Consistently and accurately monitoring one’s own play during
a game is one of the most difficult tasks any poker player faces. It
is also one of the most important.
Very few of us go on tilt with the first hand we’re dealt. We
usually sit down and play good, solid poker. Oh, sure, I know there
are some players who are always on tilt, but this article was not written
for the perpetually clueless. It’s aimed squarely at you. You’re
a good player who cares about his game, and comes to the cardroom with
every intention of playing well for the entire session regardless of
whatever bad beats might come your way. But the sad truth is you don’t.
Not always. Occasionally — and it may not be every session —
you fly open and start playing hands you shouldn’t, even though
you know better.
When you stumble over your own lofty standards and slip below them,
like it or not there’s no one to blame but yourself. But that’s
no reason to abandon hope. Here’s how you can avoid these lapses
and keep yourself in check.
Letter From Home: “I am not paid to win pots.
I am paid to make good decisions at the poker table — nothing
more, nothing less.” Write these two sentences on a card and carry
it in your wallet. Every time you make a bad decision, or play a hand
that’s doesn’t meet your standards, take out that card and
look at it. That “letter from home” will short-circuit any
tendencies you may have to let one or two bad hands lead you down a
road you’d rather not be on at that moment. If you feel foolish
taking a little poker mantra out of your wallet, consider this: If you
don’t take something out of your wallet to help change your play,
you might wind up leaving the cardroom with nothing left in your wallet
to take out.
Refresh Yourself: In the now-classic film The Hustler,
there’s a scene when Jackie Gleason, as Minnesota Fats, and Paul
Newman, as Fast Eddie, take a break after playing big-money pool for
quite a few hours. Fast Eddie, the young up-and-comer, is winning. During
that break Fats washes up, changes his shirt, spends some time assessing
the quality of his game, and returns to the table as elegantly turned
out as when he first walked in hours earlier.
Cocky and overconfident because he has been beating the legendary Minnesota
Fats in what amounts to nothing more than the early innings of a long
match of attrition, Fast Eddie — never prone to introspection
anyway — has a few drinks and yuks it up with the crowd. Eddie
believes he has the swagger of a confident winner; in reality, it’s
the smug arrogance of a loser about to take a bad beating. Even Eddie
might be able to recognize himself for what he is if he looked beneath
the surface of his own inflated exterior for just a brief moment. But,
of course, he doesn’t; and guess what? The refreshed Fats proceeds
to batter Fast Eddie from pillar to post, leaving him poorer though
unfortunately no wiser, in the process.
In this little morality play Fats is clearly a better role model than
Eddie, so follow his lead. Water does have miraculous restorative powers.
So does a little introspection and analysis. When you feel tired, or
see yourself slipping away from your finely tuned edge, try splashing
some very cold water on your face. Getting some blood flowing through
your veins also works wonders. Reach down, touch your toes. Do a push
up or two. You may think you look foolish or seem silly but it will
wake you from that desultory state of card-table hypnosis you’ve
gradually allowed yourself to slip into.
Walkin’ My Troubles Away: The next time you
take a bad beat and find yourself in grudge mode, bound and determined
to get even, do yourself a favor. Get up, go for a walk, and don’t
come back until you cool off. You’ll lose far more money staying
angry than you did from that one bad beat. Walk around. Anywhere will
do. Check out the coffee shop. If you’re playing in a small casino
go outside and walk around the parking lot. If it’s raining or
snowing, so much the better. Nothing like a bit of weather, especially
cold and rainy weather, to help you chill out. And when you’re
ready to come back, comb your hair, put a smile on your face, and make
sure you play happy.
Changes In Attitude: You have it in your power to
turn a bad beat around simply by realizing this simple truth: The more
bad beats you encounter, the luckier you are. It’s a sign that
you are playing against opponents who continually take the worst of
it, and if you can’t beat someone who always takes the worst of
it, you can’t beat anyone. While you strive to always take the
best of it, they have been temporarily lucky — and the operative
word is “temporarily,” not “lucky.” They will
eventually give back all they’ve won and more to players like
you, who play better cards, and as a result, seldom put bad beats on
others. In fact, when you lose to a player who sticks around in the
face of obscenely long odds only to beat you when a miracle card falls,
don’t even think about it. Tell yourself, “That money I
lost isn’t his. It’s just visiting.”
He’s Watching Me: Pretend you’re playing
with my money instead of your own. But remember, I’m watching,
and you’re on the payroll only as long as you make good decisions
at the table. I’m not the kind of guy who cares whether you win
or lose; but I do care that you play correctly. In fact, I’ve
fired players who have made bad decisions, even when they win. I’ve
also rewarded others who have are losing but playing correctly. I do
this because I know I’ll come out ahead in the long run —
and if you make the right choices, so will you.