Choosing Reading over Chess and Poker

It’s quite horrifying to fully accept that we have limited time. Everyone is aware of this in the abstract, but most people aren’t concretely incorporating this knowledge into their life plans. To do so is unpleasant. To do so is to stare death in the face and accept our own mortality. Yet, it is only by acting on this fact that we can make the most fulfilling lives for ourselves.

Certain things are substitutes. While one is there, the other one can’t be. While you’re eating a pizza, you can’t be eating a cheesecake. Conversely when you’re eating a cheesecake you can’t be eating a pizza. I suppose you could try by rolling up a piece of cheesecake in a slice of pizza, but the sum of this experience would be less than the parts and could even be unpleasant. Just like when I read and play poker at the same time, bouncing distractedly between the two and doing a poor job of either.

For a while now, I’ve been trying to decide between chess, poker, or reading. I feel like a can’t do all three. I only have so much time that I can enjoyably sit in a day. Even if I was able to happily sit all day long doing these types of activities, it wouldn’t be healthy, because reality has it’s own demands that must be attended to. I like to cook my own meals, and have nice clean clothes organized, and have a positive cash flow while preserving my autonomy. Things like that.

I was recently listening to a podcast featuring poker champion Mike Matusow. In it, he unconcernedly mentioned that he didn’t know where his gold WSOP bracelets were, that they were in a box somewhere and that his girlfriend kept track of the house. I also recently watched a livestream of a famous international chess master playing online blitz. The stream had two windows, in one was the 2D chessboard where he played his games, full of impressive and quickly executed tactics and mating attacks. In the other window was the International Master himself. He was unshaven and wearing a sweatshirt. In the background was a messy living room.

It would be one thing if we lived in a utopia where nothing bad ever happens. Then neglecting reality wouldn’t matter so much. As it is, this world can be rather vicious and small problems have a way of turning into bigger ones quickly. Also I’ve discovered that primarily my happiness depends on how well I’m able to have conquest over the real world, to keep on top of things in reality.

That’s why I’ve chosen reading as my intellectual pursuit, it’s a meta-skill and I believe will provide me the most benefit in my actual life. Poker is a meta-skill as well, teaching as it does math, emotional intelligence, people reading, etc, however these things can be learned better from books specifically devoted to them. It is true that poker provides a field of real life practice but the time sink is far too high for what you get. Most of the time in poker you’re not even in the hands being played. I even heard Phil Laak say that poker players don’t have time to do anything else. Chess is the opposite of a meta-skill, there is nothing in chess, not the tactical motifs, the endgame technique, and especially not the opening theory, that has one shred of anything to do with the real world.

That’s why I’ve chosen reading. For now on, I will be completely focused on that as my intellectual pursuit. I also plan to add some word puzzles, vocab and analogy tests, etc into the mix. I’ve taken quite a liking to etymology lately. Also history. It seems as if history is one epic story, the more you learn of it the more enjoyable it gets, and I like seeing it from the viewpoints of different authors approaching it from different aspects. Like Peter Bernstein in his The Power of Gold, approaching it from the aspect of this precious metal.

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