Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How fencing is like poker

When I was in High School (That's the stone age to you Matty Ebs!), I was a fencer. No, that doesn't mean I put wooden posts in the ground. I was on the fencing team, which is the sport that involves stabbing and slashing people for points. How could I refuse? I was actually pretty good at it. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I was 155 pounds as a senior and flexible. After 3 years on the fencing team, I could do a full split, which was useful for getting very low in your lunges. This is an advantage because the lower your blade is in the angle of attack on your opponent's torso, the harder it is for them to parry your thrust. I was good enough at the sport to be scouted by a few college teams. I was one point shy of winning the Nassau County championship, but fate had other plans. I ended up teaching fencing at Hofstra (no fencing scholarship) and it will always be a wonderful part of my past. But that was a long time ago. Now, I'm lucky if I can get out of bed without hurting yet another body part.

At this point in the post you're asking yourself, "Where the fuck is the poker?". It's coming soon. A little more about fencing though. Fencing has been described as "physical chess" because it's very much a mental game. In fact, the rules of fencing dictate that once a parry (block) has been made of an attack, the 'right of way' belongs to the person who made the parry. Meaning that if I parry your attack and imediately start a counter attack (or Riposte as it's called) and you ignore it and start another thrust and both of our blades land at the same time, the point is given to me. Since I had the right of way. Because of this back and forth action where the 'power' is constantly changing, the game has a large mental element to it.

And here's where the poker parallels start. Poker is a fully mental game, though there are some minor physical elements to it as well. The parallels I draw between fencing and poker sit on the shifting of power from player to player, especially in heads up matches. When you are 'first to act' in poker, it is very similar to having 'right of way' in fencing. How you bet and play your hand will, hopefully, drive how your opponent plays. Once a bet is made, your opponent will now try to sieze control with his 'right of way' and make a move. Sometimes they give up. Sometimes they take control. Same as fencing.

As in fencing, it is important in the game of poker to remember how your opponents reacted when you did something. For instance, in fencing, if I make an attack to your leading shoulder, you may parry and then retreat a step. I now have to think about the odds of your doing the same retreat if I try again in the same area or if you will 'change it up' and attempt a riposte on my next lunge. In poker, we catalogue how our opponents react and size up their future actions in much the same way.

Many of the mental moves we make in both sports are similar. Fencing has the feint, which is a physical movement you make hoping to draw your opponent into committing themselves to an action which you already know is coming. For example, if you notice your opponent shifting their weight forward in preparation for a lunge, you may subtly move your lead foot over to the left as if you are heading in that direction. Your opponent, hopefully, will try to lunge where he/she thinks your body will be, but it won't be. When they start their lunge, you will side-step and score a touch on your opponent's now exposed flank. In poker, we call this, 'giving off a false tell'.

The point I'm trying to make is this. We have lots of experiences in our lives to draw on and it behooves each of us to find that which we are good at and apply those lessons to that which we hope to get better at. It's a long journey, but a fun one.

1 comment:

Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

i really liked this post...good stuff and people should read it twice like I did...nuff said...for The Rooster has spoken.