On Gurdjieff, Poker, and the Importance of Doing Nothing

by D. J. McAdam


G. I. Gurdjieff, the Armenian-Russian mystic, passed away in 1949, well before the advent of online poker; whether or not he ever played the non-virtual form of the game is a question which I cannot answer.  But Gurdjieff and poker were very much on my mind last night.

The event which caused my musing was a freeroll poker tournament on UltimateBet.net.  Freerolls are precisely what they sound like - tournaments one enters for free, with the hope of winning some prize offered by the sponsor.  In this case, the tournament was open to the first 3,500 players who registered, and the prize was a chance to play in a semi-final qualifying tournament at some future date.  Should one win the semi-final, he would then play in the final and, were he to win that, secure a seat in a major tournament in Aruba. 

An important point to consider is that no cash prizes were offered.  The top fifty players simply won seats in the upcoming semi-final game.  To win the prize, one had to remain in the tournament until only fifty players were left.  Whether one finished first or fiftieth (ranked by chip count, since the game stopped when only fifty players remained) was inconsequential.

The game began at 9 pm Mountain Time and, as one might expect, a large number of players disappeared within the first hour.  Freerolls encourage that sort of behavior.  It has been remarked elsewhere that poker, unless played for money, makes no sense as a game. 

After the first hour, folks got a bit more serious, and the tournament ultimately went on for over four and a half hours.  During the last hour - and certainly during the last half hour - one pretty much knew where one stood.  The poker site provides continually updated information on how many players remain, and where one stands, so I know that at some point I was in 39th place, with only 57 players remaining.  Given the prize structure, my wisest course of action was to do nothing.

This is where Gurdjieff comes in.  I was never overly involved in Gurdjieff's philosophy, and do not recall reading any of his books, but I did, back in the 1970's or 1980's, come across a rather obscure book entitled, I thought, In the Footsteps of Gurdjieff, written by a Frenchman whose name I cannot now recall.  Indeed, I'm not even convinced that that was the actual title, since I now find no reference to the book anywhere, but reading it did have the happy result of encouraging within me an interest in Sufism. 

Although knowing little about Gurdjieff's teachings, one quote from him has stayed with me, and I have often given it as advice to others:

"When there is nothing to do, do nothing."

As a side note, I've consequently seen the quote ascribed to Warren Buffett.  Is Buffett a follower of Gurdjieff?  It's an interesting question, but I digress . . .

Back at the tournament, you will recall, only 57 players remained.  Seven unlucky ones would go away empty-handed, after four hours of effort, and the remaining fifty would earn the right to play in a higher qualifier.  UltimateBet has ten players at each table, so there were six tables.  The tournament chip leader was at my table, with a huge stack of chips, say 600,000, compared to my paltry 48,000.  Most players at the table had more chips than I did, including one whose name I cannot accurately recall, except that it was Big Somebody, like Big Ed or Big Al or Big Horace, but there was more to the name than that, so don't sue me if your screen handle begins with the word, "Big." 

Anyway, Big Whatever-The-Heck-His-Name-Was had about 200,000 chips.  You don't need an advanced degree in mathematics to figure out that if the best strategy for me was to do nothing, then that had to be the best strategy for anyone with more chips than I had.  All Big Whatever-The-Heck-His-Name-Was had to do was to sit on his hands and wait for seven other players to go out.  Which he did not do, instead choosing to go all in against the chip leader. 

You can probably guess the outcome.  I made it into the top 50, and will be playing in the semi-final.  Big Whatever-The-Heck-His-Name-Was did not.


We've all done this in life at some point, haven't we?  We've all had moments when things would have worked out so much better had we simply done nothing, or simply said nothing. 

How successful might we be if we simply make up our minds to do only those things that further our goals, and to abstain from doing those things that do not!  It sounds like the easiest rule in the world to follow.  It is not, but it is worth trying, and trying again. 

"When there is nothing to do, do nothing."



  D J McAdam.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission. 



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