Mind Sport Poker vs. Cash Gambling Poker
Draft of a strategy to reduce the human and social cost of pathological gambling, using regulated Mind Sport Poker as a “therapeutic” and “educational” activity
Written by Prof. Fabrizio Ciappi and Dr. Riccardo Mario Corato
1. Why Poker could be an extraordinary Mind Sport
Learning through gaming is as old as human life.
Through millions of year of evolution, Mother Nature has secured the learning process of the young of mammals by means of a continuous gaming activity in a safe environment, aimed at initiating them in the conservation of their natural imprinting.
The case of human children is far more complex and interesting.
Within the inevitably long process of learning and maturation of the young of Homo Sapiens (evolution through neoteny), the game plays a fundamental role.
Free, safe, intelligent play is crucial to the development of language, to the understanding of symbols and metaphors, and to learning to think and behave creatively.
All children are almost instinctively capable of playing the “as if” game (context and role-playing). To them, the game is the most natural metaphor of life. The game “is” life.
For a number of reasons the game of Poker may well symbolize this “game – life” scheme(1).
Like every other game, Poker has a “closed” system of rules (limits) which, through a continuous learning process, could become “open” – generating almost unlimited creative solutions exactly as in all other “closed” systems – such as Music (7 notes), Alphabet (24 letters), Maths (10 basic numbers), Geometry (3 dimensions), Braille (6 dots), etc.
This creative activity (finding countless new opportunities within a restricted number of choices) is critical to the development of new neural connections in the brain, and that is why most skill games – like Chess, Bridge and Poker – are considered excellent “Brain Training” games.
They could all help to develop important functions like memorization, logical and mathematical skills or strategic vision(2).
But Poker, in addition to all that, has a unique feature: it is also a “meta-game”(3).
You can go back and forth from / in and out of the rules of the game while still staying inside the rules. You can virtually invent your own game, and you need to pay attention to unusual factors like, among others, the communication and behaviour of other players.
Poker gives you the possibility of playing different plays – in other words, to be an actor who doesn’t play a precise role because you are also the playwright and you can decide case-by-case which role could be the most convenient depending on the circumstances.
Most importantly, the game of Poker may enrich the language-learning process and the development of behaviour strategies, enhancing the verbal and non-verbal communication skills (verbal and body language).
Time, communication and relationship are the features of Poker as a Mind Sport that could strengthen the neural connections at cortical and sub-cortical level, which is why, in a broader sense, Poker is both a “Brain Training” and a “Mind Training” game.
Moreover, most of the processes described here are just the same as those in the “game of life”.
To play Poker, in fact, you have to increase competencies that are also important in normal life, thus making it one of the best metaphors for life.
In conclusion, within the right context – as a Mind Sport regulated by a respected international governing body – the game of poker can win back its original status of a supreme skill game and probably become the ultimate Mind Sport.
Finally, if properly utilized, it could represent an interesting “therapeutic” opportunity for adolescents or young adults suffering from personality disorders.
Mind Sport Poker: The Game of the Life
Le Jeu de la Vie – Il Gioco della Vita – El Juego de la Vida – O Jogo da Vida
(2) Bill Gates, for instance, not only raised a significant fraction of the start-up costs for Microsoft in poker games in his Harvard dorm room; he also credits what he learned there in helping him devise a business plan for the company. (See p. 43 of “The Road Ahead” by Bill Gates).
Several trading companies, including Susquehanna Partners, require first-year traders to read David Sklansky’s Theory of Poker and to actually play the game. Poker-based logic and tactics are taught at military academies. Many other such examples are in James McManus’ Cowboys Full, Aaron Brown’s The Poker Face of Wall Street, and other books.
(3) Poker as a Game3, a game of third level: the Game of the Game of the Game
2. Pathological Gambling: A Social Emergency
The following extracts taken from the American and British Journals of Psychiatry issued between 2004 and 2011 give a brief overview about the epidemiological evidence of pathological gambling.
Pathological gambling is described in DSM-IV(1) as a chronic and persisting disorder(2), with severe consequences for patients and their families(3).
A proposed merging of pathological gambling with drug addiction in the forthcoming DSM-V prompts an overview of the neurobiological data showing similarities between these conditions, as well as an update on national trends in gambling behaviour and current treatment provision(4).
Gambling is the fastest growing leisure activity in our society.In the first chapter of this book(5), evidence is cited that US gross gambling revenues of $47.6 billion exceeded by $7 billion those of the combined revenues from film box office, recorded music,cruise ships, spectator sports, and live entertainment.
The chapter on epidemiology underscores the extraordinary, rapid growth of Internet gambling.
The third chapter cites evidence of extensive co-morbidity of other psychiatric disorders. In one study, 76% of a sample of in-patients were diagnosed as suffering from major depression. Similarly,co-occurring bipolar, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity,and substance use disorders are found to be disproportionately high among pathological gamblers, as are personality disorders and attempted/successful suicide.
An interesting chapter on categorization reviews shared features with obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorders, and mood disorders.
The chapter on adolescents and young adults documents an apparently higher rate of gambling among youth than adults, and explores why this might be so.
Although the risk for problem and pathological gambling decreases with age, the chapter on older adults reviews how the gaming industry’s targeting of the elderly with incentives to gamble can leave susceptible individuals to suffer the consequences of excessive gambling, especially when it is combined with the loss of traditional adult roles, physical disability, boredom,cognitive decline and depression.
The worldwide combined rate for problem gambling (level 2) and pathological gambling (level 3) ranges between approximately3 to 6%, with a little more than one in 20 individuals having a gambling problem at some time in their life. (6)
Prevalence issues are made more interesting by the examination of rates in special populations groups, such as substance abusers (significantly higher) and the elderly (in some studies comparable to the general population and as tragic).
Dr. Petry also examines rates of different types of gambling to determine if some are more addictive than others. Although her results are inconclusive, she speculates how Internet and electronic machines might be the most addictive and why this might be so.
“The study(7) is part of emerging evidence that gambling, once thought to be a problem in moral integrity, is instead a problem in brain biology and can be treated successfully,” said Robert Freedman, M.D., AJP editor-in-chief. “Pathological gambling is estimated to affect more than one percent of the population and can lead to family disruption, job loss, bankruptcy and incarceration”.
Two presentations(8) addressed the topic of whether the scope of addictive disorders should be broadened to include disorders such as pathological gambling, which is currently included in the Impulse Control Disorders section of the DSM-IV.
Marc Potenza, MD (New Haven, CT) noted that substance dependence and pathological gambling have high rates of co-occurrence, share similar clinical characteristics (e.g., loss of control, tolerance, and withdrawal), have a similar clinical course (e.g., high rates in adolescence, lower rates in older adults), similar biology (e.g., involving the mesocortical limbic dopamine system and frontal serotonin system) and similar treatments (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, naltrexone).
Gambling(9), albeit a leisure activity for most, can in a significant minority progress to problem gambling or pathological gambling, with wide-ranging adverse interpersonal, financial and social consequences. There is mounting evidence that increased availability and easy accessibility to gambling opportunities can result in increased incidence of problem gambling. So too, over recent years, gambling research has emerged to occupy an important place within the field of addiction studies.
(1) All of the diagnostic codes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition and Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR) were selected so as to be valid codes of the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Edition, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) issued by the UN World Health Organization
(2) American Journal of Psychiatry 163:297-302, February 2006 – Natural Recovery and Treatment-Seeking in Pathological Gambling: Results of Two U.S. National Surveys – Wendy S. Slutske, Ph.D.
(3) Am J Psychiatry 166:1325-1330, December 2009 – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Pathological Gambling: Cultural Considerations – Mayumi Okuda, M.D., Iván Balán, Ph.D., Nancy M. Petry, Ph.D., Maria Oquendo, M.D., and Carlos Blanco, M.D., Ph.D.
(4) The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 199: 87-89 – Pathological gambling: a neurobiological and clinical update – Henrietta Bowden-Jones, MRCPsych, DOccMed, MD – National Problem Gambling Clinic, 1 Frith Street, London W1D 3HZ, UK – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(5) Am J Psychiatry 162:1992, October 2005 – Pathological Gambling: A Clinical Guide to Treatment – Edited by Jon E. Grant, M.D., and Marc N. Potenza, M.D., Ph.D. Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Publishing, 2004 – Review on AJP by Edward J. Khantzian, M.D.
(6) Am J Psychiatry 163:945-946, May 2006 – Pathological Gambling: Etiology, Co-morbidity, and Treatment by Nancy M. Petry. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association, 2005, Edward J. Khantzian, M.D. Haverhill, Mass.
(7) Am J Psychiatry. 2006; 163: 303-312 – New Treatment For Patients Struggling With Pathological Gambling
(8) Substance-Related Disorders Conference (February 14-17, 2005) – Prepared by Michael B. First, M.D., DSM Consultant to the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education (APIRE), a subsidiary of the American Psychiatric Association
(9) The British Journal of Psychiatry (2007) 190: 181-182 – Gambling as an Addictive Behaviour: Impaired Control, Harm Minimization, Treatment and Prevention – By Mark Dickerson & John O’Connor. Cambridge University Press. 2006.
3. How and why Cash Gambling Poker could become a “fatal” game
A brief premise:
1. Poker has always been one of the most fascinating games of skill
2. The gambling business had an enormous recent growth thanks to the Internet
3. Poker is by far the world’s most played cash game online
In essence, from a neuropsychiatric perspective, the key element that could generate addiction and facilitate the growth of personality disorders is the lethal combination of “cash” and “real time”.
The biological and evolutionary interpretation of pleasure is that it is usually a reward for behavioral patterns that enhance the chances of survival and reproduction.
The two basic systems involved in the brain “Reward Circuit” (MFB, VTA, NAcc) are the dopamine and serotonin systems.
The fast reiteration of immediate “rewards” typical of most online gambling activities shorten dramatically the neuro-chemical and functional cycle of the brain’s reward circuit, depriving it of the requisite time frame, increasing its frequency and ultimately producing an excess of dopamine and serotonin release.
The result of this progressive “lack of time” – the time of being, playing, having feelings, elaborating thoughts and information – is in essence a harmful disconnection from reality, a paralysis of those creative-learning processes that may generate progressive isolation, addiction, compulsive-obsessive and other personality disorders.
A possible strategy for transforming such “context-risk” into a “context-opportunity”.
The proposal we set out here is designed to stop the progressive deregulation of Poker, bringing it back to its ideal form as a superior and strategic game of skill(1), and educational tool, through the creation of the International Federation of Poker as a Mind Sport.
Playing poker online and offline for no immediate monetary gain, simply for the love of the game or for achieving a top ranking level as in any other sport, looks like a highly significant goal, and could certainly be an intelligent answer to the problem we are facing.
Poker as a Mind Sport (instead of a Cash Gambling Game) would surely mean, for the players, recapturing their valuable time, thoughts and human relationships, as well as finding a new and particularly efficient opportunity of “learning through gaming”(2).
(1) The practical and metaphorical usefulness of poker tactics and logic were originally understood and mathematically expressed by John von Neumann and others as they developed Game Theory in the 1930s and ‘40s. Game Theory and poker and artificial intelligence and nuclear deterrence continue to go hand in hand in the highest circles of academic, military and trading states-of-the-art. This ongoing development is summarized in chapters 27-29, 48, and 51 of James McManus’ Cowboys Full, on the GPSTS.org website founded by Charlie Nesson, as well as in numerous other books and websites.
(2) To this regard, in order to enhance the educational potential of the game, we believe that an official Mind Sport Poker website should borrow from/extend/link to GPSTS.org, especially the parts where Charlie Nesson and others offer specific advice about how to use poker as a tool in various kinds of classrooms, from middle school math through law school, business school and beyond.
The keynote of this paper is part of a long-lasting work of research and study about the current, unprecedented development of Information and Communication Technologies as a possible context for facilitating the growth of psychopathology in today’s society, especially among the younger generations.
The authors, Prof. Fabrizio Ciappi & Dr. Riccardo Mario Corato, started working together on this matter in 1994, when they created a first audiovisual publication, “Education, Identity and Knowledge”, as part of a campaign against drug addiction among young people commissioned by an Italian Public Authority.
The trans-disciplinary approach of their research has been made possible by the “merging” of the two specific areas of competence and experience of the authors, neuroscience and psychiatry (Ciappi) and multimedia communication (Corato).
Their work is based on the concrete clinical experience of the Department of Mental Health of the Region of Umbria in Italy, and on the monitoring, classifying and decoding of media contents in terms of language impoverishment, simplification of reality and deterioration of sense.
The progress from the sociological study (sociology of communication and media) to the medical and anthropological analysis of the individual and social behaviour was essential to better understand an epidemiological context that now concerns the entire population, not only the so called “groups at risk” (children, adolescents, deviants, marginalized, elderly, etc.).
It was a major breakthrough in terms of increasing knowledge and critical skills capable of facilitating the development of possible strategies to reduce the human and social cost of such epidemiological patterns.
It must be outlined that, from a methodological, logical and epistemological point of view, in the analysis of the possible motivating factors of psychopathology, this research does not utilize deterministic criteria but, instead, those of “circular causality”, “stochastic process”, “homeostatic balance and perturbation” and other concepts typical of complex systems like the Human Living System.
From “cause-effect” to “context-risk” or to “context-opportunity”.
From Aristotle to the Cybernetics of II level.
It is important to note that all possible “exit strategies” hypothesized in this research have been based on avoiding the demonization of media and information technologies or, of course, of causing feelings of guilt among young people or adults suffering from any form of personality disorders.
The authors have given particular attention to all those subjects that could be a primary vehicle of interest for youngsters – such as sports, games, music, cinema, photography, fashion, lifestyle, hi-tech, etc. – and, within this context, the envisaged idea of launching a new regulated form of Poker as a Mind Sport (which is the subject of this brief paper) seems to have great potential as a possible “therapeutic” tool and as a superior brain and mind-training instrument.
Prof. Fabrizio Ciappi
Neuropsychiatrist, former Director of the Mental Health Department ASL 1 of the Umbria Region in Italy and Professor at the School of Specialization in Psychiatry and Social Medicine of the University of Perugia.
He was among the founding members of “Democratic Psychiatry” and one of the authors of the “Law 180” of May 1978, an Act of Parliament that profoundly reformed psychiatry in Italy, closing down the “prison-like” mental hospitals and switching psychiatry from a repressive branch of medicine to the broader concept of mental health as a fundamental right and a major social objective.
Professor Ciappi started his medical career at the Mental Hospitals of Arezzo and Perugia before moving on to the Regional Mental Health Department, of which he eventually became Director.
In more than thirty-five years of clinic and scientific activity, Professor Ciappi has participated in many Seminars, Conferences and Publications on Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Epistemology, working with such famous scientists and intellectuals as Oliver Sachs, Edgar Morin, Henry Atlan, Heinz von Foerster, Ilya Prigogine, Douglas Hofstadter and many others.
He is currently working with Dr. Riccardo Mario Corato on a scientific publication about their long-lasting research on mental health in today’s hyper-media context. The book has the following working title:
“ Notebooks of Mind’s Ecology”
The process of the psychopathological entrapment at neuro-chemical, morphological and functional level within the epistemological framework of the DSM IV and the current social and epidemiological context.
Dr. Riccardo Mario Corato
Riccardo Mario Corato started to work in the field of communications in the early seventies, after studying Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Rome.
From 1981 to 2001, Corato headed Network International, a company specializing in integrated communication strategies based on the production, sponsorship and promotion of major international cultural, social, music and sport events.
In 2003-2004 he was Visiting Professor of Performing Arts and Communication at the University of Rome, where he experimented with a new pedagogic method called “Productions as Lessons”.
He is also co-author, together with Professor Fabrizio Ciappi, of a Continuing Medical Education (CME) programme dedicated to the relationship between media communication and mental health.
Concentrating on educational, scientific and cultural multimedia strategies and programs, Corato has spent recent years analyzing the feasibility of new forms of “socially responsible communication”.
His current multimedia educational project “Madeleine©”, based on preserving cultural heritage and social memory, is addressed to teenagers and their young parents, as well as to teachers and educators.
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