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Poker and Philosophy (Popular Culture & Philosophy) [Paperback]

Eric Bronson

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Book Description

28 April 2006 0812695941 978-0812695946 First Printing
Does God play cards with the universe? Do women have better poker faces than men? What's the most existential poker movie ever made? Is life more meaningful when you go all-in? Is online poker really still poker? "Poker and Philosophy ponders these questions and more, pitting young lions against old masters as the brashness of Phil Hellmuth meets the arrogance of Socrates, the recklessness of Doyle Brunson challenges the desperation of Dostoyevsky, and the coolness of Chris Moneymaker takes on the American tradition of capitalist ingenuity. This witty collection of essays demonstrates what serious card sharks have long known: winning big takes more than a good hand and a straight face. Stacking the metaphorical deck with a serious grounding in philosophy is the key to raking it in, because as Machiavelli proved long ago, it's a lot better to be feared than loved, and lying is not the same as cheating.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court Publishing Co ,U.S.; First Printing edition (28 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812695941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812695946
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 17 x 1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,677,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weak in Poker and in Philosophy 6 May 2006
By Jessica Wittmer - Published on
This book, while mildly entertaining in parts, and informative on occasion, is marred by an overall unsophisticated understanding of both poker and philosophy. The blurb on the back cover says "This is post-graduate poker, not for the faint of heart", but the actual content of the book falls far short of this description. Anyone who's read even one good book on poker will be quite disappointed by the poker content of this book. And anyone who's studied a fair amount of academic philosophy would (I hope) be disappointed by the philosophical content of this book. There is _some_ good content -- more on that below -- but most of it is uninformative, silly, and/or wrong.

The most egregious claim in the book is made by multiple authors: they basically claim that they have psychic power to help determine which cards are going to come next. For example, the claim is made in the very first essay, by Michael Ventimiglia:

"I'm convinced that plays I've made based on instinct have proven to be right more often than statistics predict."

He points out that sometimes these judgments based on instinct are a result of getting a read on people,

"But sometimes they're just about which way the wind is blowing, about how the cards are going to fall. I am continually amazed by how often they are right."

Why would someone think something so clearly false? Fortunately, the answer is provided later in the book, in the nice essay by Bassham and Marchese, about how psychological biases can adversely affect one's poker play. As they point out: "research shows that people naturally tend to remember `hits' (occasions when strategies or predictions succeeded) more often than they remember `misses'." Ventimiglia would do well to read their essay.

In addition to major false claims like Ventimiglia's, there are also a number of minor errors that will irritate anyone who understands poker. For example, Kenneth Lucy claims that when you're on a flush draw before the river, there's a 1 in 4 chance of getting a flush, when in fact there's a 1 in 5. Willy Young describes a hand where, after the river, there are four hearts on the board, and you have the 6 of hearts in your hand. He writes "You reach for the pot -- you've got your flush" when in fact it turns out that someone has four of a kind. Well, in addition to worrying about four of a kind, you should be _really_ worried about someone holding a higher heart than your measly 6.

In addition to poker errors, there are philosophy errors too. Don Fallis describes David Lewis's Principal Principle -- that your subjective probabilities should match what you believe the objective probabilities to be -- as "the most famous proposal for exactly how probability should guide one's life". Actually, the Principal Principle has little to do with how probability should guide one's life -- you could have no beliefs about objective probabilities, and hence never utilize the principle, and yet still want to use your subjective probability assignments as a guide to life. This sort of fallacious reasoning leads Fallis to criticize Sklansky in a completely unfair way. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out what's unfair about the criticism -- there's a certain enjoyment that one gets in ferreting out a mistake in someone else's philosophical argument, analogous to the enjoyment one gets in outplaying one's opponent in a game of poker. This is one of the many interesting connections between poker and philosophy that isn't discussed in this book.

I'll close on a positive note. The best essay, in my opinion, is by Brian Huss, about the nature of bluffing. It points out the similarities and differences between bluffing and lying, BS-ing, accepting (in the technical philosophy sense) and fooling yourself. It's a nice piece of conceptual analysis -- probably not worthy of being published in a philosophy journal, but more sophisticated than the other essays in the book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much of either 20 Aug 2006
By aquarices - Published on
I was pretty excited when I saw this book. I've enjoyed other books in the "pop culture meets philosopy" series, especially 'The Simpsons and Philosophy' and 'The Matrix and Philosophy'. But 'Poker and Philosophy' is pretty weak, both on the poker side and the philosophy side. It starts off nice enough, but after further reading it's pretty obvious that this book is light, fluffy and probably only written to capitalize on the recent poker craze. It's also very short compared to the other "...and Philosopy" books. It could be an interesting read for people who get one or the other, like the earlier reviewer who understood philosophy but not poker. But if, like me, you already have read your share of both poker books and philosophy books, you won't learn much from this. You might find it entertaining (I didn't, but some will) but that's about it. Your money is better spent elsewhere. Like at the poker table, perhaps.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poker and Philosophy: What? 18 Oct 2006
By R. Riddle - Published on
I'm a poker player and a former undergraduate philosophy major who always wanted to see if Wittgenstein could knock out Hegel in a five round grudge match. This book is heavier on the philosophy than it is on the poker. If you're looking for insights into playing poker, don't waste your time. Go get any of Brunson's or Cloutier's books and master them. But if you want to laugh and learn a little about philosophy in terms of poker, then read this book.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Surprisingly Good Read 14 May 2006
By Robin Lockerman - Published on
I picked this book up because I so much enjoyed the author's previous book "Baseball and Philosophy." I did not expect much here because I really did not expect that poker would have the same interesting associations with philosophy that baseball clearly has. Boy, was I wrong. The author has done it again! Another great book. Lying, bluffing, Machiavelli, irrationality and Aristotle. They all have something in common, and the fun is in the reading. Bravo to the philosophers. They dealt a royal flush here.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very heavy reading, not useful for poker players 8 Sep 2008
By Carolyn Blacknall - Published on
This book is heavy on philiosphy and has very little of interest to poker players. But it is so heavy that it is slow, difficult reading. I have a masters in engineering and I like philosophy, but not this book. It was like torture going through it, looking for something interesting. If you want to learn poker philosophy, I recommend Doyle Brunson's "Poker Wisdom of a Champion" formerly titled "According to Doyle" which is excellent.
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