Players need more than the technical skill set to achieve success
There are dozens of poker books on the market that are designed to teach the technical aspects of the game. The technical skills are relatively easy to learn, so why do so many players fail to win money at poker?
Many poker players never achieve their full potential because of a faulty mindset. These players allow roadblocks to halt their progression, not from the lack of a technical understanding of the game, but because they approach poker in the wrong way. In fact, some of these players might have world-class technical skills, but find themselves broke. Achieving a solid technical skill set is really only half the battle to achieving poker success.
The mental, emotional, and psychological aspects of poker are extremely important. Every poker player loses money that they shouldn't - through poor attitude, weak mindsets, bad reactions, and woolly thinking. Even people who are very calm and controlled in their ordinary lives can become emotional, illogical, or deluded at the poker table.
Poker is a game played by people, not robots. People have feelings, drives, and emotions that may cause them to act in unpredictable and illogical ways. This leads them to make poor decisions, even though they know better. You can have the best technical skills in the world, but if you don't use them all of the time, you will fail - either by going broke or by failing in the sense that you don't achieve your true potential.
Some of the faulty mindsets that limit a player's success are as follows:
Failure to accept the reality of poker
Many players do not understand that poker is a game of high variance. They don't realize that poker is a game of both skill and luck, and that a good player's edge in the short-term is very small, indeed. On the other hand, some players do understand this, but don't really accept it. In order to succeed at poker, you need to both understand and accept the reality of poker. A good player understands that poker is a game of high variance, and that it is this very nature of the game that enables him to be successful.
Obsessed with the short term
Players who don't understand and accept the nature of poker will often be too obsessed with short-term results. They will care too much about the results of individual hands and sessions, not seeing the bigger picture. As a result, they will often go on tilt at the table - chasing money that they have lost, refusing to quit when behind, and making rash changes to their game. They don't realize that there is only one thing to worry about when playing poker: making correct decisions. If you make the correct decisions, the actual result of a particular hand or session is irrelevant, because you will be a winner in the long term.
Many players have heard that bankroll management is important, but they still find it hard to handle the actual gambling aspect of poker. The end result is, players playing with scared money. If you are playing scared, it is very difficult to make correct decisions at the table. You might not protect your hand properly, not value-bet enough, play too tightly, or not bluff enough. These mistakes can be the result of a lack of technical understanding of the game, but can also occur because you are afraid of losing the money that's in front of you.
Ego is another shortcoming of many people. Some players know what they ought to do, but they let ego get in the way. For example, you might call bets that you shouldn't, just because you don't like being pushed around. Or, you might play in games that you can't beat, because your ego tells you that you can. Alternatively, you might try to impress your opponents or allow a personal feud to cloud or override your judgment.
Of course, one of the biggest pitfalls of many players is allowing their emotions to interfere with their decisions. Emotions can cause you to make suboptimal plays that you would not otherwise make. How often do you see an angry or frustrated player go on tilt and start spewing chips? How often do you see nervous or depressed players fold too easily, as they are not prepared to take risks? Poker is an emotional game by nature, but you can't let emotions interfere with your decision-making process.
Not making enough effort to improve
To succeed at any endeavor, you must commit to an ongoing program of analysis and improvement. Poker is no different. If you stop learning, not only will your game not improve, but it is likely to regress. Experienced players become less keen on learning over time, because they get complacent, lose enthusiasm, and sometimes believe they already have mastered the game. Top players may disagree on many things, but one thing that they will voice resounding agreement on is that they are still learning.
As you can see, these pitfalls or "leaks" in your mindset have nothing to do with your technical skill set, but, nevertheless, can have a profound impact on your results. To truly fulfill your potential at the poker table, you must:
- Understand and accept the realities of poker
- Play for the long term
- Emphasize making correct decisions over making money
- Desensitize yourself to money
- Leave your ego at the door
- Remove all emotion from decisions
- Dedicate yourself to a continual cycle of analysis and improvement
Ian Taylor and I have written a book titled The Poker Mindset: Essential Attitudes for Poker Success, which discusses these very concepts. Poker authors like to market their books as the most important one you will ever read. With this book, we are a little more modest and suggest that it is the second-most important poker book you will ever read. The most important will be the one that teaches you correct technical play, because nothing can compensate for that. This book picks up from there, and shows you how to maximize your edge and prevent the self-destructive tendencies that many players possess.
The Poker Mindset introduces and explores the correct mindset with which to approach poker. We look at various areas in which many players routinely fail, such as going on tilt, coping with bad beats, downswings, and bankroll management. We also look at the mindsets of our opponents, as a means of evaluating their tendencies, motives, and levels of thinking. In essence, the book aims to provide you with the behavioral framework for playing superior poker.
Many players have the technical skill set to achieve success, but what is preventing or limiting them is a faulty mindset. Learn how to approach the game the right way and your results should improve dramatically.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.