at winning with ease. His victories will bring him no great acclaim, for he wins simply by making no mistakes. In short - the great fighters are those who make it look so easy, that nobody gives them credit for their work. Making no mistakes ensures victory. Thus, the ideal strategist only fights after victory has already been achieved. The foolish one attacks first, and then seeks victory.

Since the great general controls moral law (see Ch 1), he controls the tools for success.

Here, Sun Tzu provides the military method:

1.- Measurement
2.- Estimation of quantity
3.- Calculation
4.- Balancing of chances
5.- Victory

These are then interconnected:

- Measurement owes its existence to Earth (see Ch 1)
- Estimation of quantity owes its existence to measurement
- Calculation owes its existence to estimation of quantity
- Balancing of chances owes its existence to calculation
- Victory owes its existence to balancing of chances

These need to be explained. Measurement is surveying the area, the enemy, those conditions you CAN measure and control. From measurement you can estimate the strength of your enemy and other factors that will come into play when you calculate and divine your chances, putting strength and strategy to bear where it will be most useful. This, of course, will lead to victory.

A victorious army becomes even stronger, and combined with the demoralization of a losing, opposing army, makes the victorious army nearly unstoppable. Like a dam bursting into a deep chasm.


Again, there are very obvious parallels to poker strategy here. I imagine the great generals of history would be top-tier poker pros today if they wanted to be.

In poker, all we can really do is play our own game and minimize mistakes. In this way, we can defend ourselves from defeat, but at a table of similarly skilled opponents, we have to wait for our opportunities to secure victory. It's often said that winning is achieved by making less mistakes than your opponent.

But by simply trying not to lose, we show weakness. If we are to be truly defensive, we need to conceal our plans and our abilities. The appearance of weakness should be only that - an appearance. It should be used to draw the enemy in. If we are going to be aggressive and offensive, we need to strike quickly and decisively. In other words, BE AGGRESSIVE, not a minraising, blind-stealing pansy, but raining down on your opponent when they're off guard and ill-prepared to fight back. Resteal, fire multiple bullets, strike fear into them.

But make it seem effortless. Let people say things like "what a cardrack" or "guy's been catching all night long" when they don't even know what your cards are. It's easy to say "nice hand" after the board is laid out and your flopped boat is shown over your opponent's turned flush. It's not as easy for you to know you're going to win the next hand by representing a boat and forcing your opponent to fold their flush. Plan ahead, know your enemy's weaknesses and your strengths, and pit the two against each other. In the end, let people call you a luckbox as your string together a run of victories. Eventually, the right people will recognize your skill, subtle as it is.

Make no mistakes, and you'll win. Plan your victory before you battle, and you'll win. Decided to play a hand "just because" and getting trips over two pair isn't good poker, it's dumb luck.

You know your skills, and it is up to you to remain disciplined in their use. You, and you alone, hold the key to your victory.

Could Sun Tzu's military method be any better suited to poker?

MEASUREMENT of your opponents skills, position, stacks, tells, attitudes, and every other factor that comes into play allows you to ESTIMATE their ability to play in different situations. This allows you to CALCULATE when you can beat them, and how you can force mistakes on their part. Once you've BALANCED your chances, you will be able to find victory by appplying all you have learned.

And as we all know, winning begets winning. Keep trouncing your opponents by hiding your strength and attacking without remorse and they will become demoralized. Your image and strength will only grow, making victory that much easier. Imagine if you're on the third month of the worst losing streak of your life, and Phil Ivey sits down at the table across from you after he's just won his third straight WPT event and cleaned out a huge cash game. Would you even be ABLE to play a hand against him? Would you not just want to get up and walk away right then? By showing you know how to win, and more importantly, that you know how to make others lose, you can be viewed as unstoppable.

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