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Sun Tzu, Hamlet, and Bruce Lee

You have probably already read Super System by Doyle Brunson-the book poker players like to call "The Bible." I'm sure you've also read the followup titled Super System 2, along with the Theory of Poker by David Sklansky and anything written by Dan Harrington. I always recommend those books to novice players but I also give them a few non-poker titles, because there are many valuable lessons that poker players can learn by reading them. Here are three books that you might like...

1. Art of War by Sun Tzu was written in the 6th century B.C., yet some of Sun Tzu's military strategies and tactics are stilled employed to this day by both the military and astute businessmen. Sun Tzu stressed the role of positioning in strategy, which is affected by both the environment and the subjective opinions of the combatants involved. His philosophy was that proper strategy required quick responses to ever changing conditions. Sun Tzu said, "All warfare is based on deception." That is one his most valuable pieces of wisdom, which I think about every time I sit down at the tables. If Sun Tzu played online poker, my guess is that he would crush the game.

2. The Warrior Within: Philosophies of Bruce Lee by John Little, is a book that I have written about in a previous column. The Warrior Within is one of the more influential books that I have read in the last couple of years, because it helped me to focus on knowing myself and exploring my limitations. Most people view Bruce Lee as just a kung fu actor and overlook his attempt to apply Eastern philosophy to Western living, which is chronicled in the book. Throughout his life, Lee formulated a complex personal philosophy that celebrated the virtues of knowledge and complete mastery of one's self. His most influential sections deal with the ability to defeat adversity by adapting to circumstances, which is something that every poker player has to apply to their game. As a kung fu instructor, Lee didn't specifically teach his style of fighting; rather he encouraged his students to find themselves.

Lee is who he is because he was not copying anyone else. He evolved into his own person. He was never fond of styles, because he felt that they prohibited true expression. It was important to learn technique but not as important as learning about yourself.

3. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is one of his most celebrated plays. I have a morbid fascination with Hamlet and have spent many late nights pondering the actions of the indecisive 30-year old Danish prince and what lessons could be learned from his mistakes. Hamlet is the most compelling character in all of literature. This is a guy wrought with emotional conflict and guilt due to his inaction.

He knows that his Uncle Claudius killed his father and yet he's slow to avenge his murder. The conflicted Hamlet accidentally killed Polonius, the father of his girlfriend Ophelia, who in turn committed suicide by drowning herself which triggered the series of events climaxing with one of the most brutal endings in the history of storytelling. The story of Hamlet had existed for many years before Shakespeare penned it four hundred years ago. He was the first to adapt the legend of Hamlet and he turned it into one of his most famous pieces of work. The themes that Shakespeare touched on four centuries ago still hold today in an extremely dissonant world.

Inaction and slow decision making are personality flaws that best describe Hamlet. He was doomed from the start and if you carry around those two traits in your emotional baggage, then you're doomed as well.

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