Friday, October 19, 2012

Poker Face

Back in 2006, I wrote a post comparing martial arts (in that case Yoshinkan Aikido) to a chessgame.  You can read that post here:

However, the other day, I heard a quote from someone about a contract negotiation that went like this, "It's not a chess game, it's a poker game".  I have been thinking about that idea ever since.

Chess is a great game because it involves deep strategy - in particular, predicting your opponent's reaction to your moves.  In this sense it is a lot like fighting.  Chess also involves a finite space and defined rules that nonetheless have infinite possibilities and combinations.  That is also a lot like fighting.  There are only a certain numbers of discrete movements humans can perform, but there are infinite ways to combine the movements and solve for particular situations.

At the same time, fighting is, in reality, much more like poker than it is like chess.

Chess is a game of defined rules and restrictions on movement for the various pieces.
This makes it a game for understanding limitations.  Poker, on the other hand, is about understanding probabilities.  A good poker player knows what hands can be made from the shown cards and the probabilities of other players being able to make those hands.  One key to good poker is pressing bets on high probability hands and folding low probability hands.

In martial arts, this means using the highest probability techniques in every situation, and having a very good understanding of the opponent's highest probability responses/counters to them - and being prepared for them.  Good fighters are not only masters of strategy, but also masters of psychology, able to predict the probability of an opponent reacting in a particular way and being ready when they do.  Setting up and Attacking by Drawing use exactly this principle.

Another one of the most important skills in poker (and fighting) is bluffing.  Bluffing makes playing poker a very different experience from playing chess.  By bluffing, you must rely on being able to convince the other player that their potentially winning hands are actually potentially losing hands.  This causes them to react to fear/apprehension and fold hands sometimes when they could have actually won. In fighting, this can make all the difference. Just giving the enemy pause - causing the apprehension or fear response - can make him decide to back down from a fight he could have won.  By the same token, bluffing too much will cause the other side to challenge, which could result in the bluffer losing.  Bluffing is best used sparingly and in combination with both weak and strong hands so the others never really know if it is a bluff.  Important too is the bluffer's ability to mask the tell - or giveaway - by having a flat expression or "poker face".

Bluffing is evident time and again in the animal kingdom as well, where countless species have used the bluff as part of their mating, courtship, or dispute resolution strategies.  They fan their feathers, puff up their chests, shriek loudly, or otherwise present themselves as formidably as possible, making their bluff in the hopes that the other will back down and give up.

Calling the bluff carries a risk that the bluff is not really a bluff and you will lose.  Fear of loss is an unbelievably powerful motivator to people to resist temptation (think of husbands not cheating on their wives for fear of divorce).

It could be said that poker is a game of emotion where chess is a game of logic.
A smart fighter knows how to use both to full advantage.

1 comment:

Keith said...

So does this mean that you'll be using Lady Gaga music for your next Kali highlight reel? ;)