16/03/2009

What the Books don't Teach You: Part Two

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Last week I started a discussion on poker books and poker coaching websites for that matter and some of the weaknesses in them. Becoming a winning poker player is a multi-faceted exercise that moves beyond merely learning and then utilising learnt theory.

As I mentioned last week, I honestly believe that the vast majority of successful players simply do not understand the underlying reasons for why they are successful. This makes blindly copying them hazardous and something that is certainly not guaranteed to be successful.

If I may, at this stage I am going to massage Alex B’s ego a little bit (sure he wont mind) by using him as my example. Alex has openly stated on this forum that he owes his success to joining CardRunners. This is where I have to disagree with him... he owes some of his success to joining CardRunners but not all. Many of the factors that are contributing to making him a winning player will have already been present in his psyche before he joined CR.

This is precisely my point, when you get a certain type of individual with a certain type of mindset and a certain type of psychological disposition then they already may be three quarters of the way there without even realising it. All they needed was a gentle shove in the right direction by providing them with the proper methodology from the right people presented in a professional way and success will follow like night follows day.

This does not mean that someone else could watch the same videos that Alex B did and automatically do what he did. Learning sound poker theory is really only the beginning of what is a far more complex problem and that complexity is magnified with certain people over others. This is why you could get two equally intelligent people with exactly the same IQ level and one may find that winning money at poker was ridiculously easy while the other found it impossible.

It is for this reason that many people tell lies about how well they are doing at poker. This is because it is perceived by many people that someone who isn’t winning money somehow lacks intelligence or has a lower IQ than the people who are successful. This is correct in many cases but we simply cannot generalise in this way.

I have been accused in the past of not working hard enough on my poker game. These comments always make me laugh because they are made by people who have no knowledge or understanding of just how hard I have worked. At no stage in my life have I ever been what can be deemed “a natural poker player”. Because of these overall weaknesses in my psyche, I have had to work harder to make money and not less.

I have worked on areas of my game that the overwhelming majority of poker players fail to address and that is the mental and psychological side. Poker when all said and done is a mental exercise and not just a situation in which you attempt to execute knowledge. I can look back now and see the exact reasons for why I could never break beyond certain levels at Chess and it had absolutely nothing to do with a lack of intellect. I never really saw the game for what it really was and that was a severe mental exercise lasting several hours. It wasn’t just a battle of knowledge of one player over another like some ultra complex pub quiz.

This is where I failed miserably because I had severe problems in concentrating for periods over one hour. This is a pretty bad personality trait to have when you are about to play a tournament game that may last at least 4-5 hours. There were other problems as well in how I was approaching the game analytically but they were nothing when compared to my problems with regards concentration levels.

This is why I stick to cash games now and I prefer to play short sharp sessions if I am playing against good players. Irrespective of how good the game is, I know that after sixty minutes and ninety at the outside that this advantage will be seriously offset by my game dropping off.

But getting back to the subject of poker theory for a minute, there is a large volume of opinion and especially with regards the newer players that much of the older theory is wrong. I see this all the time and in my mind, this shows a chronic lack of understanding of poker and its underlying concepts. Just because something is old does not make it useless. It may be useless but that comes down to the individual being able to identify what can be used from 1980 or whatever period and what can’t.

Poker theory is cyclical in nature and very little becomes totally out of date if you are able to utilise that information correctly. It is a bit like looking at a motor car from the 1950’s, many of the features of motor cars from that period are still with us today. This means that those vehicles are not as outdated as what we think they are. We are still using wheels, steering columns, headlights, brakes, doors, exhausts etc fifty years on.

Modern technology supplements earlier developments but it never fully replaces it. When you think deeply enough about this then the same applies with poker. You cannot just blindly do something or favour something simply because it is more modern without understanding the bigger picture. There are not many people who would fancy going back in time thirty years and taking on Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Bobby Baldwin etc for a substantial amount of money.

There are distinct ebbs and flows to how people play poker and what they do in actual poker games. This means that it is advantageous to your overall game to know as much as you possibly can irrespective of its age. The flip side to that is that you shouldn’t be so quick to just copy something merely because it is modern. If it is modern then it means that the vast majority of other players may be doing the same thing and then the optimal play may be to do something else.

I have a name for this and I call it “first and second generation theory”. One of the primary objectives to studying and learning poker theory isn’t just to follow it in actual play but to understand how others are playing the game and if you can understand that then you are well on your way to being one step ahead.

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