Occasionally the truth is so apparent, so patently self evident, so
abundantly clear, that mentioning it at all seems unnecessary —
even comical. You know, sort of like mom reminding you to pack warm
clothes when you tell her you’re headed for Chicago in the dead
But at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I’ll say it anyway.
Play your best — always. Now, before you consign me to the scrap
heap of redundancy, ask yourself whether you always do play your best,
and if the answer is “No,” ask, “Why not?” The
sad, simple truth of the matter is that many of us seldom play our best.
Not all of the time, anyway — and here’s why.
Poker Is Too Much Fun: Poker is fun. We love it. That’s
why we haul ourselves to the card table every chance we get. It’s
so much fun, in fact, that we’d much rather play a hand than fold
it. When we get in a game with a lot of loose players, and see a hand
like 7-6 run down a pair of kings, or an inside straight that gets there
against all odds, then witness the unadulterated joy on the face of
the winners raking in pot after pot with hands they really shouldn’t
have played, the lure becomes undeniable and the gambling fever is contagious.
We get caught up in playing far too many hands, and we do it simply
because it’s fun. And when we lose more than we should have, what
do we do? All too often we loosen up even more, in an attempt to scoop
a big pot and get even in one fell swoop.
We Call Too Much: Not only do most players call too
frequently, they are not as aggressive as they should be when they do
have a good hand. Most players enter far too many pots and refrain from
folding once-promising holdings that are not helped by the flop. Then
they compound this by not raising nearly enough in situations that clearly
call for it. Suppose you hold K-J in an unraised pot. The flop is K-8-4
of mixed suits, and the big blind comes out betting. If there are players
to act after you, this is an almost automatic raising situation. You
might have the best hand right now, and you certainly don’t want
someone who entered the pot in late position with a hand like 8-7 or
7-6 to take a card off the deck and beat you with a long shot draw.
Even if you knew your opponent held a king with a better kicker and
you decided to play anyway, you are better off raising than calling.
Here’s why. If you had a 25% chance of winning the pot when it
was multi-way, and were able to drive out two or three opponents by
raising, you might improve your own chances of winning to 40%. While
you’re still an underdog, raising increases your chances of winning
— never mind all the dead money left in the pot by those your
raise managed to eliminate.
We Tend to Play to the Level of our Competition: I’ll
bet that if you found yourself in a game with the last eight winners
of the World Series of Poker, or even with the eight best players in
your local cardroom, you’d play better than you usually do because
you have a lot more respect for those players. But if you were in a
game with the eight biggest fish in the world, you might find yourself
playing nearly as poor as they do. Many top players have been quoted
as saying that they do not play well when they drop down to lower limit
games. Keep this in mind: Not only is poker a seductive game on its
own, it often tends to lead us down a primrose path where we find ourselves
playing just like our opponents — even when we ought to know better.
Don’t Play When You’re Psychologically Weakened:
Poker is tough enough to beat when you’re at your best. If you’re
tired, stressed out, dealing with other problems that may intrude on
your thoughts, fighting the flu, or you’ve got the blues —
don’t play. One of the real benefits of playing in casinos and
public cardrooms is that the game never really ends. It is usually there
whenever you’re ready for it. Don’t make the fatal mistake
of taking your troubles out on your bankroll.
Monitor Your Own Play for Weaknesses; Then Act On It:
There have been times that I’ve played when I was tired or psychologically
weakened. I recognized the condition but instead of acting on it, I
denied it. On those occasions I’ve generally lost money. In fact,
the act of denying that I’m in tip-top game shape is the single
biggest flaw in my game. When not at my best, I have played in what
should have been very profitable games, but lost because I’ve
allowed my ego to seduce me into believing that I was still the best
player and a big favorite. While I might have known much more about
poker than my opponents, when psychologically weakened, I was anything
but the best player at the table.
The truth is deceptively simple: If you’re not ready to play
your best, don’t play. And when you do play, keep your own standards
foremost in your mind. Don’t tumble down to the level of your
opponents. Tell yourself it’s OK to play your best. Then do it.