I know that I have promised to concentrate on limit hold’em for a few weeks but I am having a temporary leave this week to write a special one off article that I hope will help a great many people. The reason why I am writing this is because of something that has happened to a very close friend of mine recently that I have only just become aware of.
I have recently found out that my good friend (we will call him Benny) has lost a very significant amount of money playing online. I will not divulge the full amount but it is substantially into five figures and that’s pounds and not dollars. Benny poured his heart out to me over Christmas and told me what had happened and how it had happened. I know that he is not a rich guy and that the money that he lost meant an awful lot to him and the welfare of his family although his wife does not know.
I always knew that he had been playing online but not for stakes as high as what he had been playing at and his total loss came as a real shock to me when I found out. But listening to his story and knowing what I do about the guy and I knew straight away where his problems lay.
You see, me and Benny go back a long way. We shared the same interests, went to the same school, drank in the same pubs, played golf and other sports together…..you name it. But we also shared many similar character traits as well and this article is also a story about my own mistakes and experiences and not just Benny’s.
Both of us came from down to earth working class families and both of us were not academic types. I personally found concentrating on anything to be too much like hard work and looking back, it was no surprise that my education suffered as a result of this. But I think that one of the major differences between myself and Benny is that as I have grown older, I have become far more self aware than him and this is where we differ greatly.
But I remember sometime ago when I went through a very bad run of results playing online, so bad that I seriously considered jacking the entire thing in and it would have been very easy to do so. I took a good long hard look at myself and my game and realised that I wasn’t strong enough mentally. But looking back through my life and it was pretty obvious that I had never had any history of being able to concentrate for long periods of time.
Whether it was studying for exams, playing scrabble, Chess, doing puzzles….you name it. I had the talent but application and hard work were totally alien concepts to me. I realised that the online games were getting tougher and that my current level of knowledge was no longer enough in the modern online arena. Despite all my hard work and dedication, new players were coming into poker with less knowledge than me but were compensating for that by possessing other skills that I simply did not have or possessing personal attributes that were highly relevant to poker.
The no limit games were proving even worse and it was these games that were cruelly exposing indiscipline that was a major part of my character. The earlier card dependent strategies in limit hold’em were no longer enough to guarantee success and they had suited me because they were easy to implement and took no work.
In the same way that blackjack had been easy, the count tells you what to do at all times and the decisions are taken out of your hands. Sure, it took concentration to maintain the count but not as much as what many people think. There are short cuts that can help you count an entire round with the merest glance of the table so even in blackjack, I was never concentrating intently because after ten years in gaming it just came natural.
This is why I think that successful Chess players (I am referring to International Masters and Grandmasters like AngusD) take to poker like a duck to water. They already have the training when it comes to mental discipline and concentrating for a four to five hour tournament game is routine to them. Many have also been graduates where constant studying and concentration is a part of everyday life. But if that has not been a part of your life like it hasn’t been for me and Benny then what in heavens name makes you think that you can just turn this on like a tap? I was a strong Chess player some years ago and played top board for my city but I could never take the next step and looking back now, poor concentration was the reason.
I know that Benny has worked very hard on his poker game because he has come to me many times for advice and has read numerous books but knowledge is not necessarily enough these days. The playing field is levelling all the time and other factors besides poker knowledge are increasing in importance. But I know that indiscipline has ended up costing Benny an awful lot of money playing no limit hold’em, in fact sadly, he is the type of player that many others exploit.
The types of players who Doyle Brunson was referring to when he said “you just have to stick with some players and they will pass you their money”. No limit hold’em exposes indiscipline in a way that limit hold’em does not. But some time ago, I made it my goal to practice concentration and to elevate it to being my primary goal whenever I played poker.
I knew that I could play the game very well but theoretical knowledge is all well and good but it counts for nothing if you cannot transfer what you know to the game at hand. I elevated concentration and discipline above winning money because I knew that winning money would surely follow. I also started to play less hours a week because I found that concentrating for 40 hours a week was proving too difficult for me and I don’t like multi-tabling.
But concentration is something that I believe has to be practiced and not something that you can just simply do if you have no past history of doing it. This is why tournament poker does not fit my personality. I like being able to play poker for 2/3 hours and then switching off when I realise that I am mentally drifting. I would hate to have to face a 10 hour poker session because I just know that sometime during that period, I would end up doing something stupid because either my concentration dropped or because I was bored. This would not be guaranteed to happen but I know from past experience that I simply could not be trusted to maintain discipline for lengthy periods.
But you have heard it countless times before and you will hear it again, you really must know yourself if you are to succeed in poker. Many people including many on this forum will naturally already have the qualities that I have had to work very hard to attain. You perhaps would not learn anything from this article.
But to all the people out there who can relate to what I saying then I hope that it will make you possibly take a look at yourself and ask yourself the question….. “am I mentally tough enough?”. Because if you ask it now, then you could prevent yourself from making the same mistakes that me and Benny have made and learning from other peoples downfalls and mistakes is a damn site less expensive than learning from personal experience.
Carl “The Dean” Sampson can also be found playing free poker