Poker is War with cards. Psychological warfare. Everyone sitting around the table has the same arms (cards) and ammo (chips). In Texas hold ‘em, the flop is the battlefield, and it’s the same for everyone.  We all share the battlefield, what’s different are our two hole cards. Only we have those two and by betting in certain ways, we can represent different degrees of power.

The best players not only read their own cards, they read their opponents’ faces, too. They surveil them. They try to fathom their secrets. Are they confident? Fearful? Undecided? Confused?

Good soldiers understand the enemy. They take their time getting to know their habits, their quirks, their tells. In poker, like war, knowledge is power. Fools rush in, good players bide their time.

The best players use misdirection. When they are strong they appear weak, and when they’re weak, they put on a show of strength. They leave their enemies guessing.

The best players are patient. They pick their spots. They wait, they ambush. They fold when they need to, ready to fight another day. There’s no shame in folding to a better hand, just as there’s no reward in grimly playing a losing one, just because you don’t want to get bluffed.

Ah, bluffing—no one likes to be bluffed. It’s like someone fooled you, took advantage of your weakness. You got outplayed. But remember, poker is war. There’s no prize for winning every battle, then losing the war. Folding can be an important survival tool, if it ensures you live to fight the next battle. Even good soldiers retreat, but when they do, it’s strategic—on their terms. Good soldiers play the odds. They don’t hope for miracles. Miracles are for saints, and few poker players are saintly.

Sometimes, in war, the Fates just get you. Your number was up. No one can dodge their own destiny. It’s the same at the poker table. The cards are random. Luck plays a lead role. Bad luck plays a lead role. Sometimes, the cards you get are relentlessly, hopelessly terrible. Twos will never beat aces, straights will never beat flushes. You will lose and there’s nothing you could have done—that’s the fickle randomness that the law of probabilities manifests.

So what can you do? Only one thing, make the best decisions you can, based on all the information you have. If you always do that, you won’t always win, but when you lose, you’ll lose the right way. Maybe that’s poker’s most important lesson—be grateful for every winning hand and gracious with your losing ones. And use that lesson in your life as well.

Poker is war but in the end, peace counts for more.


Michael Rudnick