Poker wit and wisdom: five more useful sayings

Paul Phua Poker picks five more terrific quotes about poker, and explains how they can improve your game

Read part one of 10 useful poker sayings

“Texas Hold ’Em: the game that takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master”

Perhaps the most famous poker saying of all was coined by Mike Sexton, the former gymnast, US paratrooper and ballroom dancing instructor who became a highly respected poker pro and commentator. Like so many simple sayings, it holds a profound truth. When climbing a mountain, what appears to be the peak above you often turns out to be just the top of a foothill, with a long climb still ahead. In the same way, whenever you think you have perfected poker you always discover there is more to learn.

It is striking how many of the top poker pros interviewed by the Paul Phua Poker School say they are still learning from their peers. For instance, watch Dan Colman’s video interview in which he says: “The guys that are very math based, game theory orientated, I always want to pay attention to what they are doing and try and understand the reasoning behind it.”

“The smarter you play, the luckier you’ll be”

This is a favourite poker saying of Mark Pilarski, the casino industry insider turned lecturer and author. It even adorns his website banner. Really it’s a variant on pro golfer Gary Player’s maxim, “The more I practise, the luckier I get.”

You may suffer some bad beats in poker, but over a long period of time you will get as many lucky breaks as unlucky ones. Pilarski is saying that the players who appear to be lucky, and winning all the time, are the ones playing smarter. Just as a brilliant golfer who practises hard is more likely to hit a seemingly lucky hole-in-one, so too is the smart poker player more likely to end up with the winning hand.

“Money is simply the way of keeping score”

The full saying by the British journalist Anthony Holden, author of the classic poker memoir Big Deal, is as follows: “Poker may be a branch of psychological warfare, an art form or indeed a way of life – but it is also merely a game, in which money is simply the means of keeping score.”

It’s the final part of the quote that resonates. Poker players necessarily have a bizarre relationship with money. Players who would not normally spend money on fancy restaurants or other luxuries do not hesitate to shove hundreds or thousands of dollars into a poker pot. But they must strike the right balance. Players who are entirely contemptuous of money may end up losing it on quixotic bets and long-odds draws. Players who care too much become “scared money”, folding the best hand rather than risking their cash. In the end, the best way to look at money in poker is as chips: a way of keeping score, and the only way to really know if you are a winning or a losing player.

This thought is also eloquently expressed in the classic poker movie The Cincinnati Kid: “To the true gambler, money is never an end in itself, it’s simply a tool, as a language is to thought.”

“Hold ’Em is less a card game played by people, than a game about people that happens to be played with cards”

Phil Hellmuth is unquestionably one of the greatest poker players of all time. He won the World Series of Poker Main Event aged just 24 (read more), and has since amassed a record 14 WSOP bracelets. One of his strengths is a skill at reading people that is so uncanny he calls it “White Magic”.

It’s for this reason that Hellmuth says Texas Hold ’Em is “a game about people”. Most hands, after all, do not even reach showdown: what really dictates who folds and who rakes in the pot is what they think your hand is, and what you think their hand is, based on your respective reads.

“Poker is a hard way to earn an easy living”

This is such a long-established saying that it’s hard to work out who first said it. But again, it contains a profound truth. You look at the poker pros sitting at a card table or computer screen all day, raking in the cash, and it doesn’t exactly seem like hard labour.

But pros will tell you they studied hard, sacrificed social and family time, weathered hard times in which they lost everything and built it all back up again. Though you need some natural talent to become a poker pro, it’s more craft and graft than art. But if you can master it… then, yes, it can be the best living in the world!