The Tao of Poker

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yin and yang of poker
At first I was almost as shocked and astonished as you were when I came across this title. But once the initial shock passed, I did some impromptu research and found out that The Tao of Poker is a book written by Larry W. Phillips. The subtitle of the book is “285 rules to transform your game and your life”. Larry W. Phillips has also authored another book titled Zen and the Art of Poker – his first literary attempt – where he tried to explore the relationship between poker and Zen Buddhism.

Any poker fanatic who has delved into the depths of this game must have felt the connection between philosophy and poker. I know I do. And so I thought it would be interesting to read how the author combines the Chinese concept of “Tao” with the game of poker. But before moving onto that topic, let me first explain to the uninitiated what Taoism actually is all about.


In English, the word Tao roughly signifies the path or the way. The problem is, it is very difficult to describe the concept of Taoism in words because you have to live it in order to understand it. In Chinese culture, it is believed that there is a power or a kind of energy that flows through and surrounds everything on earth, whether living or non living. Taoism is represented by the symbol of yin-yang, or in other words, the balance of the universe. The Tao regulates this balance of the universe.

The Tao of Poker

Anyway, you don’t really need to worry so much if you feel you have not completely grasped the concept of Tao as long as you’re not a stranger to the topic. The book just touches on the surface of the philosophy of Taoism anyway, and is in no way directly related to the philosophy itself. However, if you read through this book, you will find several mentions of very famous quotations made by celebrated philosophers like Lao Tzu who founded Taoism.

Another point to note is that the author does not really discuss many poker strategies in this book. This means, if you are searching for a book that will help you develop and sharpen your poker strategies and skills, you will have to look elsewhere. Obviously, the question on your mind is why you should even purchase such a book on poker in the first place? Here’s the answer:

USP of The Tao of Poker

Reading through this book will help you better understand how our everyday lives are affected by poker. The rules of poker laid out in this book will enable you improve your concentration and help you play the best game you can. And this book is very different from the types of poker manuals churned out by the likes of Doyle Brunson or David Sklansky.

That brings us to the next question: how is this book different from the usual ‘improve your poker strategy’ books? In his book, Larry Phillips enters into a deep discussion on the philosophical aspects of playing poker. He also explains how you can better those intangible aspects of your game that you will never find in any other book.

The author has distributed his 285 rules over some 27 chapters and each of these rules or tips aim at assisting you in achieving self improvement. Quotations are borrowed from a whole wide cross section of people such as gamblers, poker gurus, writers, coaches, celebrities, businessmen and professional athletes. Sometimes, the author has also borrowed the words of Mike Caro, David Mamet, Warren Buffet, Phil Jackson, Sun Tzu, and other such notable personalities.

Early Chapters

In the early few chapters of his book, you will find discussions on bluffing, the virtue of patience, control and betting, how to make correct decisions, how to improve the rhythm of your game and other such concepts. He also hammers a lot on ‘knowing thyself’.

Middle Chapters

The chapters towards the middle concentrate on topics like detachment, how to maintain your calm, how to avoid traps, body language, table image and so on. You are sure to find the random tips on low limit games very interesting. The author has also briefly touched on subjects like the fatigue factor, practice, schooling and cold, and losing streaks.

You will also find plenty of helpful reminders all through the book such as, “good players let you win small pots,” or “Don’t arrive over eager to play,” this is because when you become over excited and work yourself up to frenzy even before hitting the poker table; it drains you out of a lot of energy that is required for sustaining you through the actual game.

Larry Phillips has offered a lot of good advice on the subject of avoiding tilt as well. Most poker enthusiasts, including me, will perhaps not agree with all of his views on tilting and how to make players stay at tilting. But on the whole, his tips and observations are extremely interesting and may help you quite a bit.

Last Chapters

He has reserved the last few chapters for over viewing and summarizing. Perhaps the most interesting and likeable part of this book is the one full in-depth chapter on online poker – something that is very rare to find in other books.


What I didn’t like about Larry Phillips’ approach is that it is very clear from his writing style that he is no philosopher. And sometimes his attempts at explaining difficult philosophical ideas may come across as juvenile or superficial.


Despite some of its shortcomings, The Tao of Poker acts as an excellent guide for poker players who are interested in something refreshingly new and different from the usual tips you receive on poker everywhere. This book attempts to push you towards the path of building a sound emotional foundation, because that is the basis of a successful and winning poker player.

The Tao of Poker teaches you how you must find your own way in poker – a.k.a. the tao of poker – so that you can strike a fine balance between simultaneous awareness of your surroundings and 100% detachment from all sentiments and emotions.

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