Dumb Poker Luck

Learning to ignore short-term variance--and focus on long-term skill instead

”I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” – Denzel Washington

The word “luck” is thrown around a lot at the poker tables. Just the other day, a friend of mine lost four buy-ins in a high-dollar cash game and bemoaned his luck in an email to me. “Mark, everyone is luckier than me. I never win. I’m cursed with bad luck.” When I pushed back on this statement, my friend got angry with me, accusing me of “not understanding what it’s like to have bad luck.” He claimed that my win rates are nothing more than “dumb luck.”

Uh, sure. Keep thinking—and acting—that way, I told him, and you’re going to stay unlucky. You’re going to stay “dumb” forever.

There are a lot of quotes like Denzel Washington’s above that come from successful people. More importantly, you never read quotes about these folks having bad luck. In writing about business success, entrepreneur Jack Canfield famously said, “I believe that people make their own luck by great preparation and good strategy.” And you know what? These words are just as applicable to poker, too. Let me explain…

Just Move Along

Don’t Regret Not Getting Better At Poker

“There are two types of pain you will suffer in life: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tonnes.” —Jim Rohn

This quote resonates with me for a number of reasons. It’s applicable to many aspects of life, including health, work, relationships— and of course poker. I was reminded of this fact a while ago when I heard from an old poker-playing friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in months. My friend sent an email congratulating me on something I had done in my career that was big and noteworthy. But then my friend went on about his own “plans” for the future. I had inspired him, he said, and now he was going to do something with his own life.

Sounds good, right? 

I wish. Let me explain…

A Flopped Set? Yep, and an Easy Fold, too.

Learning to make reads--and trust them.

A few years ago I was showing a family friend how to play online poker. My friend dabbles occasionally at poker, but he doesn’t believe that the online games are beatable. It’s rigged, he says. It’s filled with ‘bots. And any kind of poker–live or online–is all about hot streaks and lucky runs, anyway. You can’t beat a random chance game in the long-term. So why study and read about the game? Worse, why write a damn blog about it?

My friend is so sure of himself, that he basically calls me a liar whenever I point out that I make a decent hourly wage at this online “hobby,” and thereby fund the occasional large discretionary purchase in my personal life through my winnings at the tables. Well, he doesn’t actually use the word “liar,” instead choosing the less inflammatory, “You’re so full of sh!t” term of endearment.

Anyway, in my long-running effort to convince him that he’s the one who is full of sh!t, I opened a couple of micro-stakes fast-fold “Zone” poker games when he had stopped by to visit with his wife. Here’s what happened:

Embracing Suckouts

Why a bad beat is actually a good thing, a very good thing...

My old poker coach, the Guru, used to impose a $5 fine on any of his students who told a bad beat story in his presence.

Student: “Listen to this terrible bad beat I just experienced–“

Coach: “Did you lose with a royal flush?”

Student: “No.”

Coach: “Then I’ve heard it before.”

The Guru charged this fee primarily because listening to students whine about poker annoyed him, but he also would point out that thinking and dwelling on the negative in poker often leads to future negative actions. Bad thoughts lead to bad behavior.

The fact is bad beats should never be whined about. Yes, they can sting at the time, but you have to remember this: bad beats are good things. Suckouts keep the poor players coming back. Bad players occasionally get lucky with poorly played hands, which in turn reinforces their belief that poker is all about luck, not skill. They come back—often after reloading multiple times—and continue to make bad decisions. Over time, they donate a lot of dead money to the poker pool—and sharks like us feed on that money. For this reason alone, bad beats should be celebrated, not denigrated. But there is an even more important point that you need to keep in mind the next time a villain sucks out on you:

To Be Great at Poker You Have To First Be Consistently Good

Winning takes discipline, the long view, and hard work. Sorry.

The legendary comic Steve Martin rose to the top of his profession by being consistently funny. He has said he never worried about being the best comic in the world. He focused instead on improving his basic skills and being consistently good no matter what the situation. Martin never tried to be the world’s funniest comedian, or the most controversial, or the most outrageous. Instead, he knew that if he just worked consistently on trying to make people laugh every time he went up on stage, he’d eventually succeed. Slow and steady would win his race.

Don’t be great. Be consistently good.” -Eric Barker

Are You Human?

Defining "tilt" as more than just steaming off money when angry or frustrated

How do you define tilt?

Answer: Any deviation from your A-Game. Yes, any.

  • Player 1: Do you tilt?
  • Player 2: No, I’m very calm when I play. Bad beats don’t affect me. I never tilt.
  • Player 1: So, you always play your absolute best A-game, 100% of the time at the table, every single session that you play?
  • Player 2: No, of course not. I’m human, not a robot.
  • Player 1: Ah, okay. Then you do tilt after all.

Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.

The Three Primary Categories of Tilt

Putting Labels On Six Common Poker Problems

“Everyone tilts. It’s just a matter of how often, how long, and how bad.” —Tommy Angelo, Elements of Poker.

In 2011, sports psychologist Jared Tendler changed poker forever with his groundbreaking book The Mental Game of Poker. Like Doyle Brunson’s Super System, David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker, and Mike Caro’s Caro’s Book of Tells that came before it, Tendler’s work on the psychological aspects of poker revolutionized how us mere mortals should approach emotional control and tilt during play.

He Who Must Actually Be Named

Tilt mitigation begins with putting a label on your tormentor...

The first step to reducing tilt is recognizing that you are tilting. Fine, then what? What’s the next step? Answer: give your specific tilt demon a name. As it turns out, a simple—but powerful—technique to reducing tilt is to give it a label. Intrigued? Read on…

Your Ego is an Id

Getting better at poker requires ego-less introspection & recognition

A few months ago I was approached by a blog reader who wanted some coaching. This happens frequently. I don’t actively advertise or promote my coaching services, as I primarily pick up students on referral, word of mouth, or via cold calls/emails like this one. To protect the guilty, this email came from someone I’m going to simply refer to as Mister-Z.