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#3123 - Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - Editor: Jerry Katz
Nonduality Highlights

Today's issue definitely belongs under our broad mandate to bring you the varieties of nondual expression. It's about poker!  

I found the link to the following article at  

Here is a much abridged version of the article. To read the full article, go to  

Poker and Zen

Tournament poker can be very exciting, but like many exciting things in life, it can also be terrifying. There is nothing quite like the thrill of playing at a big money final table.

Zen has always been associated with the fine arts of flower arranging, calligraphy, and tea making. But there is also quite a tradition of Zen in swordsmanship and archery. Through reading these books and in particular "Zen in the Art of Archery," I have a greater understanding of the process one goes through to master an art form.

There are four basic stages that a player must pass through to achieve poker mastery:

1. Beginner's Passion

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

A journey that might lead to poker mastery must begin with passion. There is a boundless enthusiasm in the novice poker player's attitude. Poker is fun. It is played with no fear. There is a lack of self-consciousness. The game is played with joy.

2. The Student Emerges

"He is now forced to admit that he is at the mercy of everyone who is stronger, more nimble and more practiced than he." Eugen Herrigel

At some point, the joy and boundless passion for the game must give way to a structured effort to learn the game. There is a great deal of technical skill needed to succeed at poker. And at the beginning of this journey a great depression can overwhelm the student. He suddenly fears those that are more skilled than he. He longs for the days of blissful ignorance, when he only played because it was fun.

Once I became comfortable playing at a new level, my confidence would return, my newfound technical skills would become internalized, and my spontaneity would return. This process has taken over twenty years, and has included countless cycles of diving into the poker unknown, followed by the eventual feeling that I belong at that new level.

3. Expert Level is Achieved

"He who has a hundred miles to walk should reckon ninety as half the journey" Japanese Proverb

After years of study, a poker player can achieve expert status. If, however, she becomes satisfied in her success, then mastery will be forever beyond her reach. Improving as a poker player is a never ending process. The competition is always changing and adapting. If a player fails to change and adapt also, then the competition will close the gap or, even worse, pass her by.

Twenty years into my poker career, I found myself having success both in tournaments and side games. But I also felt like I wasn't progressing like I wanted. I seemed to hit a wall in my poker development. I had always been mindful to never become satisfied with my game. But I was, increasingly, finding it difficult to improve.

Every tournament is different. There are different games, different formats, different levels of skill in your opponents, and different settings. And suddenly, hole card cameras were added to the mix. I then turned my attention to reading about some of the Zen arts. I had studied Zen Buddhism in high school, and it had always appealed to me. But, I now saw the study of the Zen arts as a way to make some breakthroughs in my poker development.

4. Poker, One Hand at a Time

"If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an 'artless art' growing out of the Unconscious" Daisetz T. Suzuki

Staying in the moment is the path to poker mastery. And it is poker tournaments that present the greatest challenge to this goal. But, I believe that the study of the Zen arts can lead you down that path.

I realized that the more I could stay focused on the present hand and forget about bad beats and bad plays from my recent past, the better I would play. I also concluded that even more damaging to my focus on the present hand might be the nervousness brought on by thoughts of winning the tournament. Staying in the moment at the poker table is not an easy task. But, when I read "Zen in the Art of Archery," there was a concept that stayed with me. The master archer hits the target without having aimed. This meant that the more I tried to focus on the moment, the more I would not succeed. I could only find that focus from within myself. I decided that I would sit at the table and relax. For two years now, I have been practicing my own form of poker meditation. Instead of trying hard to focus, I allow it to happen through relaxation.

I have started to walk the last ten miles in my poker journey, and I am prepared for that walk to take me the rest of my life.

Howard Lederer is a two-time WPT champion and winner of two WSOP gold bracelets. You can play poker with Howard online at

  The above is a much abridged version of the article, for copyright reasons. To read the full article, go to

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