The Poker Party is Over: What will you do now?
Helping players to answer that question has always been my primary teaching objective. Of course, before you can answer that question, you have to ask it, and far too many players never seriously ask it. Instead of analyzing their own play, they blame their disappointing results on bad luck, other players’ stupidity, and so on.
Self-analysis has been a central subject in the seminars that Chris Wallace, Adam Stemple, and I conducted in Reno and Las Vegas, and they have graciously invited me to present an excerpt from my next book here.
It just was published for Kindle, and versions for Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple’s iBookStore will soon appear. The paper copy will come out about March 15.
The title is The Poker Party is Over: What Will You Do Now? Its theme is that the end of the party will make ALL games tougher because there will be fewer new players. It applies the Darwinian evolutionary principle that I discussed in Your Worst Poker Enemy:
“Charles Darwin never played poker, but his principles fit our game. He argued that life is always competitive, and that the competition gets continuously tougher. Because conditions change, only the organisms that adapt well can survive, and the survivors become stronger competitors for food, mates, and everything else.
“The same sort of evolution has occurred and will continue to occur in poker, but it happens much faster… The losers go broke, get discouraged, or quit playing for other reasons… Because the weakest players leave, and the survivors improve, the competition will continuously intensify, and only players who adapt well can survive. As Darwin noted, it is ‘survival of the fittest…’
“Evolution never stops; it just changes the way it operates… Since the competition will get tougher, you must continue to learn. If you play the same way tomorrow that you do today, your results will slowly deteriorate.”1
Every biologist understands the Food Chain Principle. ALL, repeat ALL, animal life depends ultimately upon the bottom of the food chain. If the microorganisms that feed the next level disappear, every creature above them starves. If the little fish can’t eat, they die, and so do the progressively larger fish that eat each other. Newbies are the bottom of our food chain. Without them, everybody starves.
The online players switching to live games have the most pressing problems, but virtually everyone will face tougher games. You may not want to believe it, but you had better accept and prepare for the new reality. Otherwise, you’ll be a victim.
IS A LACK OF STRATEGIC KNOWLEDGE YOUR BIGGEST PROBLEM?
Nope, it may be a problem, but it’s not your biggest one. Every player often fails to use the strategic knowledge he already has. If you doubt me, just answer three questions:
- Do you know that you should not play certain cards?
- Do you sometimes play them?
- Does everyone make the same mistake?
I could ask similar questions about many other poker decisions, but why bother? You know you often don’t apply your knowledge. My books won’t teach you more strategy. If you want to learn strategy, read books by Chris, Adam, and many others. I will just help you apply the knowledge you already have. Unfortunately, you’ll always make many mistakes.
Because you’re a human being. Everybody makes mistakes, and many of yours are caused by your motives, emotions, and mindset.
This book discusses issues that most poker writers ignore such as guilt, fears, fearlessness, emotional control, and creating a winning mindset. You’ll learn how you really think and feel, how your thoughts and feelings affect your decisions, and how to use those new insights. So you’ll make fewer mistakes, but you’ll never play error-free poker.
“AT THE TABLE, YOUR WORST ENEMY IS YOURSELF.”2
That quotation is from Stu Ungar, history’s greatest no-limit tournament player. My book, Your Worst Poker Enemy, began with that quotation. It’s been generally well-reviewed, sells well in English, and has been translated into French, Portuguese, and Russian. But some people dislike it because it emphasizes looking hard at yourself.
That book’s basic premise is that you are responsible for your results. If they are disappointing, it’s your fault. Until you accept that responsibility, you’re helpless. You can’t overcome your weaknesses and develop yourself. Far too many players reject this attitude. They insist that they do poorly because of bad luck and other people’s mistakes, not their own.
Some readers also disliked my emphasis upon self-analysis. They greatly prefer to study their opponents’ weakness. I emphatically disagree because self-analysis is more valuable. Do you gain more by studying an opponent you encounter several times a week or one you see only twice a year? You obviously gain more from studying the frequent opponent. However, over the year you play against hundreds of opponents, so less than 1% of a year’s pots will be played against any one individual.
But you are involved in every pot you play. Your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, feelings, and so on have at least one hundred times as much impact on your annual results as that opponent’s characteristics. The time spent analysing yourself will therefore yield much greater benefits than an equal amount of time spent analysing anyone else.
You may intensely dislike thoroughly examining yourself. You may resent my asking so many questions that you can’t or don’t want to answer. But if you really want to develop yourself, you can’t afford the luxury of doing only what you want to do. Because the games are getting tougher, you have to be tougher on yourself. The time and discomfort you’ll invest will do more to improve your results than anything else you can do.
DO YOU NEED A COACH?
A coach will certainly help, but is probably not absolutely necessary. Some friends pay high fees to personal trainers to get healthier. They usually pay that money – not for advice – but to push them to do what they already knew they should do; eat healthier, exercise regularly, and so on. They needed somebody to provide the discipline, to nag, nag, nag.
Since I’m a coach, I certainly won’t say you shouldn’t hire one. But make sure that you get value for your money. If you need professional guidance, get it from the right coach, one who has the expertise you need. You can’t know what kind of help you need without asking yourself the kinds of questions you’ll get here.
If all you need is discipline, agree with a friend to discipline each other. You can nag each other much more frequently and cheaply than you can meet with a coach for nagging sessions.
DON’T BUY THE KISS MYTH
The KISS formula, “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” is very popular because people want to believe that it’s easy to beat poker. Some books and gurus sell snake oil to gullible people.
Their customers are looking for a magic formula, but there isn’t one, and looking for it virtually guarantees failure. As Mason Malmuth put it, “If you do not have a good understanding of poker’s complexity, it is easy to fall into what has been called the ‘magic formula trap.’” If you fall into it, you’ll waste time looking for the “Ten Sure Steps to Poker Profits,” but they don’t exist.
“ALWAYS PLAY YOUR A-GAME”
You have certainly heard and read that many times, but it’s a silly statement, a variant on the KISS formula. It’s absolutely impossible to play your A-game every time. All you can do is try to play your A-game, and learn what prevents you from doing it. That’s what my books are all about. Then, when you see that you’re playing badly, you can either fix your leaks or recognize, “I don’t have it tonight,” and go home.
DIAGNOSIS MUST COME FIRST
This book emphasizes diagnosis. It will help you to understand why your results are unsatisfying, and then make recommendations that fit your unique combination of assets, liabilities, motives, emotions, and mindset.
You probably won’t enjoy answering the dozens of questions, but there is no other way to determine what you should do to improve your poker. If you skip this diagnostic step, you will probably make one or more of the following self-development mistakes.
Inaccurately Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Very few players clearly understand their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, many losers think they play well. They either don’t know how much they lose or don’t understand why. Even if you’re a winning player, you may not know why you don’t win as much as you’d like. The forces preventing you from accurately assessing yourself are extremely powerful, especially your desire to believe you’re a good player.
Overestimate Your Ability to Improve
Most people – not just poker players – overestimate their ability to improve. This natural tendency is reinforced by the repetition of nonsense such as, “You can be anything you want to be.”
No, you can’t! Your genes and personal history have created extreme limits on your potential. For example, nothing will greatly increase your intelligence. Drugs, diet, and mental and physical exercise may help, but large improvements almost never occur. And the drugs almost certainly have unknown long-term risks. Nor can you greatly change your motivation or most other personal traits. They’re like your cards. You have to play the ones you’re dealt. So learn how to play them well. Work on what you can improve: your knowledge, skills, and discipline.
Working On the Wrong Issues
Even if you accept these limitations, you may work on issues that won’t help you much.
Issues that don’t fit your level: Many people study techniques that are much too advanced for them. They either haven’t mastered more basic techniques, or the advanced techniques don’t fit their games. For example, if you’re playing no fold’em hold’em, many advanced plays will cost you money. You’ll gain much more by thoroughly understanding and developing the discipline to play ABC poker.
Issues that make you comfortable: You may not realize that you’ll gain more by working on your weaknesses than on your strengths. People work on their strengths at least partly because they enjoy the process. For example, math nerds who can’t read other players study advanced math, while naturally sensitive people work on reading tells. They may rationalize that they need to get even better, but their primary reason is that it’s more comfortable to work on these subjects.
Improving your strengths will improve your bottom line, but you’ll gain much more from an equal investment of time and money in overcoming weaknesses. You can make much larger improvements in your weakness than in your strengths.
You probably won’t enjoy some parts of the book. They will ask questions you don’t want to answer, and provide information about yourself that you don’t want to know. It’s much more comfortable to believe in cherished illusions than to face up to unpleasant facts.
But – if you are honest and thorough – you’ll end with a clearer picture of yourself and a clearer understanding of what you should do differently than you’ve ever had. Then you can make good plans to develop yourself.