Ever met someone who never accepted responsibility for anything that happens in his or her life? He faces problems in life by blaming everyone and everything around him, without ever taking a moment to look inward and discover if there’s anything he might have done to contribute to the problem. These type people can sometimes be a burden during times of crisis. They aren’t interested in fixing the problems they encounter, instead, they just want an object to point their fingers at, someone to blame. They are exceedingly gifted at finding ways to somehow escape ever taking personal responsibility for their failures in life.
This phenomenon not only happens in life, it happens too often in amateur poker games also. Poker players with egos the size of North Korea will lose a hand or tournament and start pointing fingers at every possible culprit to blame for their failure. An Act from congress couldn’t get them to look inwardly at their own play. They whine from the rails about horrible players, never pausing to contemplate why they rarely win against players who are supposedly so ghastly lacking in poker skills. They blame the cards or bad luck, imagining a supernatural conspiracy that ignores the entire universe to focus on cursing them in poker and them alone. Between tears, they will whimper for hours about how often their good cards get beat, grumbling about never winning with pocket Aces or Ace-King or pocket Jacks, all the while harboring the conviction that the only reason why they lose all the time in poker is because they play the game “right” and everyone else plays it so terribly.
Only at amateur poker tables can insanity and illogical thinking be so often rewarded with applause.
I challenge my players to avoid this mental trap in poker. It’s a pothole created by ego, nothing more.
In order to truly grow as players, we have to approach poker from the standpoint of a student. Instead of preaching from the rails with the conviction of a baptist preacher about what play is the right one or wrong one, take a moment to get over yourself and appreciate the fact that we are all still learning, none of us are WSOP bracelet winners. Humility is an underdeveloped quality in amateur poker tournaments. When you approach poker from the standpoint that you already know everything, you miss out on the opportunities each game, each tournament, and each hand gives you to learn from. If you think you are much better than you actually are, you end up concocting a concrete ceiling above your game that usually takes a catastrophic bankroll failure to shatter it.
A year ago, I randomly asked players if they had mastered the fundamentals of poker. Over 90% of players asked said yes. Think about this for a moment. We have amateur players believing that they have mastered the fundamentals of poker. Now place this fact alongside the reality that you have professional poker players who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in poker, who have played for dozens of years, who have experienced millions of hands online, yet who will still hire other professionals to plug up several leaks in their poker fundamentals before heading to the WSOP’s November Nine. This unscientific survey convinced me that, as amateurs, most of us suffer from delusions of grandeur when it comes to poker. We watch a few hours of poker on T.V. and think we are ready to hit the felt against Phil Ivey. We play a few thousand hands of poker at the casino or online and start imagining ourselves to be Daniel Negreanu. This is the sort of delusions that stunt our growth in poker. How can we learn something if we think we already know it? We overestimate our abilities, and as a result, never take the time to fix fundamental leaks in our approach to the game of poker.
When it comes to amateur poker tournaments, there will always be critical mistakes made, virtually each hand. Some players will make fundamental mistakes, but because of luck and variance, they will still win the hand or the tournament. Your job isn’t to soothe your ego by pointing out how bad they played to suck out against your aces, instead, your job is to make certain that you aren’t making other mistakes in other places that reduce your profitability over the long term. Are you raising too light at an extremely loose table? Are you opening in early position with weak hands? Are you playing your position in a profitable way? Are you scaring your profits out of the pot by overbetting your good hands?
I understand how it feels to lose with pocket aces to 72 offsuit. It sucks. But that’s just poker. Preflop, no one hand is entitled to win the river pot. You can’t control that. Instead, focus on the things that you can change. Did you raise enough preflop, according to the likely hand ranges of the players still in the pot? Did you ignore obvious signs that you were possibly beat on the flop, turn, or river? Did you overbet into a wet flop? Did you utilize pot control? And ultimately, were there mistakes you made earlier in the tournament that prevented you from having enough chips in this spot to survive the bad beat?
The goal is to focus on self-improvement instead of tossing blame. There are amateur players who undoubtedly know more about poker than others, but they still lose because they make so many fundamental mistakes at the table, like bluffing too often, raising too light, playing too many weak hands, playing unnecessarily tricky. In essence, they end up giving away their knowledge edge and losing chips because of leaks in other parts of their game. These are the poker fundamentals that we have to remain focused on improving.
Don’t be a poker crybaby. Ever. Always look for spots to analyze your game and any leaks you may possess. If you always lose with pocket aces, that generally means you are playing them wrong. Seek out strategies to improve your play with premium hands. Are you always losing big pots with pocket Kings through Jacks, but only winning small pots? That generally implies that you are playing too afraid with your premium hands, raising so high that only hands that have you dominated calls. Seek out ways to moderate your approach to poker, forcing yourself to slow down and stop betting out all the worse hands that you make the most profits from.
Virtually every situation in poker gives you the opportunity to learn something from it or to assign blame.
Choose to learn from them.