Evolution of Ape to Man; Poker Evolution from Fish to Shark

Posted by Lee Davy, August 27, 2014

If poker is a microcosm of life then the evolution of poker follows the same process of natural selection. Evolution of ape to man has been dissected and discussed to death. But the evolution from fish to shark - where only those most adaptable to change will make it through the process of poker evolution - now that’s a subject that is rarely explored.

Frontispiece to Huxley's ''Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature'' (1863), comparing the skeletons of various apes to that of man

As the Royal Navy’s Cherokee-class 10-gun brig sloop cut through the Pacific Ocean, history was about to be re-written. Her name was the HMS Beagle and on board was the young English naturalist Charles Darwin. A by-product of the evolution of ape to man.

Throughout the next five years Darwin would observe, capture and catalogue a host of species that would later turn into a form of evolutionary theory that would threaten to bring down the very foundation of religion: Natural Selection.

It’s not the top of the deck that concerns us today; however, instead we focus on the activity that hurries about haphazardly around the great hull of the HMS Beagle. We focus on the fish. The open mouthed, gawkers who sift around the scum strewn over the ocean floor. The fish that one day dream of being sharks.


Life begins at the kitchen table. It’s the once a week visit that you dread. Grandma’s stubble cuts into your skin as she plants a kiss with a vigorous side-to-side shake, before placing the mask of the nebulizer back onto her face. She sounds like Darth Vader. You start wondering if she has a robotic heart.

She is drinking gin & tonic. Grandad is sitting next to her. He wears a Dai Cap and never says much apart from ‘pass me the whiskey’. Smoking is still deemed ‘normal’ and he puffs away like a dragon. His spindly fingers are stained yellow. His nails as long as chop sticks.

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Everyone has a clear plastic bag containing bronze coins. Mum kindly loans you some of hers and you pay her back after cleaning house. The game is Gin Rummy and you like it because you keep winning. That’s all you remember from the beginnings of time. That and the fact that your Grandad always smelled of piss.

The evolutionary path of the poker player takes you to the pub. You are older now. Natural Selection has done its job. Grandma and Grandad are in a hole in the ground. The nebulizer is on eBay, and the bag of bronze coins has morphed into ones of silver.

Evolution even affects the structure of the game. Gin Rummy has gone the way of the Dodo. It’s Shoot the Pool and Three-Card Brag that are the games of choice today. It’s the first time that this little fishy meets other fish of the same ilk. All fair and square. But natural selection is busy as a bee. You just can’t see the dance. It evades the glare of your eye.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one that is the most adaptable to change”

The famous quote from Darwin needs to be re-written when playing Three-Card Brag.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one with the most money.”

strongest survive

You learn a very important lesson. You suddenly realize that this game has more people than it really needs. Evolution kicks in. Some bags get smaller, and some start breaking at the seams. The runts die and you don’t. You started bringing more money than everyone else. You smelled the weakness. It filled your nostrils and brought a smile to your face.

There is always a game in the corner of the pub. There is an invisible line that prevents anyone from entering without invite. Bags of silver are not allowed past this line. It's gold and paper notes that exchange hands here.

You have learned from those you have buried. Your fins have started to flap, and one day you fly out of the sea and land in the middle of this game. Three-Card Brag is gone. No-Limit Texas Hold’em is being played and you are not even in Texas.

It only takes a few minutes and your bag is empty. They are laughing at you, but at the same time you get a few pats on the back. For some reason you feel like you have evolved, but the fact you have just lost all of your money stings like a dose of the clap.

Then something strange happens.

The next time you are in the pub they beckon you into the forbidden corner. You have no money, but you are given some on tick. You don’t want to refuse so you accept the money. This happens quite regularly, before things start to change. You stop drinking, but they drink more. You start folding with the frequency of a child in art class. Each time you enter a pot you have a stronger hand. Then one day they don’t beckon, and you don’t come. It’s no bother. You flap those wings and the next time you open your eyes you are in the casino.

You play in the tournament because your friends do. Secretly you want to get knocked out so you can play in the cash games. The cool people play in the cash games. This fish wants to evolve into one that’s cool.

You have started to read some poker books. Dan Harrington has given you the secrets to NLHE, Doyle Brunson has given you his Super System and Phil Hellmuth has told you how to play poker like the pros, although you suspect he might have been tripping on acid when he wrote that shit.

You pay more attention to your opponent’s. You have learned that Doggy Style is not the only important position in life. You look left when everyone else looks right. You peel back those cards only when you have to. You look around the table and you can see the theory of evolution. You know who is strong and who is weak. You are adapting to change. You are Charles Darwin’s theory in motion.

From the Evolution of Poker video

There is a big bang.

It’s 2003 and the fish spawn at a rate that has never before been seen.

Shake your Moneymaker.

You bid farewell to the casino, your bags full of cash crushing the bones of the dead. You lock yourself in your room and fire up tables quicker than your girlfriend trades insults. One, two, three, four, five, six….it doesn’t stop. You learned that rake back is more important than win rate. Who cares if you win? Just keep chucking in the hours and the online gods will reward you.

You have joined an online training forum. You watch the sharks as they devour schools of fish, teachers and chalkboards. The sound of the teeth on the black makes you cringe. But you are learning. You are evolving. Your new teeth have been seen before by Pliny the Elder. You are starting to become a new species. Your gut is full to the brim with fish. The fish that failed to adapt. The ones still playing poker like the pros.

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You start to recognize other predators. You tangle with some. You get bitten. The scarlet red chum fills the blue, fish dart in for a taste and they get gobbled up. You retreat into your own dark cave. You watch more training videos. Your books have changed and you now read Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker and wonder what it would be like to be a Buddhist?

When you emerge you have adapted once more. The evolution of poker takes another twist. You don’t bite the predator again. Instead you just focus on the fish. Nobody says anything. Nobody talks. There are no rules, but everyone knows. Keep away from the sharks and just chow down on the fish.

Time passes. The oceans start to dry up. You cough on fish bones as they stick in your craw. You remember your Grandma warning you that you could die if you didn’t pay attention when eating a kipper. You think of a kipper. You think of your Grandad.

There is no choice. You have to take a bite of a shark. If you don’t, you will die. You look in the mirror and you can see your ribs. You can walk on snow and not leave a footprint. Evolution is challenging you. If you don’t grab a glove and slap it across the face quickly you will be no more. It’s time to adapt. It’s time to replace the teeth that keep shedding.

You hire a personal coach. One of the best in the business. He is a shark and he teaches you to be a shark too. You start using a HUD, you increase tables and your shifts start to resemble scenes out of the Matrix. Cards are dealt, chips are scattered and you just see blips and dots. But it all makes sense. In real time it’s all a bit Billy Whizz, but through your eyes everything is slo-mo. Neo is getting shot and he’s dodging everything.

The fish evolved as do you. Only these fish have money. They remind you of the early days in the pub when the man with the most money always won the game of Three Card Brag. Only in this game that doesn’t happen. They lose, they reload, they lose, they reload, they lose, and they reload. It’s like an arcade game. Numbers rack up on your screen. You keep searching for the free lives, but you don’t really get them in this game. You only get one life. The life of a shark.

chow down on the fish

You are now reading The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler. You are working out twice a day. You learned Transcendental Meditation from the guy who taught The Beatles. You play The White Album tell those who asked that it’s great, but secretly you think of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and want to consume the same drugs they did.

You cut out the red meat, the sugar is dropped, dairy is no more, oil is for wimps, fried food is forgotten and alcohol is a thing of the past. You only eat fish, sharks and the occasional whale. You love whale. The blubber. The fat juicy blubber.

Charles Darwin’s expedition on the HMS Beagle was meant to last two years. Instead it took five. But it ended. As all-good things do. It ended. And so your evolutionary tale comes to a close. A journey of natural selection that saw you climb the evolutionary ladder from fish to shark.

Now you wonder what’s next?

And so you swim around and wait for the next new limb to grow.

Evolution of poker: from ape to man, from fish to shark


Lee Davy

Lee Davy is a professional life coach who helps people with their addictions at In his spare time he is a writer and poker enthusiast.


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Further Reading:  

Titan Poker Benefits
Get Amazing Benefits by Signing Up

Poker and the Bible

texas hold'em

Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

poker better than sex

Why Poker Is Better than Sex


Previous articles by Lee Davy:

How Decision Paralysis Affects the Games of Beginners

How to Take Charge of Your Poker Resistance

What Online Poker Can Teach You about Self-Esteem

This Kid Called Lonely

The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Professional Poker Player


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