Competition is Life’s First Law

Competition is Life’s First Law

Dr. Al Schoonmaker

All organic beings [forms of life] are exposed to severe competition.
Charles Darwin1

Poker is a predatory game; the strong eat the weak.
Roy Cooke, professional player and writer

Many people deny that law because it’s painful, while delusions are much more pleasant. Denying reality is everywhere, and it’s extremely destructive.

You can get away with denial for a while in business, investing, and other games, but not in poker. It’s so brutally competitive and realistic that pleasant delusions quickly disappear (if you are open-minded enough to heed poker’s lessons). If you have the cards and the skill, you win; if not, the stronger players eat you alive, just like they do in real life, but much more quickly and visibly.

Where there is life, there is always competition. It can be savage and visible or quiet and subtle, but life can’t exist for long without competition. The winners survive and reproduce; the losers die and disappear. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a fact, and you’d better accept it.

Countless people rejected that fact when Darwin proposed it as the basis of evolution.

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive, it follows that any being, if it vary slightly in any manner profitable to itself … will have a better chance of survival and thus be naturally selected…
we shall then see how Natural Selection almost inevitably causes much Extinction of the less improved forms of life. 2

Virtually everyone attacked Darwin’s theory, but he had the last laugh. Today, all open-minded people accept evolution. A tiny minority clings to creationism, but there will always be a few foolish people. Winners exploit the delusions of people who put their faith above the facts.

Darwin’s principles directly apply to people because we are primarily animals. Evolution has not altered our instincts, and civilization is just a thin veneer covering our animal natures. We will always be predators.

If we weren’t predators, we would not have survived. We live by killing animals for meat and fighting each other for territory, mates, and possessions. The gentle folk who can’t fight soon die. Predatory instincts are as much a part of you as the meat you ate yesterday, and someone deliberately killed that animal.

You can’t live without those predatory instincts, and trying to deny that reality will make you vulnerable to the people who accept it.


Society has often been compared to the jungle. In both places the struggle to survive never ends. Before analyzing human competitions, let’s look briefly at natural ones.

A brief safari will convince almost everyone that every animal is either a predator or its prey, and that they all end up as prey. When the lion can run faster and hunt better than its prey, it survives, and the prey get eaten. When the lion becomes too old, sick or injured to compete successfully, the hyenas or others kill and eat it.

Bull elephants endlessly compete for mates. The strongest becomes the “Alpha Male,” possessing a harem, mating when he wishes. When he gets old and weak, a younger, stronger bull defeats him and takes his harem. The old bull leaves the herd to live alone until it can no longer protect itself; then it gets eaten by hyenas, lions, and vultures.

Sometimes the competition is less visible, but equally intense. Take a canoe ride. As you glide across the gentle waters, beneath you the big fish are eating the little fish, the little fish are eating the bugs, and the bugs are eating each other.

Or look at a litter of new-born kittens. What could be more adorable than those balls of fur? Yet they push blindly at each other, struggling to get to their mother’s teats. The weakest ones may lose that struggle, not get enough milk, and die, victims of their own siblings and life’s first, cruel law.

Even plants, those peaceful, gentle things that don’t need to eat, compete with each other for light, space, water, and minerals. Walk through a woods and look around you. Nothing lives under some trees because they have taken all the light. Other trees are slowly strangled by vines. As one kind of plant flourishes, it pushes out the others, and, of thousands of seeds, only a few survive and grow. The others are eaten or die from lack of water or light.

At this very instant your immune system is fighting for your life against millions of bacteria, viruses, and other threats. If it’s stronger than they are, it will kill them, and you will live. If they are stronger, you will die. It’s as simple as that.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which means the immune system becomes deficient and unable to compete with the threats that are always present. AIDS kills by making a body unable to compete with tuberculosis, pneumonia, and many other diseases.

The only way you can escape from competition is to die, and then the worms and bugs will compete to eat your corpse.

Because of life’s harsh rules, all animals are either predators or prey, the eaters or the eaten, and the predators all end up as prey. The jungle is divided that way; so is society; so are the competitions you face for pay, power, promotion, market share, financial security, sexual partners, and almost everything else.


You may dislike that reality, but you have to live with it and many others. To deny reality, to pretend that life is not competitive, or that you can win without fighting effectively, is to bury your head in the sand, thereby guaranteeing that the predators eat you.

The first step toward winning at anything is to accept the brutal realities of that game, and poker can help you to do it. Because it is such pure competition, and the predators and prey are so easy to identify, it’s a powerful teacher. My other blogs, articles, and books explain why it teaches so well.

Although all open-minded people accept evolution in biology, many people don’t accept that its central principle – competition – applies to nearly all human relationships. We evolved from lower animals, and we still have most of their instincts, but many people deny it. It’s too painful to accept. They believe that we shouldn’t be competitive; we should cooperate in a nice, warm-fuzzy way. Perhaps we should, but we often don’t.

This denial is the ultimate source for an extraordinary range of stupidities, from the faith that communism would prevail, to promoting students who can’t read, to insisting that disabled people deserve jobs they can’t perform, to schools’ eliminating grades and competitive sports, and many forms of political correctness. The true believers essentially insist that competition is so evil, undemocratic, and unnatural that everyone must be protected from it.

Although this denial causes severe social problems, its existence can also give you an enormous competitive edge. If your competitors for promotions, raises, customers, suppliers, and investments deny reality and act in a nice, “let’s all work together for our common good” manner, while you are competing hard, you can easily beat them. Your first step toward beating your game is to accept the reality that you and every other living creature are naturally competitive.


The evidence of our extreme competitiveness is everywhere. People have always acted as predators and prey. Life is an endless battle. History shows that there have never been two consecutive years without wars; in fact, many wars are raging right now. Some battles are between armies, others between businesses or even charitable organizations, others between individuals – including brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children. The pattern changes on the surface, but the underlying realities are always the same.

Denying harsh realities is almost always a cause for failure, and it is often the cause. The poker player who plays against more skilled players will lose, so will an overconfident business owner or investor. The general who overestimates his strength kills his troops.


The world is run by a few people: the presidents, prime ministers, industrial giants, media kings, union heads, religious leaders, and so on. Our president’s first job is to defend the country against other countries. Unions exist to fight management. Religious leaders compete for our souls and our money. Liberals have always battled conservatives.

Many people wonder why the world is run by people as different as Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, Joseph Stalin, Indira Gandhi, Bill Gates, and Catherine The Great. They all have two things in common: They accept that life is extremely competitive, and they know how to compete.

In our terms they are “winners,” while most people are “losers.” They may not be losers in any moral or philosophical sense. They may even be happier and healthier than the “winners.” But the people on top have clearly won the competitions for money, power, prestige, and possessions.

They differ in nationality, age, sex, religion, political philosophy, and many other characteristics, but nearly all of them share a few qualities. They may define success somewhat differently, but they all think, feel, and act in the same general way. They are:

1. Intensely competitive
2. Extremely disciplined
3. Always looking for an “edge”
4. Willing and able to act decisively

These characteristics cause them to be brutally realistic, amoral, ruthlessly power-oriented, manipulative, and deceptive (along with many other lesser characteristics). They could not have reached the top without these traits, and they need them to defeat an endless stream of challengers to stay on top. When they lose their edge, the challengers push them aside and take their places.

They don’t want you to accept reality. Other people’s denial increases their edge, and they work very hard to reinforce all the myths that prevent most people from competing effectively. If people accepted reality, they would become much better competitors, and they would rather exploit docile, self-deluding suckers.

Let’s take just one example, a few corporate CEOs. They could not attain or keep their positions or perform them effectively if they were not extremely competitive. However, they spout win-win, “let’s all work together as a team” platitudes while planning to lay off employees and increase the pressure on those who remain. They don’t want you to understand reality well enough to protect yourself; they want you to lay down and let them run over you.

My blogs, articles, and especially my books, Competitive Edge Strategies For Poker And Business Winners and Negotiate To Win, will help you to see through such self-serving nonsense, accept your own competitiveness as natural and essential. You’ll learn how to compete more successfully


Intense competition doesn’t occur only at the top. It’s everywhere: in every business, company, city, profession, and tennis club. It’s even in your home. Just look at the way your children fight each other. As we move from higher to lower levels, the competitors become less talented, but the essential differences between the winners and losers remain the same.

The distinction between talent and winning is extremely obvious in poker. Many fine players are losers because they deny their limitations and keep trying to beat better players. Some less talented players win consistently by selecting “soft” games.

A parallel example would be an average law student who becomes a successful small town lawyer compared to a more talented classmate who fails to make partner in a major firm and becomes just another frustrated big city attorney. The first is a winner, while the second is a loser.

That example was chosen because lawyers are extremely successful and extremely disliked precisely because so many of them live by our competitive principles (although they often lie about it). Many people detest them, but nobody can deny that they are extraordinarily successful. They have high average incomes and immense influence, especially in our government.

They dominate all three of its branches. They have a complete monopoly over the judicial branch: Every significant judge is a lawyer. Twenty-five of our forty-five presidents were lawyers. Lawyers occupy over one-third of the seats in both houses of Congress and more than half the seats in most state legislatures.

Their success comes from the same qualities that characterize poker winners: intense competitiveness, ruthless realism, an amoral drive for every possible edge, and the ability to take decisive action. My publications refer to lawyers repeatedly along with lots of other nasty winners such as Richard Nixon, Mike Milken, and Lyndon Johnson.

You don’t have to like them. But don’t let your personal feelings prevent you from learning from their enormous successes and their occasional failures.


You may agree with the previous points, but doubt that poker can teach you how to win in your real-life competitions. What does poker have to do with the challenges you face in your company, industry, profession, or investments? You don’t play poker or other clearly defined “games.” You compete in other, far more serious ways.

If you doubt that poker is a useful teacher, read Competitive Edge’s second chapter Two: “Poker Is a Great Business Teacher.” It proves that poker can help you to compete more effectively.


Poker and my books, articles, podcasts, and blogs can help you to WIN no matter what game you’re playing.

[1] THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life and THE DESCENT OF MAN AND SELECTION IN RELATION TO SEX, p.52

[1] ibid, p. 13

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