Lee Davy takes a look at five ways in which constraints can be viewed in a more optimistic light to help you improve your poker game.
1# Basketball Shot Clock
I am from the UK. That means I have a stiff upper lip, drink copious amounts of tea, and no fuck all about basketball. But each time I watch it I get excited. And it has nothing to do with the excitement of seeing a little white dude trying to compete with all of these 12-feet black guys (man I would not like to be that guy in the showers). It’s the 24-second shot clock.
Without that clock, basketball would lose something. There are people who could view that clock as a constraint. I view it as a great way to inject excitement into a game, which in turn broadens the game’s appeal. Do you see players complaining about the shot clock? It’s part of the game. Somewhere in the annals of time they adapted.
A shot clock in poker is not a constraint. It’s a beautiful opportunity.
One of my favorite books of all time is The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. It was the first book that I read where the author had intertwined business technique with a fast paced novel.
The business technique being taught was The Theory of Constraints. The philosophy at work here is to root out performance limiting restrictions. These are more commonly known as bottlenecks.
Goldratt teaches you to identify the bottleneck, embrace it, learn from it, create a way of eliminating its effect, and then move onto the next bottleneck. This is known as continuous improvement.
What are your bottlenecks?
Write down a list of all your personal poker constraints and then find fun and innovate ways of eliminating the effects they have on your game bottleneck by bottleneck.
3# The Jerry Seinfeld Approach
Comedian’s can be vulgar. You can’t blame them. Throw in a few fucks, the odd fart joke and a large dose of sexism and you’ll get your laughs.
When Jerry Seinfield came on the scene he was different. Seinfeld decided to impose constraints on himself in order to create beautifully innovative material.
Seinfield made a career from making jokes about the mundanity of life. This wasn’t natural. It was learned. He imposed the constraints and forced himself to find a creative way around his problem, before working damn hard at refining this technique.
Very often, having too much choice can stifle creativity. So make a change. Defend every big blind, even if you have 12bb. Force yourself to play pots with strange stack sizes, out of position. Don’t look at your hole cards. Move all-in every hand.
Create your own constraints.
4# The Past
I am a very healthy eater. I don’t eat meat, sugar or processed food. But when I am in an airplane, or in airports, my standards drop. I look all around me and see constraints. There is never anything healthy to eat, and I never have enough time to find something healthy anyway. I become a victim of my past experiences.
I have interviewed a lot of poker players. I ask them how they are able to make decisions so quickly. Their explanation is a theory known as path dependance. They see a pattern, they lock it in and then they know what to do the next time the pattern presents itself.
In both cases there is value in thinking this way, but there are also constraints.
In terms of my airport problem I no longer stress about it. If the only thing available is a chocolate bar, then I will eat it. But I can take this constraint and use it to my advantage. I can go shopping before hand, and buy healthy products than are allowed through customs. This way I can preserve my health, save money, reduce stress and free up precious thinking time.
The poker player might be able to react quickly. There will be value in that. But this way of thinking can also be lazy. It can produce mistakes. It can force players to drift into auto-pilot. They may have seen each move a thousand times before, but isn’t everyone different?
Depending on our past behaviours can be a good thing, but it can also be a constraint. Examine what your automatic responses are. What rules have you locked in? Is there a different approach?
There is a heads-up match for a million bucks. Both players are of equal skill. The genie has promised that luck will not be a factor. One player is going through a divorce, and a nasty custody battle for his child. He should be seeing his child today. He had to postpone because of the match. Who do you put your money on?
Life’s little problems (and there big ones) quickly find their way onto the felt. If you don’t have a way for dealing with these constraints then you are heading for trouble.
In the wonderful book A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden they have a chapter dedicated to a problem solving technique known as the ‘Can-If’ scenario.
It’s a system built on a super optimistic approach. You can use it in poker, or you can use it in life (which in turn will improve your poker). Each time you face a constraint, instead of allowing that familiar pessimistic feeling flood you with a series of ‘I Can’t’ responses, deploy an arsenal of ‘Can-If’s.
I can’t beat Doug Polk becomes I can beat Doug Polk if.
I can’t focus on this game because of my divorce, becomes I can focus on this game despite my divorce if.
Thinking in this manner helps increase levels of optimism, forces you to find solutions instead of erecting barriers, it emphasises that we are problem solvers and develops a much more positive mindset.
Write down 10 ‘I Can’t’ statements and replace them with ‘I Can If’ statements.