10,000 Hours (and Some Thoughts on Internet Poker)


How many hours of deliberate practice are required to prepare you for success?

10,000 hours. That’s 555 days straight with only six hours sleep. Its the equivalent of working an intensely-focused 8 hours per day at your job for five years.

Outliers (book)That’s the summary of research put forth by Malcom Gladwell in Outliers. Gladwell outlines other ingredients, including timing, geography, upbringing, and a modest threshold of success, but the main point he makes is that do something really well, you have to work really, really hard.For that aspect of “success” atleast, 10,000 hours sounds like a reasonable guess.

Online poker’s impact on the poker world is an interesting example of this phenomenon at work. The great poker players of yore (think Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim) had a much tougher time finding games, traveling a lot and playing in illegal games with criminals and at risk of being arrested. For them to get 10,000 hours of poker experience would take years, if not decades. Online poker changed all that. Suddenly, you could play at 10 tables at one time(!), at any stakes you wanted at any time of day.

At a live table, a dealer will be able to deal about 40 hands per hour. In the old days, tooling around for a decade in your truck searching for 10,000 hours of  live poker experience would take quite a while, and 10,000 hours give you a total of 40,000 hands of poker played. Compare that to playing four tables at a time online for 8 hours per day: you could play the same number of hands in two weeks online.

When poker came to the internet, kids in dorm rooms were matching the poker-hand equivalent of Doyle Brunson’s life experience during a few all night binges. The next thing you know, there’s a 16 year old with pimples cruising around in the Maserati he just paid cash for, and a 21-year old is bluff re-raising Johnny Chan on national TV with a hidden set for a few million bucks.

Online poker transformed the playing field in live poker, and now it seems every year some internet pro is winning the World Series of Poker and cashing out with a few million bucks. Internet pros are so prevelant partly due to the fact that so many players now play online. Even the old guys now play online, partly because there’s so much money to be made there, but also partly because they need to in order to keep up with the young guns.

While poker is in some ways an exceptional example, in this case atleast, what’s true for poker is true in other fields. The internet has fundamentally changed the way that people discover, use, and share information. It has also made that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that much easier to acquire. Among other things, this fundamental change has come in the form of software innovations that create more effective learning/practicing tools or, more importantly, providing the information and infrastructure that allows anyone with internet to explore and practice in their given field.

Want to be an expert Java programmer? Want to learn how to do graphic design? Trade stocks? Become an incredible pastry chef? Learn bird songs?

Just 10,000 hours. The clock is ticking.

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