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Poker and the invisible hand

Bond18 I’ve referenced ‘the invisible hand’ numerous times before in my blog when discussing poker player’s motivations and their ethics. The term comes from the ‘father of modern economics’ Adam Smith and in his book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” he elaborates on the concept:

“...every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”

So what the hell is this dead guy talking about and what does it have to do with poker? What Smith is saying is that as long as you do what’s good for you economically, you’ll indirectly do what’s good for the economy as a result, whether you intended to or not.

The reason I constantly reference this in regards to poker is because this game of ours is the ultimate embodiment of Adam Smiths capitalism, at least when it comes to personal mind set. A poker player’s single goal is to increase his own wealth and in his own community he has no responsibilities and concerns outside of that. Every poker player knows this, even if he isn’t fully aware of it. Essentially, our ‘community’ is a bunch of people whose entire goal is to break each other for their own personal gain. Mix that in with the high amount of players who are already unethical and willing to truly do whatever it takes to get the money, and it becomes rather difficult to compose a true poker community that’s interested in what’s best for the game as a whole.

As a result I’ve been questioning my own motivation for what I’m doing. I used to play only because I loved the grind and that’s how I wanted to spend my time, and although that’s true to this day I’m increasingly thinking about dollars and cents. Maybe that’s because of the economy and maybe it’s because I’m getting older and realizing I need to plan for the future or perhaps just a result of having played for so long. Am I doing the writing because I enjoy it, or because I enjoy the attention it creates? I know that when I do my writing out of necessity and not because I feel like it the quality drops off considerably as I witnessed during the later stages of my Around the World in 90 Days blog. I wonder if I write things that I consider ‘good for the game’ because I’m actually interested in doing good or simply like the idea that I can show off knowledge. As pretentious as it sounds, I think self reflection and assessment is important in order to ‘keep it real’.

Every now and then a thread will pop up on the forums with a title like “Is XXXXX good for the game?” with ‘X’ being a player, a program, or any number of other things that have recently attained a lot of attention. What their truly asking is “Will X generate more fish and therefore increase my bottom line?” As far as I can tell in my experience there are very few people in the industry (both players and businessmen) who actually give a fuck about the game. What I mean is, most people I’ve run across in this game, were they given the opportunity to do something unethical and damaging to the game but extremely profitable for themselves and with a low chance that they get caught, would leap on that opportunity. That’s just the way our game is and what happens when it’s based on the invisible hand mentality running at max capacity. There are plenty of exceptions on both sides, but much like my fellow blogger Dr. Pauly I’ve become increasingly disgusted with the industry around me over time.

Not that I’ll do anything about it though, because according to Mr. Smith, I’ve got myself to look out for.


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