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:
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?”
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:
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
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.
“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.
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…
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.
Yes, it’s true. I’m that rare, mythical beast: a long-term winning poker player. I primarily play No Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) at small- and mid-stakes online. For years now, I have earned a consistent average of $65 per hour at these tables. I also play online Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) at the micro-stakes tables, earning (a high-variance) $12-$15/hour. In total, I’ve played in excess of two million hands of poker. I have coached and advised dozens of blog readers and students to profitability, including two who are now full-time professional players. In all, I’ve been a serious amateur player for close to 15 years and have been consistently profitable the majority of that time. Looking back, I can identify ten specific factors that have contributed the most to my success. Today, and in the next few subsequent posts, I’m going discuss these ten steps I took in my poker education, starting with one of the most basic and powerful of all: Accepting RDM.
I received an email from a prospective student a few weeks ago. I’ll call this player Mister T. He is a mid-stakes online cash game player from Europe. He is a pretty decent player, makes good reads, knows the math, and executes good decisions. His biggest problem is that when he plays too long he ends up giving back his winnings. Here’s part of what he wrote to me:
“Can you help me? I play good online but return profit if I play too long. I am not knowing what I am doing wrong. I try to play good all time but can not make it stay. I play good poker for short time but then fall myself into bad poker habits. Then all the money I win early in play is gived back to other players.”
There was more to the email, and, in fact, and after a couple more exchanges I ended up taking on this student. We spent a little time on Skype talking about his game, skills, and general thoughts about poker, and then later I sweated him for a session on PokerStars. The good news is Mister T is indeed a solid, winning player– when he’s focused and fresh, that is. The bad news is his focus seems to peter out pretty quickly. For example, within ~45 minutes of starting our planned hour-long sweat session, Mister T went from being up a total of about $80 on three very easy $100NL game we table selected, to giving it all back, plus about half of his original stack. He started this session playing a cautious, TAg style game, but by the end of the session had loosened up too much in early position and wasn’t being nearly as aggressive as he was at the start. That’s when I stopped things and pulled out the tomato. The Pomodoro Technique tomato timer, that is. Let me explain.
Beginning poker players often make “crying calls” because they somehow think they’re priced in to do so– even when they are near certain they’re beaten. They say things like, “I already have so much money invested,” or “I had half my stack in the middle, so I had to call.” Frequently, these same beginners also defend their blinds far too much. They feel under attack whenever someone in late position raises what they think is “their” blind. They somehow believe that the chips they posted from the small or big blind belong to them. Guess what? Those blinds aren’t theirs. Neither is any money they spent on prior streets when they’re now on the river facing one of those “crying call” situations.
In this post, I explain the concept of sunk costs, why you should not think of your posted blinds as “yours,” and why you need to emotionally detach yourself from any other money you push into the middle of the table. Making solid math-based decisions in poker is entirely about the now and the future, and has nothing to do with the past or how much money you’ve already “invested” in the pot.