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Mind Over Poker: Sprezzatura

by David Apostolico |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


Baldassare Castiglione was a 16th-century Italian humanist, diplomat, and author. His most famous work is The Book of the Courtier, in which he advocated that one should preserve one’s composure and self-control under all circumstances. He also preached the practice of sprezzatura, which, loosely translated, means to conduct all things in a nonchalant manner that conceals all artistry and makes one’s actions seem uncontrolled and effortless.

While this seems like sound advice for most of life’s pursuits, it is dead-on for one’s behavior at the poker table. First and foremost, you should always maintain your composure and self-control at the poker table. That means more than just not going on tilt. It means having patience and discipline and the ability to stay focused on everything happening at the table, so that you are ready to exploit any opportunity while minimizing your mistakes.

The second part of Castiglione’s advice is more interesting. How do you benefit from behaving in a nonchalant manner and making your actions appear effortless? I think you benefit in a number of ways. First, maintaining a nonchalant persona will help you preserve your composure and self-control. Next, it will make your actions incredibly difficult to read. How will your opponents be able to put you on a hand if you project a smooth and controlled image every time that you act? Finally, your seemingly effortless moves are likely to affect your opponents’ play. They may relax too much and let their guard down. Once they do, they are bound to make mistakes. Little do they know that lurking beneath the nonchalant exterior that you are projecting is a monster poker player who’s exerting a great deal of effort.

The key to sprezzatura is the appearance of effortless mastery. Don’t forget that. It is appearance only. Years of experience, countless hours of study, and battle wounds of bad beats need to go into this “effortless” play.

To practice sprezzatura is to take on a bigger workload. Not only are you doing all of the things that you should be doing at the poker table, you now have to work that much harder to make it appear effortless. You are adding a whole new dimension to your game.

The next time that you are watching poker on television, try to disregard the holecards and study each player to see who has mastered the art of sprezzatura. I think you will find that many of the top players possess that uncanny ability and use it to their advantage. ♠

David Apostolico is the author of several poker-strategy books, including Machiavellian Poker, and Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at