No Game For Robots

No Game For Robots


Owais Ahmed, who, after a successful year, has lost all motivation for playing poker,  wrote: “Its like I’ve hit the ceiling – all I can accomplish at a poker table is doing more of what I’ve already done.

Looking forward to a future where I should grind cash daily or a few nights a week doesn’t seem that fun. When is enough enough?”

A PERSONAL STORY: A Grande Vanilla Latte

On a hot summer morning in Laguna Beach, California I stopped to relax at Laguna Beach Coffee. I love the sensation of caffeine on an empty stomach and basking in the Orange County sun. There I could get both for $2.

The cute Polish barista who knows my drink order of choice, a grande iced vanilla latte, wasn’t working that day. In her place was Bridget, another equally inviting woman with shoulder length blonde hair and bright green eyes. She chirped loudly enough that the shop could hear.

“How can I help you?” she rhymed, carrying on. Before I could answer she interrupted: “How about this: I’ll surprise you. If you don’t like it I’ll make you another one,” she reassured me.

When I took a sip of the concoction, a cold refreshing mixture of coffee, chocolate and raspberry took me to heaven. “How did you make this?” I asked. “It’s my secret,” she whispered. “Sometimes, when I get bored at work, I just experiment, you know?

THE SITUATION: Becoming Frustrated With Work

What troubles Owasis is that playing poker has shifted from being a passion to a full time job.  Once, the idea of sitting in a casino was a glamorized goal, an abstract dream. Now, a mundane reality.In a recent conversation with Michael Kaplin, a friend and freelance journalist, we caught up about our past few months. I told him of my life post Black Friday and shift to live poker. “It’s different man. I’ve been on the road lately. Traveling around trying to find games.”

His turn: “It doesn’t sound so bad, I’d love to be able to see a few places and play more poker. I’m just working on a new restaurant review. They want me to fly to Vegas for the weekend to try it. “It sounds like a dream,” I told him, “I’d love nothing more than to be paid to travel and write”.

We both laughed and said simultaneously: “I guess the grass is always greener.”

THE PROBLEM: Routines Create Boredom

Owasis confesses “I used to dream of playing a 15 hour session. Now the same thought feels like a prison sentence.”

The problem isn’t that poker became boring, but Owasis became bored of the game.If we do the same thing every day, we are going to get used to it. The challenge then, isn’t to avoid the inevitable, but how to spice things up.

We are beings of routines. They help us in almost every facet of our lives: they increase Productivity makes us more responsible and adds structure to the day helping to get things done. The difficulty lies in not becoming slaves to them.

THE SOLUTION: Creativity

What sets Bridget apart in her job is that she enjoys her work. Her secret? She got creative. Instead of making a mundane black coffee, she sold customers on eclectic inventions.

When learning stops, boredom beings.

In poker this means our decisions become robotic.

Instead of thinking  “I’m supposed to bet the flop, because betting the flop is “standard, ask yourself “why?” By definition doesn’t standard mean that your opponents are expecting it? And if so, could there be merit in doing the opposite?

It’s easy to get creative in a game where no two hands are the same.

Recently, I’ve experimented flat calling with big hands in multi way pots. My thought is: “everyone else raises so I’m going to call.” I’ve found that people don’t give me credit and it throws them off guard.

More, I’m constantly challenging myself by being in new spots that force me to think about the game in ways I never thought possible.


Find someone in your line of work that just can’t get enough of it. Take them to dinner and get inspired. What is it about the way they approach the job that makes it so exciting?

I’ve spent as much time as possible over the last month with my good friend Michael “Play2Kill” Thuritz, a witty, sharp poker player who has an unparalleled passion for the game. It’s no surprise that he’s always one of the most successful at the table. Undoubtedly, the reason is his ideal day consists of 10 hours playing poker.

I was fortunate to watch him play for several hours. It’s not just that he expanded my knowledge of the game, but he challenged what I thought to be true: “If people only call raises with hands that show a profit against you, then why raise in the first place?” Through these simple diversions, poker can become a new game.


I was complaining to my friend about having to play poker when she stopped me, raising her finger. “You don’t have to play,” she corrected me. “You want to play.” Depending on how we approach them, the same two activities can be either painful or pleasurable. “I have to work out today to because I’m fat” and “I’m going to enjoy a swim” both lead to the same result, yet they reveal a very different attitude.

A quick fix: list 10 things about your job that you are grateful for, read it when you get up, and take them to work with you.

Here are my records: Flexibility, entertainment, universality, lucrativeness, challenging, stimulation, ability to influence others, possibility to travel, socialize with interesting people, and it’s kinda badass. The list is growing and constantly changing.


Another exercise I found helpful is called “The Week Leak.” Each week I pick one aspect of my job I want to improve. It can be anything. This week my poker goal is to “clear my mind before each decision.” For my practice, I’m going to make a deep breath and contract my stomach before every action.

Having a focus gives me a purpose for playing. My job has gone from arbitrary to centered because I have a direction and I keep in mind that making money isn’t my job, it’s merely the product of doing it well.

Those who climb the pyramid of success reach the top because of the second level, they are skilled. They are good because of the middle layer, hard work. They work hard because most importantly, they never forget the base, the structure and foundation of everything that rests above it. Passion.

The reason I enjoy what I do so much is because I love the game itself and I love playing. Keep that love alive and the rest will follow.

The grass is plenty green everywhere. It’s right there on our front lawn. Our job is not to step on it.

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  • Andy March 23, 2012 12:03 am

    Nice blog! Inspiring stuff man!

    • Alec March 23, 2012 9:21 am

      Thanks Andy. Much appreciated.

  • Owais Ahmed March 23, 2012 6:48 am

    Good work Alec! The list you wrote kinda lit a fire underneath me. Poker is pretty badass.

    I was talking with one of my friends about my big sticking point. Together we discovered its not poker I hate, but the lack of routine. I hate playing until 8am and throwing my sleep schedule off. We concluded that if I was on a set schedule, left a game at a certain time no matter what EV or how stuck/up I am, I'd be playing more overall.

    I agree that finding new ways to think about the game is the best way to keep at it. I've been experimenting with areas of my own play because it makes it interesting and makes me better.

    When I poised the "When is enough enough?" question, part of it was kinda asking: "You love to write, have you ever thought of taking time off to write a book, article, screenplay, etc – i.e. follow your other passion?"

    Last comment, my name is spelled Owais not Owasis 😛

    • Alec March 23, 2012 9:23 am


      I apologize about the misspelling. I'm glad the blog helped. And again I agree with you, routines are huge.

      I have thought about taking time off to write a book. It's been a dream of mine for too long and it's time I do it. I keep putting it off but I shouldn't. It's close though I know it. Soon…

  • Alec Torelli March 25, 2012 11:20 pm


    I apologize about the misspelling. I'm glad the blog helped. And again I agree with you, routines are huge.

    I have thought about taking time off to write a book. It's been a dream of mine for too long and it's time I do it. I keep putting it off but I shouldn't. It's close though I know it. Soon…

  • nike free sko April 22, 2012 11:44 am

    Nice blog! Inspiring stuff man!

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