Sunday, 21 July 2013

Luck vs Skill/Poker vs BJJ

Let me begin by saying I'm not using Poker to represent luck, and I'm not using BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) to represent skill. I'm going to look at how luck and skill play a role in each activity and compare my experiences of taking both things quite seriously.

I played poker passionately for about 4 years, and at my most dedicated was playing online 4-5 hours a day, live 3-4 days a week plus doing plenty of study. I found it quite easy to pick up and retain information about the game and all of this meant I had some fairly decent results at the micro stakes. (sadly I'm not putting anywhere near the same time into BJJ, but it is now my main hobby outside of work)

For those who don't play poker and might think it's all luck, I can tell you it's actually a mixture. While the cards are randomly shuffled therefore making a single situation about luck, you can mathematically play each hand in a positive away. Therefore in the long term the skilful players will almost always win, but in the short term anyone can win.

It's because of this fact, along with success stories by people named Moneymaker and Gold, that keep good and bad players alike coming back to play, hoping that they might win that single hand that substantially increases their bank balance.

For me, I'd won a few thousand playing the smaller stakes at university (all of which had liquified itself in beer) and when finishing my last semester had to decide whether I wanted to make the leap and become a full time poker player. This would have meant increasing the stakes I was playing and I was not comfortable doing that - so this idea was off the table. I therefore started my work career and poker became very much a hobby, I severely decreased the amount of hours I played, started to rely on luck a little more but thankfully still enjoyed the game.

There is one thing that poker is not good for; your health. Lots of hours sat down stationary, lots of unsociable hours, junk food usually being the only thing available to you (when playing live at least). I put on a decent amount of girth doing my poker playing and after a couple of years working, decided I wanted to lose some weight. I tried the gym a few times and just couldn't get any momentum; running was torture.

I had become a big fan of MMA and decided to check out a local MMA school. I loved learning the skills and there was a lot of fitness thrown in; I quickly lost a bit of weight and reached new heights of fitness. It was at the MMA school I decided I liked one aspect more than the others; grappling. So looking to take things a little more seriously, I joined Carlson Gracie Camberley, home of dozens of European and domestic champions, to really see what it was all about.

Now, having come from a game where luck was a huge factor, it became obvious very quickly that there was little if any luck involved in high level grappling. It was simple; if you squared off against someone better than you, they are going to beat you 9.99999/10. There are a couple of things they could do to get unlucky; perhaps slamming you slightly too hard (slamming is illegal) and having a grumpy referee, or maybe getting a finger caught in your gi and breaking it, but really, from what I can tell at least, there are very few ways you can get lucky when grappling. Even if you somehow end up in a favourable position, your opponent will have a million options in their knowledge to counter it.

So, it's been an interesting change of pace. On one hand I love it; I'm learning an amazing martial art from one of the top teams in Europe, I'm getting fit and strong and meeting lots of interesting people. On the other hand it was frustrating at first; I wasn't used to entering a competitive scenario where I knew I was going to lose. Even when playing poker against guys who were lots better than me I had the luck factor to fall back on.

This however has meant one thing; my ego has all but disappeared. It's an interesting feeling, when training against a guy much better than me I no longer think along the terms of 'winning or losing', only how can I use this experience to get better. It's great and has helped me in all aspects of my life. I mean, if every week you train with guys who could really hurt you if they wanted, what is going to be more challenging in the real world?

So to my poker playing friends, remember that luck is a big factor in what you do. You could be on the top of a year long winning streak for the wrong reasons. Keep on studying, never underestimate your opponents, and if poker is going to be your main hobby, do it intelligently. Keep fit and make sure you can account for bad luck when it inevitably comes. To my BJJ friends...thanks for reading my blog!