Book extract: How to be a Poker Player by Haseeb Qureshi (part 2)

In the second part of our extract from Haseeb Qureshi’s new book you can learn to tame your poker obsession and be happy for other people  

The power of exercise

In a lifestyle as sedentary and chaotic as poker regular exercise can feel like it’s difficult to maintain. But getting regular exercise is one of the most valuable investments you can make in your life. Regular exercise triggers rushes of endorphins, which not only make us feel euphoric, but also increase our mental clarity and stimulate learning. It also helps to keep energy levels stable throughout the day. It’s been proven time and time again that exercise is the most effective treatment for depression and it also increases your lifespan, immune system and makes you look better!

If you’re not exercising, start
Find something easy and doable. It may be something like power walking, a basic regiment of pushups and sit ups, jogging, or some mild yoga. For poker players who travel often, it is important to remember that you can do very intense body-weight workouts anywhere. When I was travelling through Europe, I would often do my workouts in a hotel room, out in a park, or on a secluded street corner.

Develop skills, don’t just work out 
Focus on building strength, improving your flexibility, or developing skills like kickboxing or yoga. The more motivating and goal-oriented you are, the easier it will be to exercise continually.

Don’t fear overtraining 
Workout as much and as often as you can. It will hurt at first, and be cumbersome, but eventually you will start to enjoy it – I promise. It takes time to get over the initial hump, but the fruits of good exercise are invaluable for your body and mind.

How to be happy for people

Every single day, some fish somewhere will win a tournament. This is a statistical certainty. Sitting in his mother’s basement, clicking buttons and going all-in with his lucky cards, he binks more in one sitting than you make in an entire month or year. How does that make you feel? 

Perhaps it doesn’t bother you. If you’ve played poker for a while, it probably shouldn’t. So imagine instead one of the regulars at your stakes. Think of the fishiest, scummiest, trash-talkiest nitreg you know. And then imagine him binking a tournament for $400,000. How about that? Steaming yet?

If there’s one inevitability in poker, it’s that things will be unfair. Great players will sometimes fail, and bad players will sometimes succeed. But how can we embrace this fact?

Try being happy for other people
Even people you don’t like. It’s not easy. We are inundated with stories of other people succeeding, while poker constantly nags at us: ‘why not you?’ But your life as a poker player will be better when you can genuinely be happy for others. 

Stop telling bad beat stories 
The desire to complain to others about your bad beats derives from a nearby artery – wanting affirmation that your failures are not your fault, and that you deserve more than you have. Just by repeatedly re-living those spots, you reinforce negativity, and the belief that all of your losses are unjust. 

Practice being happy for others
Tell a friend good job on his winning month. Write someone who won a tournament a private message applauding him. Do little things. Make sure they hurt a little, kick up your bitterness, or make you a little sick to your stomach. Lean into your envy and, eventually, it won’t bother you anymore. You will find great relief in being happy for others.

The obsession

Most poker player’s relationship with poker begins out of obsession. If you have never spent hours tinkering with Excel sheets, PokerStove, your HEM stats, or railing the $25/$50 games immersed in a personal fantasy, then you will probably never be a great player. Every great player I have ever known has started with this obsession. 

You need to be crazy 
If you do not have this – if your mind has never been taken over by poker – then you should give up. Walk away now. You will never be a great player. The chances are that you will only lose money and time. If you are not a little bit crazy, you will never reach the level of excellence and dedication required to master poker. 

Tame the obsession 
But let’s say you are a little bit crazy, that you wake up in the middle of the night to dream of hands you played the night before. Perhaps poker is for you. The real work begins in taming that obsession. When you are developing as a player, poker is constantly pumping through your veins, like a drug. But after a while you need to retake control of your life and create more balance. It may take a long time but it’s essential if you want to be happy.

You are more than poker

If you are to be a professional poker player, then poker will be the chief focus of your waking life. But you must remember that you are more than your poker-playing self. I failed at this when I was a poker player. After enough time I could not sever my larger identity from my identity as a poker player. I lost myself to the game. Do not lose yourself. 

Find balance. Integrate yourself in the world. Keep in touch with friends outside poker. Always be learning new skills, reading and learning about the world, making new friends and challenging your sense of reality. 

Let poker challenge you, let it raise you up. Let it make of you a greater human being than you were when you came to it. It can do all of those things if you treat this game, and yourself, with dignity. 

For more information on Haseeb Qureshi’s How To Be A Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker and to buy a copy go to:

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