The Four Agreements: Poker Edition

If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend a book called, “The Four Agreements” written by Don Miguel Ruiz. I read the book in October of 2012 based on a recommendation from Robyn Williams during an orientation call before I attended ChoiceCenter for the 100 day leadership course. The book was good preparation for what I’d learn during my classes at ChoiceCenter, but aside from that, it’s just a great book and it’s a super easy read. He also wrote a book called The Mastery of Love which was probably the most important book I ever read. The Four Agreements isn’t about poker at all, but I thought I would illustrate how living by these four agreements could help you with your poker game.

1. Be Impeccable with Your Word

“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

This speaks to being honest with yourself and also following through with all the things you said you would do in order to improve your game. If you say things like, “I am going to watch more training videos online,” then DO IT. If you speak it out, don’t break your word to yourself.
During my time at ChoiceCenter one of my goals for the 100 days was to work on my poker game and re-enter the top 15 of the GPI, so I wrote out a weekly plan which included things like:

-Play 12 hours at Bellagio
-Watch 2 hours of Super High Rollers on
-Talk poker with a friend and go over interesting hands (one hour)

Twice a week I also had scheduled calls with my buddy Laura who was also in the course, and our coach who would help make sure we were on track with our goals.
I didn’t always do what I said I was going to do. Sometimes I broke my word to myself and when that happened my coach would help me course correct so I could catch up and get back on track. I also had health goals and philanthropic goals, and after 100 days of making all three a habit, they are all part of my weekly routine.
Before you enter a tournament, ask yourself the following question: What do I need to do to be as prepared as possible for this event? Write it out… then do it.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

We take things personally when we agree with what others have said. If we didn’t agree, the things that others say would not affect us emotionally. If we did not care about what others think about us, their words or behavior could not affect us.”

This one is an overlooked aspect of most people’s path to success. If you are more concerned with looking bad in a hand and that your peers would judge you, then you aren’t really stretching to your full potential. One of the things I admire most about Vanessa Selbst as a player, is that she will always make the play SHE thinks is best! She doesn’t care if you think she is stupid or crazy as a result, she is willing to take risks and trust herself above all else. She has no “looking good” conversation when she plays a hand. I still remember her first TV appearance, and yes, I thought to myself, “Wow that was bad!” I think it went something like, she limped in first position with 52, someone raised, and somehow she got it all in before the flop!

Think about that for a second. Her first time at a televised table, with a national audience, and she had no fear or concern that others would laugh at her for making such a “dumb” play. Since that first appearance, Selbst has become one of the most successful and consistent players on tour. Some still think she is just lucky, while others respect and admire her play. The key for Vanessa is that she doesn’t let either affect her decisions at the table.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

When we make assumptions it is because we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling. We believe we know their point of view, their dream. We forget that our beliefs are just our point of view based on our belief system and personal experiences and have nothing to do with what others think and feel.”

Ok, so this one doesn’t directly relate to poker, but I think it’s extremely valuable. Since this is the poker edition of The Four Agreements, allow me to pokerize it for you:

Every time you sit down at a table, while history will help you make decisions against your opponents, it’s a fresh new game and any assumptions you have about how people are going to play, could get in the way of you seeing what is really going on.

Suppose you noticed Sally at your table. You played with Sally over a month ago for eight hours and she always checked the flop when she had a strong hand, and bet out when she was weak. She only 3-bet with AA, KK, QQ, and AK and she never bluffed on the river. It’s important to use this information when making decisions against her, but it’s also important not to assume she hasn’t gotten any better in the last month. What she did a month ago is important, but what she is doing in the NOW is what matters most.

The other example that I see players do regularly is compare their A game to their opponents F game. They may see an opponent on an off day, or even just play one hand very poorly. Poker players will often base their read on an opponent as “bad” based on just one mistake and thus be totally blind to all the other possibly brilliant things that player is doing.
Back in the days when it was tough to make a living playing poker because you had to be invited to games, savvy pros would purposely play poorly in the beginning to make sure they got an invite back. Every once in a while they would make a goofy play and lose a bit on purpose and it was the perfect hustle because they were taking advantage of most people’s tendency to compare their best game to their opponent’s worst game.

Another simple example: let’s say you have been playing really tight in the hopes of using that tight image later to steal pots. Don’t assume that everyone is noticing how tight you are playing, some people don’t pay much attention at all so it would be wrong to assume that your ploy will be successful.

4. Always Do Your Best

“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Doing your best means enjoying the action without expecting a reward. The pleasure comes from doing what you like in life and having fun, not from how much you get paid. Enjoy the path traveled and the destination will take care of itself.

Living in the moment and releasing the past helps us to do the best we can in the moment. It allows us to be fully alive right now, enjoying what is present, not worrying about the past or the future.

Have patience with yourself. Take action. Practice forgiveness. If you do your best always, transformation will happen as a matter of course.”

That pretty much sums it up I would say. Sometimes you are going to make mistakes that cost you. What matters most is that each hand you play, you do your best, whatever that is for you. Some days you will be on. Alert, fresh, and in the zone, while other days you may just not have it. It’s important to not beat yourself up too much when that happens. If you do your best, that will always be enough.