Poker and Game – What We Can Learn From a Poker Cardshark

The makings of a card shark
I’ve been a successful pokerplayer for about 11 years now. I’ve always been a bit of a geek, and I loved gambling ever since my parents let me play a slotmachine when I was 9 or 10 years old. This was, of course, to teach me that those things always take your money. Much to my mothers regret I won and ever since that day I was a gambler.

Luckily I was intelligent enough to see that most games are there to make you lose money in the long run. Some games however, like blackjack and poker, are beatable under certain circumstances. That spiked my interest when I was in university many years later. I started working on systems and I did a lot of math regarding those games. Around the year 2000 I started winning a little playing poker online.

I got better and better, although internet poker was still a small-time community. And then in 2003 suddenly EVERYONE started playing poker online. For me this was pure gold. The vast majority of these new players weren’t prepared to put in the work required to learn how to actually beat the game. The great influx of casual players made me able to turn playing cards into my job, because in poker the money always flows from bad to good players.

During the heydays of poker I played the tournament circuit (European Poker Tours until 2009 and World Series Of Poker until 2010), and I’ve been on TV playing these tournaments many times. It was an awesome ride. But after doing it for so long my priorities changed, and I shifted my focus to building my business and my game. When I started digging into Love Systems technology, I was shocked at the parallels to my life in cards.

The game begins
Ever since I saw a nerdy poker colleague kiss a girl in 30-seconds in a Vegas nightclub, I knew there was something I had to learn here. This was in 2006 and it completely blew my mind. Whenever I went out, even at crazy poker tournament parties, I never spoke to girls. Seeing someone very similar to myself kiss a girl within 30 seconds of meeting her was just out of my reality. The guy told me about game, and I started to research.

I gamed on and off for five years, going through two LTRs and learning in fits and starts. Things started falling into place after I took my first bootcamp with Love Systems instructor Vercetti. By working hard after the program I got to a decent level quite quickly.

Right after the summer of 2011 I took another bootcamp, this time with Keychain. That really kicked things off. I learned a lot, got a job as an approach coach with the company and I started studying every single game-related article I could find.

Pretty early on I started noticing some surprising similarities between poker and game. Not only in the learning process itself but also in certain common pitfalls. Even the nomenclature is shared – words like ‘set’ and ‘opening’ are used in both worlds. The mindsets and tactics that took me to the top of the poker world are absolutely applicable to game. There are no shortcuts in learning this skill set, but if there were shortcuts, they’d look something like this…

1. Aggression is the winning way
A good friend of mine, a poker legend from the 1990s, has one simple tactic when he plays cards: he waits. Almost no hand of cards is good enough for him to play and he barely ever puts any money in the pot. If he does however, everyone knows that he has a very, very good hand. In the 90s, people didn’t care, or perhaps didn’t notice what he was doing, so they still played with him. These days most players are smart enough to spot when he has a good hand and they won’t even try to beat it- they’ll just fold and wait for better opportunities in the next hand. My friend’s predictability is his downfall.

I’ve talked with him and tried to explain that everyone has noticed he only bets when he has a great hand. He could very well use this reputation to make a bluff once in a while, tricking the other players by breaking his own pattern. But he always dismisses this as reckless and says that kind of thing only works for young internet poker guys.

My friend hasn’t had a winning year the past decade. You have to aggressively bet to win in poker, you can’t play it safe. Game is the same. When learning game you have to play aggressively.

Imagine a game of poker in which there were no consequences for losing – even if you lost the game, you wouldn’t lose any money. What would you do? You would bet very aggressively to hopefully bluff your opponents out of the pot1. If you did lose this fantasy-poker game, you wouldn’t lose any money anyway. Awesome right? This is how game works! Except in game there really aren’t any consequences for getting blown out, losing a set, or making a mistake. When you’re talking to girls, go for it aggressively and try to ‘win’ every set you open.

This is something I understood from the beginning when I learned game. Playing is safe is one of the most common mistakes I see in new guys. They learn some attraction and like the feeling of having a girl attracted to them. So they just stay there and try to keep the situation that way as long as possible. They forget that aggression and risk is the way to win!

There are no repercussions for losing, thus there is no reason to play it safe. Move your set forward!

Did this mentality lose me sets? Definitely! Did this mentality get me laid with girls I never thought would even give me their phone number? Absolutely!

2. Sample size and randomness
In poker, you cannot tell from one or two games how good a player someone is. Due to the randomness involved in poker, it’s just impossible to say anything about playing qualities, without looking at a player’s long-term results2.

Again, game is the same way. Sets can be tough one night and completely into you the next without doing anything differently. The real learning curve is only visible by looking at your long-term results. Because of this, just like in poker, beginners can get lucky and the very best players in the world can sometimes get stuck in a down-swing for weeks on end.

For game the downswings rarely last for weeks, but they can definitely last a few nights in a row. (Thus woman’s characters are more homogeneously distributed than cards!) A lot of guys in the community tend to forget about this.

Variance is a factor. That’s why it’s not about this specific night, that special girl, or the one big poker hand. Your in-the-moment results are largely beyond your control. The focus should be on “playing correctly”, and having fun while doing it! The results will take care of themselves.

The best poker players have internalized the concept that “the short term doesn’t matter”.

Two of the students at my bootcamp with Keychain were, by sheer coincidence, also professional poker players. On the second night, one of them had a 3-way-makeout with twin sisters – that after not being able to talk to girls at all when starting the bootcamp! Afterwards, he was surprisingly stoic about this. When Keychain asked him about the set, he was dead serious when he said “Ohh… that? That was just positive variance!”.

I don’t recommend detaching yourself from the results that much, because it’s hard to have fun if you do. But while learning game it’s important not to let the ups and downs of pick-up get you down. I see a lot of posts on the Love Systems forums saying, “This and that happened, how do I recover?”. You’re not gonna learn anything by getting an answer to that question, because it’s too specific. That situation will never come up again and the answer will make you no better at game. The reality is, a sticking point is only truly a sticking point if it reoccurs over a large sample size (say 20 sets). Do a high volume of sets, gather a large sample group. This is key to improving in game.

There is always the next girl, like there is always a next poker hand. The outcome of this specific one is random. So a large sample size is key!

3. Deuce to 7 triple draw anyone?
My absolute favorite poker game is lowball, a variation of the poker that has a very big bluffing aspect. It revolves around making the worst poker hand, instead of the best.

When I learned to play poker, I mainly concentrated on the thing everyone else was playing. Back then this was Limit Texas Hold’em. I was winning a little, but barely a few dollars per hour. At some point I wanted to quit playing, just because I thought I couldn’t ever be a full-time poker player. Then with the last bits of my bankroll (I cashed out most of it for living expenses) I tried a few different poker games, most notably No-limit Hold’em3. That game suited me way better. I started winning and within a few months I played professionally.

In game, that’s something I can recommend. Not only try different types of girls (you might be in for a surprise about what you really like), but also try different types of game.

There is bar game, club game, socialite party game, concert game, mall game, public transport game, after-hours bar game and many, many more. All require a different mix of game skills and personality.

If not everything is going according to plan yet and you’re not pulling hot girls4, don’t go to the same bars over and over again. Change things up and try a different game!

4. Community is the key to success
During the earlier years of poker, all good players had one thing in common. They had a very good math understanding, and basically did all the strategywork by themselves. Almost all the other players were donkeys (i.e. bad players) anyway, so why discuss strategy at all, unless you want to make your opponents better?

Then, around 2004, poker instructional video sites started popping up. Suddenly some players who did all the hard work themselves were sharing strategies with the world, for a price. The smart math geeks were not the best players anymore, the guys who were willing to soak up most information were. The poker naturals who were winning in the early days actually had a hard time catching up, because they had learned to always listen to themselves and to ignore all others.

This illustrates how important a community is, both in cards and game. You can be the smartest guy in the world, but a giant group of people thinking about a subject will always come up with better ideas than one person on his own.

Even most naturals I meet are one-trick-ponies. By putting in a lot of work, and actively being involved in the community, you can become better then almost all of them. And you don’t even have to reinvent the wheel for it, all the information is here!

The one drawback to communities is that everyone can pretend to be an expert. Some virgins sound like experienced PUAs on the forums. Thus it’s important to either know the sources, or make sure you’re at a forum that is only accessible to experts, like the Lounge. Or, if you have nothing else to go on, make use of the hierarchy system in place (Trust a mod’s advice above a normal users advice, trust a LS instructor above a mod).

The communities are responsible for one other thing: turning things into a full blown science fast. Communities made poker grow up, and they’re doing the same for game. The cumulative knowledge that is available is so vast that you just cannot learn everything anymore without really studying it for a long time. For poker this is a problem, these days it’s very hard to become a successful professional from scratch, because you need almost all the knowledge to be able to do better than your peers. For game, this isn’t true. You only need a little information to set you apart from 90% of other men and get the hot girls.

Some differences
There are some differences too. When playing poker, it pays to be selective in the cards that you’re playing. In almost all poker games with more then 3 people, folding5 is the best option over half the time. Not so in game. The only real reason not to run a set is that you don’t want to ‘win it’. So go for it, it’s either good exercise material, a potential fuck buddy, wing girl, SNL or wife. Again: In poker you lose money when you fail. In game even when you lose the set you gain knowledge and experience.

One last interesting thing I want to add. If you’ve ever played poker in a ‘live’ setting (i.e. not on the internet) and you’re looking to have some extra fun, try using your tell reading skills when going out. It’s actually easy to see who is bored, who is open to approach, which sets might be harder and even which girls have a higher SNL potential. After some training you can gauge from eyes, body language, feet position etc. what your target is thinking. This is really helpful when running sets, and it’s way easier then picking up tells at the pokertable, since your target is not usually trying to hide anything or mislead you.

May your cards be live and your pots be monsters! – Mike Sexton, poker TV show host.

May your sets be hot and your pulls be awesome lays! – Erik Royale, me.

1 If you bet a certain amount in poker, your opponent has to match that amount if he wants to keep playing. Alternatively, he can decide that you can have the pot when he doesn’t want to match the bet.

2 Interestingly enough, poker coaches have solved this in the same way as pickup coaches have. Namely by “looking over your shoulder”. They don’t judge the results themselves, but check how you got to a certain result and teach you concepts that you can incorporate to make the process more optimal.

3 Before it was cool 😉

4 Not pulling hot girls over a large sample size. If you’re not pulling hot girls because you’re not opening enough it’s different. In that case, work on opening as much as possible first. Minimum 20 sets per night my friend!

5 Not playing this hand.