World Series of Poker Europe

The Poker Shrink, Vol 44 -- Gall's Law

The Poker Shrink, Vol 44 -- Gall's Law 0001

"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system."

This has become known as Gall's Law and can be found in the book Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail. It would seem rather intuitive that any complex system would have begun as a simple system; however, that is what we often call evolutionary thinking, which means we assume things evolve naturally. We know, of course, that many things do not evolve, but rather are created by humans and often created to the specifications of other humans... or worse yet — a committee!

In business projects, particularly software projects, Gall's Law is an argument in favor of underspecification. When making a design specification, for example, keep it simple. Design something simple, and if and when it works, you can add more bells and whistles. In fact, if you design to a baseline concept, you will often find that systems, product lines, etc. will grow on their own. They do indeed evolve!

If, however, you construct a very complex system, then you are likely find that not only does it not do what it was meant to do, but you also cannot fix it. Take your poker game.

Is there a lot of fancy play in your game? Is it working? If not, let me ask this: Did you ever have a basic poker game that worked? Or perhaps did you read a lot of books, watch a lot of television poker and lose a lot of money?

Poker games are built, not bought or learned or created in seven days. If you are not winning at poker (be honest with yourself) than ask the very simple question: "When was I last a winning player? Was there a basic game that was uniquely my own and was a winning game?"

Examples of complex losing games are the previously mentioned 'Fancy-Play Syndrome,' the 'Always Slow Play' and the 'Constant Trapper,' not to mention the 'Maniac' and the 'Loose-Aggressive Forever' strategies. Gall's Law suggests that 'fixing' these games may not be the way to go, and in fact, it may be impossible. You have two choices for rebuilding your game.

#1: If you had a winning game at one time, then you need to literally go back to that game. Identify and strip away all the add-ons that have crippled your game and begin again. This process is difficult because it requires you to actually remember what worked and then to locate all of the potentially winning strategies that you have added that instead created a complex and losing system.

There are practically no poker players who can do this alone, even with great session notes. You need a coach or a poker buddy to do the analysis with you. Then you have to play some poker without resorting to all of those losing tricks you have 'learned'. Remember that in and of themselves these are not losing strategies; it is only the complex game system that you have constructed around them that has become severely broken. Often the task is too difficult to consider, or as Gall suggests: "A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work."

#2: In this case, your best course of action is to start over. 'Back to the basics' is a well-known phrase because it so often is the correct course of action. As Gall reminds us: "You have to start over with a working simple system."

To make this less of a painful task, answer this question honestly: Did you ever have a simple, working, functioning, winning poker game? If you did, then at what level and with what bankroll? Sure, it's hard to start over with the basics, but if you have never actually had the basics in your game then it's not really starting over, is it? And is playing a basic poker game really harder to do than sitting at the higher-limit tables and losing session after session after session?

Your call, but Gall says: "Keep it simple, stupid." Oh, wait, that might have been Zippy.

What do you think?

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