Since Robert Pirsig started the Zen and… craze in the mid-seventies, the public has been inundated with books relating eastern mysticism and everyday western life. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote Zen and the Art of Poker, which applies the principles of this sect of Buddhism to the ultimate game of strategy and deception.
In this book there are five major sections, each of which contain from four to six essays on the application of Zen to the game of poker. There is also an introduction and two appendices, one on Zen and poker tournaments, and one that covers “Zen and Poker Computer Software” and a bibliography. The bibliography refers to a number of good poker books, but mostly contains references for the many Zen quotes that Phillips applies to poker throughout the book.
I’ll give Phillips a great deal of credit. Early in the book he explains some of the inherent contradictions between Zen and poker, including the facts that the poker requires a great measure of aggression, and that the way one measures long term success in poker is by winning tournaments and accumulating money, both very un-Zen-like ideas. In general, these contradictions haven’t stopped the rash of books that lead to even more ludicrous associations, such as, Zen and the Art of Street Fighting and Zenvesting: The Art of Abundance and Managing Money. In fact, Phillips sets these issues aside in an honest manner, and therefore I was willing to give him complete license on this matter throughout the rest of the book.
The author then goes on to explain where Zen is useful in poker, including notions of calmness, not associating result (winning or losing pots) with right action (playing well), and taking a long-term view of the …