Last issue we talked about the importance of creating a foundation
or structure to support your poker knowledge. We also discussed the
importance of organizing knowledge. Without organizing knowledge into
some coherent whole — where each building block can support ideas
and concepts that come after it — that information is difficult
to find and use when needed.
But is knowledge alone sufficient to make you — or anyone, for
that matter — a winning poker player? Some people think so, but
I don’t. While you certainly need a strong knowledge base to play
winning poker, I don’t believe that knowledge alone is enough
to do much more than make you a little dangerous — and that usually
Are Winning Strategies Enough?
Strategy, by itself, is not enough. All the strategic knowledge in the
world will not guarantee success to any poker player. Personal characteristics
are equally important. Success demands a certain quality of character
in addition to strategic know-how. Players lacking self discipline,
for example, will have a hard time ever winning consistently regardless
of how strategically sophisticated they might be. If one doesn’t
have the discipline to throw away poor starting hands all the knowledge
in the world won’t overcome this flaw.
Knowledge without discipline is wasted, and talent without knowledge
is merely unrealized potential. They are just seeds, not a harvest.
But almost anyone who chooses to work at it can become a good poker
player, even if he lacks innate card sense.
There are some poker players, and it’s no more than a handful,
who really do have a genius for the game — an inexplicable, Picasso
like talent that isn’t easily defined and usually has to be seen
to be believed. But even in the absence of genius — and the vast
majority of winning players are certainly not poker savants —
poker is an eminently learnable skill. Inherent ability helps, and while
you need some talent, you really don’t need all that much. After
all, you don’t have to be Van Cliburn to play the piano, Picasso
to paint, or Michael Jordan to play basketball.
This world is full of professional musicians who will never be Cliburn,
scads of artists who are not Picasso, and millions of kids playing basketball
who won’t ever be like Mike. But many of those same journeyman
musicians earn a nice living, and the same holds true for commercial
artists. And while those kids playing basketball are not yet out there
earning a buck, some will. Others might coach, or perhaps they’ll
just reminisce about the good old days when they could take it to the
hoop with the best of them. And poker, like any latent talent, can be
learned, enhanced, developed, and polished to a high, glossy sheen.
In fact, if you can learn to play poker at a level akin to that of
a journeyman musician, a work-a-day commercial artist, or even that
kid playing high school basketball, you’ve got it made. Do that
and you are good enough to win consistently. You don’t have to
be Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, or Tom McEvoy to earn money playing poker.
The skills of a good journeyman poker player will allow you to supplement
your income, or — better yet — earn your entire livelihood
at the game.
Of course you’d prefer to be the best of the best. Who wouldn’t?
But you don’t have to reach that exalted plateau to make money
at the table. If I were a golfer I’d want to be Jack Nicklaus
in his prime, and I’m not alone either. So would every player
on the PGA tour. But remember, that teaching pro at the local country
club also earns his living playing golf. Although he’s certainly
not making as much, he is doing what he loves and getting paid for it
— which certainly beats punching a clock.
Poker and the Information Explosion
The information explosion is everywhere. You can hardly pick up a magazine
without reading about it. Whether the slant is toward business, computers,
sports, fashion, photography, or current events, no publication seems
complete without at least one article dealing with the information explosion.
Every field, every discipline, has been touched by an avalanche of knowledge.
Gathering knowledge is no longer difficult. Anyone can do it. What’s
tough is sorting and sifting to find those pieces that fit your specific
requirements. Poker is no different. More has been written about poker
since 1980 than had previously been written in the entire history of
the game, and the explosion of interest in online poker as well as an
incredibly high viewership for TV programs like The World Poker Tour
on the Travel Channel and the World Series of Poker on ESPN have also
spread the word that poker is here to stay, and in the process these
TV shows have helped educate an entirely new audience about America’s
Some of this information is good, some mediocre, and some may be well
intentioned, but off-the-mark. Once you’ve made a commitment to
reach for the stars, you have to decide where to begin. If you aspire
to poker excellence, the first — and probably the most important
step — is to develop a perspective that helps you put each piece
of information, each drop of data, each factlet, into a hierarchical
structure. After all, some things are just a lot more important than
others, and you might as well concentrate your efforts where they’ll
do the most good.
Why Some Things Are Important in Poker and Others Aren’t
Suppose I could teach you a terrific tactical ploy that would require
some real study and practice to perfect — but once learned, could
be used to earn an extra bet from an opponent. Suppose I also promised
you that this ploy was absolutely foolproof; it would work perfectly
every time you used it. Have I piqued your interest?
But what if I also told you that this tactic works only in very special
circumstances, and that those particular circumstances occur about once
a year. Do you still want to invest the time required to learn it? Probably
not. While your ability to execute this particularly slick maneuver
might brand you as a tough player in the eyes of your opponents, the
fact that you might use it only once a year renders it meaningless.
In the course of a year’s worth of playing, one extra bet doesn’t
amount to a hill of beans. It doesn’t even amount to a can of
Lots of poker theorists, however, love stuff like this. Because complex
ideas can be very interesting, some poker writers devote a substantial
amount of ink to writing about esoteric — but essentially inconsequential
concepts. Should you ever bother learning them? Of course, but only
after learning an entire raft of information that’s much more
That’s true about most fields, not just poker. There are other
fields where this phenomenon is even more pronounced. Pick up any computer
or photography magazine if you have any doubts. You’ll find article
after article about really arcane technological features that won’t
make the average reader any more computer literate or a better photographer.
But these articles do appeal to hard core hardware junkies, and they
help sell products.
We can count our lucky stars that poker is not yet a technology-driven
field. It’s still played with human dealers, plastic cards, clay
chips — and that’s it. Just think of all the information
you’d have to sort through if Card Player contained articles about
automated dealers, chips infused with artificial intelligence that advised
you how to play a hand. The possibilities for worthless articles appealing
only to poker techies and gadget wonks would be nearly infinite.
The next article in this series examines the kinds of decisions that
are important because they come up frequently, as well as those that
are important because they can be very costly when they do occur —
even if they don’t come up all the time.
Whats important in winning poker Part
1 / Part
2 / Part
3 / Part
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