“Cards are war, in disguise of a sport.” – Charles Lamb
For over 2,000 years, the collected philosophies of Chinese
general Sun Tzu have served as a primer on how generals should wage a
successful campaign. The Art of War, as these writings are known, has
become one of the guiding forces for anyone involved in a competitive endeavor;
whether those efforts are on the playing field, the boardroom, or the
battlefield. In his 2005 book, author David Apostolico examined the writings of
Sun Tzu and applied them to the green felt war zone of tournament poker.
In his writings, Sun Tzu emphasizes strategic planning and
deception as some of the keys to victory. Many players are familiar with the
saying, “strong means weak and weak means strong”: when a player acts
hesitantly or is unsure of his decision, he usually holds a monster.
Conversely, when an opponent makes a strong bet and displays confident body
language, he’s begging you not to call.
“The art of war is a matter of life and death; a road to
either safety or ruin.”
In a no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament, your life is on the
line on every hand. Every bet, call or raise can mean the difference between
reaching the final table and heading for the rail. Players should play with
caution, but not have their decisions driven by fear.
“According to circumstances that are favorable, one should
modify one’s plans.”
People, especially poker players, are creatures of habit.
Once they have found a method they deem “successful”, they are slow to change.
The best poker players do not stay with any one style of play for too long
during a tournament. They change up their play according to the blind levels,
number of players at the table, and the types of opponents they face.
“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme
excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance
The key to “winning without fighting” in a poker tournament comes down a player’s “table image”. Table image is how the other players at the table
perceive your skill level. You can be the smallest, thinnest, least muscular
player at the table and still cast an intimidating table image.
Poker pro Daniel Negreanu is a perfect example of how table
image works. While his slender, vegan-fed frame wouldn’t last long in a fist
fight, his uncanny ability to read opponents, call out their cards, and make
the right plays can intimidate opponents into laying down the best hand.
“Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability
to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.”
This quote provides the most succinct definition of the
difference between “playing to win” and “playing not to lose”. Many beginning players, especially those who
are a few spots away from the money in a tournament, take a much more passive
approach to the game than they should. The only way to “defeat the enemy” is to
go on the offense: bet instead of check, raise instead of call. When you go on
the offensive, your opponents will typically go on the defensive.