Friday, October 31, 2008

The Art of Poker - Chapter 5

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Chapter 5 of The Art of War is titled "Energy".

Sun Tzu opens by discussion how the control of a large force is no different than control of a small one. The control of a large force is achieved by breaking it into multiple small forces, and controlling those through officers, uniform signals, and experience.

He then speaks of using manoeuvres both "direct and indirect". There is some debate as to what is meant by this, but people seem to have settled on the "direct" meaning the standard, by-the-book methods, where the "indirect" are the unexpected, outside-the-box moves. The science of knowing where the weak and strong points of enemy are is key to being dominant.

The direct method is used to enter battle, but its the indirect attacks that will ensure victory. An experienced and smart general will have a limitless supply of indirect tactics at their disposal. Comparisons are drawn to the fact there are only five primary colours (red, green, blue, black, and white), but a spectrum of combinations. There are only 5 tastes, yet more flavours than we can ever experience. Similarly, there are only the 2 methods of attack, yet unending combinations of them.

12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.

13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

The good fighter will be quick to attack, and be able to instinctively time his changes in tactic. Energy is like a cocked bow, and decision the release of the arrow. Potential vs kinetic energy.

The appearance of disorder and fear may actually be evidence of the exact opposite.

17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline,
simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness
postulates strength.

Sound familiar? From here the text discusses how deception is key to manipulating your enemy. You can dictate their decisions and actions by showing what you want them to believe. A show of strength from a weak opponent can keep your enemy at bay. A show of weakness when you are superior can draw them in. Sacrificing something as bait to gain a greater victory is common.

Finally, a common practice is to use the greater of your force to achieve the bulk of the work, while utilizing specialized groups to put you over the top. Think of an advancing army with only a handful of well-placed snipers in proper position, taking out the right targets. Using the natural strengths and training of your men to support the force of your army will result in great energy being released. Even a stone, when dropped from a great height, can do much damage.


So, the main problem with reconciling this chapter to poker is, once again, the definition of an "army" in poker terms. This ain't a team sport. I believe I've previously likened the army to the tools at your disposal. As a general grows in experience, so too does his ability to manage larger numbers. The same holds true for a poker player. As you become more experienced, you add more weapons to your arsenal, and your ability to manage this increasing number grows.

For example, I often tell my friends who are just starting out on the long, dark road of poker not to bluff. I tell them that once they're comfortable with ABC play, then one day they'll try hiding the strength of their hand. From there, they'll start reading others and eventually take a stab at pot with a mediocre hand. Full-on bluffing will eventually become natural for them, as will the timing of when to use it.

The same holds true for any other number of moves we use. Check-raises, re-raises, hollywood, angle-shooting, table-talk, false tells, level 3 thinking, etc.. As our experience grows, so too does our army. The truly great players can use all their tools at once to wage battle, controlling when each one gets used in a similar manner to sending out a strike force or positioning snipers.

But nobody uses strictly level 3 thinking or tries to dazzle everyone with their brilliant play. A consistently unorthodox game is exactly that - consistent. In the end, we all have an underlying ABC game that drives most of our decisions. The differences that come into play are when we apply the "indirect" attacks. If I've been showing a TAG style all night, and suddenly go through a period where my style changes dramatically, it causes confusion. If I haven't raised a hand preflop yet and all of sudden come in for 5x the BB, most people will fold. If I do it 3 hands in a row, people get suspicious. If I play 2nd pair like the nuts, people might think I have the nuts. Mixing it up is where the money is made.

Poker breaks down to 3 buttons on your screen - check/fold, bet/call, and raise, but there are limitless ways of combining these simple ideas. A pause before clicking could means something, a re-raise could be a squeeze or a hand that is afraid of draws, a call could mean anything, and sometimes a fold can pay massive dividends down the line.

Timing these moves is the key to victory. Been playing loose and aggressive all night? When you get the aces, it's time to use that image to extract value. Been weak-tight? Lure the LAG in. Unleashing your tactics at the wrong time can be disasterous... nobody likes bluffing into the nuts.

As for that fold - it's one of my favourite methods for extracting value down the line. If I can throw away a mediocre hand for minimal loss against a player who I put on nothing but aggression, it shows weakness on my part. I'm automatically tagged as either someone who folds to pressure, or someone who CAN fold less than the nuts. This controls their behaviour later on, when the chips matter more. I can often get that same player to once again try and scare me off a hand, allowing me to come back over the top. Regardless of my holdings, this player has already pegged me as either weak or smart, and will likely fold anything that isn't premium, assuming I have them beat. For if I am weak, then I'm not lying about my strength, but if I am smart, then I'm obviously going with strong-means-weak-means-strong. That small sacrifice earlier on ensured a victory later.

For one thing Sun Tzu keeps referring to is the directed ancestor of "weak means strong and strong means weak". Deception is the key to victory in his book. The trick is in convincingly achieving this deception.

Finally, using proper tactics can help even those in the weakest circumstance achieve victories. If you've been folding away your chips as the blinds grow, and people have noticed, then a sudden all-in at the RIGHT TIME can work very well. If it's with a strong hand, then you want it to appear weak, and vice versa. In fact, the full-steam-ahead method of short-stack play I often see usually ends in tears. However, if spots are chosen, and the right moves are made, a small stack can build up quickly and improve a table image tremendously.

In the end, the smarter, and more unpredictable your play is, the more likely your chance of success.

As an aside, while reading this chapter, an anecdote was relayed to illustrate the point of controlling your enemy through your appearance. I'll paraphrase:

Sun Pin is at war with P'ang Chuan. Pin, knowing that his country has a reputation for cowardice, devised a plan where the fires of his army would decrease each night, dropping from 100,000 to 50,000, to 20,000. Chuan, seeing this, assumed that the cowards of this army had already fled from his superior force. Chuan led an attack as Pin retreated. In a narrow defile, Pin had a tree felled across the pass, and he carved the message "Under this tree shall P`ang Chuan die." He then set up a series of archers and gave them orders to fire upon seeing a light. Chuan arrived in the defile that night and when he came up on the tree, noticed the writing. He struck a match to read it, and was struck down by the arrows of the archers.

I found this a fantastic piece that was obviously analogous to using table image to lure in and destroy an overconfident opponent.

1 comment:

BamBam said...

I don't know about anyone else, (in fact, I don't care either!) but I'm loving these.

FWIW, I think they're brilliant!