40 Poker Tips From Sun Tzus Art of War

Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military tacitian.  His military strategy masterpiece, Art of War ($2.99), has some pretty solid advice for poker players.  Here are 40 great poker tips from Sun Tzu:


  1. All warfare is based on deception.
  2. When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
  3. Hold out baits to entice the enemy.  Feign disorder and crush him.
  4. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.
  5. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage simulated weakness postulates strength.
  6. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards, emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.

Table Selection

  1. Attack him where is unprepared; appear where you are not expected.
  2. Take advantage of the enemys unreadiness, make your way by the unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
  3. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.  If he is in superior strength, evade him.
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
  5. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
  6. The rule is not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.
  7. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
  8. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
  9. A clever general avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish.
  10. No ruler should put his troops in the field to gratify his own spleen.
  11. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.
  12. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

Psychology & Tilt

  1. If your opponent is hot-tempered, seek to irritate him.  Pretend to be weak and he may grow arrogant.
  2. The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemys will to be imposed on him.
  3. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to move.
  4. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst th enemy this is the art of retaining self-discipline.
  5. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.
  6. Tactical maneuvering consists of turning the devious into the direct, and the misfortune into gain.
  7. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.
  8. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished this is the art of husbanding ones strength.
  9. Dangerous faults which may affect a general: Recklessness, cowardice, hasty temper, delicacy of honor (which is sensitive to shame).
  10. It is only if one is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that care thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
  11. When a fire breaks out inside to enemys camp, respond at once with an attack from without.


  1. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
  3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
  4. He wins the battle by making no mistakes.  Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
  5. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts.  Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.
  6. A kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

General Poker Strategy

  1. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
  2. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shauai-jan.  Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the ChUng mountains.  Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.


  1. By consistently hanging on the enemys flank, we shall succeed in the long run in the killing the commander-in-chief.
  2. The general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not what what to defend; and he is skillful in defense who opponent does not know what to attack.
  3. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.

You thought the competition was horrible in 2004?  If poker was around, I bet Sun Tzu would crush souls in 544 B.C


About a week ago, I made a mistake at $200NL HU vs. Smokin Mokin (a breakeven reg).  Heres the hand in question.

Hero (BB) ($200)
Button ($245)

Preflop: Hero is BB with 8♦, 6♦
Button bets $6, Hero calls $4

Flop: ($12) Q♦, 6♠, 9♦ (2 players)
Hero checks, Button bets $8, Hero raises to $30, Button calls

Turn: ($72) J♠ (2 players)
Hero checks, Button bets $55.55, Hero calls

River: ($183.1) 5♣ (2 players)
Hero bets $108.45 (all-in)

My line makes no sense.  In retrospect, there are 2 ways I couldve played this hand.  With a gutshot, flush draw, and a pair on the turn I could lead and call a shove or checkfold the river if I didnt improve.  I messed up pretty bad, but we all make mistakes at the poker table. Winners learn from their mistakes. Losers dont.

Its really important to acknowledge your mistakes, but not dwell on the them.  Dwelling on mistakes makes you lose confidence in your game, go on tilt, etc.  I try to hold my head up high when I mess up.  Im not ashamed or embarrassed.  As Emmitt Smith once said, I may win and may lose, but I will never be defeated.

Your Brain On Tilt

Emotional control is what makes good poker players great. Heres an amazing 2+2 post about tilt by mental game coach Jared Tendler. And just in case you missed it, heres my writeup from a while back about controlling tilt.

The Only Reason Tilt Happens
Republished with permission from Jared Tendler

Tilt is a consequence of the brain’s response to a threat. This response has developed over the past 300+ million years and at this point in evolution, a threat does not have to be real physical danger; psychological threats are treated in the exact same way. This part of your brain is so old it doesn’t know the difference. The hundred’s of reasons poker players use to explain why Tilt happens are all examples of psychological threats and are not the cause. Calling a bad beat or being bluffed off the best hand a threat may sound a bit extreme, but the brain’s emotional system doesn’t view it as rationally as we can right now; although neither do you when it happens.

The brain responds to a threat by increasing emotion in proportion to the perceived significance of that threat. When emotions rise to your threshold, which is the point when the brain takes direct action against the threat, higher brain functions are systematically reduced in proportion to the level of emotion. The loss of higher brain functions like: self control, rational thought, logic, perception of self and other, organization, planning, strategy, mental manipulation of information, and others are the hallmark characteristics of Tilt. If the brain didn’t respond to a threat by shutting down these functions, your emotions could be completely out of control and you would still play great; Tilt would not exist.

The sobering reality is that you have absolutely no control over this process. When emotions rise to threshold, the response taken by the brain happen every time, guaranteed (assuming there isn’t actual brain damage). Knowing the brain has limitations is important, because just like in poker, information determines course of action.

Implications at the Poker Table
Some of you will immediately reduce the incidence of Tilt just by knowing what you can and cannot expect to be able to do on Tilt or during the emotional build up to Tilt. Since there is no more ambiguity, there is no reason to fight against it by trying to think rationally when it is neurologically impossible.

For many of you good information isn’t enough, and if you are serious about preventing or eliminating Tilt from your game, there are only two legitimate options. (1) Prevent emotions from crossing threshold and you never experience Tilt again; (2) Train poker skills to such a habitual or instinctual level that emotions cannot affect them. To a certain extent all of you have trained some skills to that level and seasoned pros have trained most of them, which is one reason why they Tilt infrequently. This option is complex and requires either years of experience or use of high performance training. The first option follows.

Prevention Strategy #1: Short-term
Preventing Tilt requires that you have accurate and specific information about how you Tilt. Thankfully, like any neurological pattern it happens in predictable ways and for predictable reasons. Some know these reasons immediately, others will have to gather some information first. Here is what’s important when organizing this information into a preventative strategy.

Step 1
List the things, actions, situations, etc that cause your emotions to rise; essentially what puts you on Tilt or get you close. These are called Triggers. They can be caused by you, other players, and by factors outside of poker. Be specific and list as many as you can. Analyze the list of Triggers by emphasizing the 3 or 4 that, (1) happen most often, and (2) cause the greatest emotional response.

Step 2
List the things that you do, think or feel in response to a trigger. These are called Tendencies and they are another way to know emotions are on the rise or that you’re on Tilt. Tendencies can be anything from, increased breathing and heart rate, shoving chips without thinking, aggressive calls, feeling shell shocked, heating up inside, convincing yourself everything is fine, making quick decisions, mind going completely blank, and many others. When analyzing the list of Tendencies, identify your threshold. Threshold is the amount of emotion you can manage while maintaining the higher brain functions listed earlier. Identifying threshold takes a bit of work, but the idea is to know the specific tendencies that show up when you’re getting close to it and when you’ve crossed it.

Step 3
Develop a strategy to prevent crossing your threshold. To do this you take direct immediate action when emotions increase close to threshold. The consequences are too severe to ignore, so do whatever you can to stop your emotions from increasing further. There are many effective methods that players and authors have written about, and you may already have some that work well. Two ways that I often recommend, are (1) taking three slow deep breaths into your stomach (not chest), which is a great option because it is unlikely anyone at the table will know; (2) create a positive trigger with something like a piece of gum, or most anything that carries the intent of calming down. What you do to stop your emotions matters less than you actually stopping them. Whatever your strategy, write it on a note card and bring it with you every time you play. Rehearse the strategy so you know it well enough that when emotions start to block thinking, you know what to do.

A preventative strategy is a work in progress. Don’t bog yourself down by trying to make it perfect the first time, nor should you be too relaxed about rehearsing it. Make a good first attempt and update the strategy after you see how well it works or when you identify new Triggers or Tendencies. It’s important to keep in mind that this is not a quick fix, it is challenging and takes effort. You also will likely falter several times before you find a preventative strategy that works.

Prevention Strategy #2: Long-term
It is quite common that preventing Tilt using strategy #1 is too difficult for a couple reasons. First, emotions build up over a period of time, dropping the threshold and making relatively small increases in emotion enough to Tilt. This is true both within a session and over sustained periods of running poorly. The second reason is that at this point in your poker career, some threats may be so significant that they hit without notice and put you on Tilt immediately. There are a few psychological techniques that reduce the amount of emotion generated by a single trigger and reduce accumulated emotion from multiple triggers.

The first technique is called Systematic Desensitization (SD). SD has been around for years and can be self administered; it just takes a bit of training. I’ll be releasing a video on Stoxpoker.com that trains you to do it. The other technique is called EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) and requires that you see a therapist that is trained in EMDR. EMDR can be very successful for those with severe Tilt. There is plenty of information available on the web if you want to know more, but it bears mentioning so you know the options is available

Tilt is a hardwired pattern and it isn’t going away without a fight. With sustained effort the preventive strategies outlined here are highly effective in preventing and perhaps even eliminating Tilt altogether.

Jared Tendler, MS, LMHC, is the newest member of the StoxPoker.com coaching staff. You can contact him at jared@jaredtendlergolf.com.

The Biggest Mistake of All

To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.
– Peter McWilliams

Youll never be a great poker player if you avoid difficult situations.  The more you get challenged, the more youll think and adjust, and the better player youll become.  The great thing about heads up is that it puts you in tough spots way more often than 6max or full ring games.

Youre first priority should not be making money.  It should be becoming a better player.  The money will come eventually.

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