Lee Davy puts The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho back on his bookshelf and starts scribbling down some notes of comparison between one of the most famous novels in the world and poker.
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a novel originally written in Portuguese that now holds the world record for the book translated into the most languages (67). It’s an allegorical piece of literature focusing on the search for destiny and how the universe conspires to help you reach it.
The book is very short. I finished it in a few days. Numerous times when reading I thought about situations in poker, and what follows are those thoughts.
The Alchemist is simple. It’s as if the novel contains no more than 50-words. Every sentence is short, sweet, and salient.
It reminded me of my journey to become a professional poker player. I got my learning mixed up. Before learning the fundamentals of poker, I watched online training sites and tried to play like Phil Galfond. I thought poker was complicated.
A wise poker player once told me to bet when I had it, and fold when I didn’t. I could have earned a lot of money had I listened to him. Instead, my ego told him to take a run and jump. Aggression was essential. I would not back down. Poker was more complicated than that.
And so I lost.
And then lost some more.
And then I had nothing.
I was speaking to the two-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, and one of the pioneers of the marketing machine that every professional poker player chases through the night, Barny Boatman the other day. I asked him if I was right? Despite all the class we see in the game today; all the maths, strange equations, and the fancy triple merging back somersault ranges. Isn’t poker simpler than that?
He referred me to a tweet he had sent out a few days prior.
I dunno if you new skool kidz make better decisions at the poker table, but you sure do have fancier reasons for making them.
— Barny Boatman (@barnyboatman) May 30, 2016
Here are a few excerpts from the book and how they entered my mind and danced with poker.
The self-proclaimed King of Salem said:
“In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own destinies.”
We live in a world where minute-by-minute shots of the perfect life bombard our vision. Social media enables people to take the airbrush to life. It erases the rough and provides a little sunshine to the smooth.
As a professional poker player, if you look into the mirror and see someone else, before long, you will be washed up. This game isn’t right for everyone. Maybe it’s not your destiny? If you are too busy casting an envious eye at the soles of feet then you end up following someone else’s.
The camel driver said:
“Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present, If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.”
James Altucher calls this phenomenon time traveling. It’s been a distinctly human problem for the past 2 billion years. Ever since consciousness developed and started screwing around with our instincts we have been able to think about the consequences of the past and look into the future to shape a whole new world.
I can’t believe I squeezed an Aladdin lyric in that paragraph.
Let’s move swiftly on.
There is only one hand.
Concentrate on that.
It’s a great strategy to dip into the past to pick up a read that can be used in the grand festival of life. Make sure that there isn’t any of that bad beat shittiness stuck to it when you haul its ass through time.
Stay still. Breathe. Look around you. Practice gratitude.
The Alchemist said:
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse that the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Six years ago I was working in a shitty little office in a steelworks slowly watching my life ebb away next to the big hand of the clock that was hanging off my wall.
I wanted to become a professional poker player.
But how could I play cards for a living?
How irresponsible would it had been for me to quit the security of my job when I had a family to support?
I eventually mustered the courage to quit, and I can tell you that despite not making it as a pro player, the fear of suffering can only be recognised once you pass through the other side. Only then will you see the power of your choice.
And today, thanks to that decision to pursue my dream, I ended up here, writing to you, and that tells me that every second of the search was worth it. If you have a dream then listen to The Alchemist because you will feel the fear; it’s natural, but it’s nothing compared to the suffering you will experience if you remain idle.
The Alchemist said:
“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of a dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I would never have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.”
For me, this is the fulcrum of the tale of The Alchemist. When you make a decision to purse your goal; visualise it, develop a growth mindset, and believe in it, then everything starts to fit into place like an Ikea table.
If you play poker professionally, stop for a moment and think back to a time before your dream came true. What were you doing? Who were you with? How happy were you? Now, stop time traveling. Come back. Be present. How different is your life today? What are you doing? Who are you with? How happy are you?
How did it all happen?
How did these jigsaw pieces find the right groove?
It’s almost as if the universe is conspiring to help you out, but that would be some seriously voodoo shit right there.
The Alchemist said:
“We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, towards its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them – the path to their destinies, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.”
“So, we, their hearts, speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.”
The Boys then asks:
“Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?”
The Alchemist replies:
“Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.”
That is the magic of The Alchemist – beautiful, magical, and simple.
You have to follow your dreams. Look at what Alex Dreyfus is doing over at The Global Poker League (GPL). He has a dream to Sportify poker. It’s a big ass dream. Imagine how easy it would have been for him to stay rooted in his sleep?
He has a big heart. He knew his would suffer if he didn’t take action. His baby is imperfect. There are mistakes. Some people throw stones from afar. But he keeps on keeping on regardless because he doesn’t want to be in a position where he is suffering because he didn’t follow his dream.
How easy would have been for Philipp Gruissem to continue playing poker rather than spending time setting up Raising For Effective Giving (REG) so he can help save the lives of broiler chickens, mosquito covered children, and help fund research into existential threats.
Sometimes you reach your dream and it doesn’t turn out to be quite as exciting as it looked like from afar, and so you choose another one and march into the desert.
The Alchemist said:
“When you possess great treasure within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”
Be a poker player.
Show the world that you can make a living playing cards while they ridicule you making a dying.
Hold the contrarian view. Tell no lies. Look people in the eye. Don’t drift. Don’t waiver. Stand your ground. See the box. Think outside of it. Celebrate your uniqueness. Say what needs to be said. Believe in you and believe in your destiny.