There’s No “I” In Poker

I recently competed in a televised tournament where several players lost focus on their game. They were either trying to gun for a particular opponent at their table or making some ill-advised moves to show off for the cameras. In every case, these players were making the same mistake – letting their egos get in the way of their game.

While most players will never have the opportunity to try and take down a big name pro or make “fancy” poker moves in front of a TV camera, far too many people still let their egos get in the way of playing solid poker. Once that happens, they lose sight of their long-term goals and start playing for purposes other than winning.

So how do you keep your ego in check at the table? I recommend you start by identifying the kinds of situations that can throw you off your game, and then learn how to deal with them or, better yet, avoid them altogether. To give you an idea, I’ve outlined three common situations that I’ve come across over the years:

  • The grudge match – In my experience, this is one of the most common situations that happens at the table and, with practice, one of the easiest to avoid.

    Oftentimes, one player will lay a particularly bad beat on another or make a play that a competitor thinks cost them chips. Rather than writing it off as what it is – a single hand in a game or tournament – the aggrieved player goes on tilt and focuses on playing back at their new “nemesis” as if he or she is involved in a heads-up match.

    By letting their egos get in the way and focusing on a single opponent, these players often end up doing themselves more long-term harm than good. They lose track of the other people at the table and end up missing opportunities to replenish their stacks or, even worse, give those opponents the chance to take the last of their remaining chips.

    Instead of falling into this trap, my advice is to do everything in your power to let the hand go. If this means getting up from the table and walking around the card room for 10 minutes to blow off steam, so be it. In the long run, it’s a cheaper and less stressful solution to a problem that doesn’t need to exist in the first place.

  • Fighting the table bully – Some players feel like they’re always being picked on by their competitors, especially when they’re sitting on a short stack while other players at the table have many more chips at their disposal.

    Instead of playing smart poker and looking for opportune times to collect some valuable chips from these bigger stacks, these players often end up fighting back in an effort to show that they won’t be picked on. As is often the case with an underdog in this kind of situation, they walk away defeated.

    While there’s value in playing back at aggressive opponents with larger chip stacks, you have to pick your battles wisely. Instead of pushing with any two cards to prove that “you’re not gonna take it”, look for opportunities to get your chips in the middle when you think you have the best hand. Patience is the key to surviving these kinds of situations rather than rash and overly aggressive play. Stay committed to playing your game and the bully problem will take care of itself.

  • The glory seekers – For some players – especially online – there’s nothing more satisfying than bragging about how they took a pot from a well-known pro.

    Yes, it’s fun to play at the same table as a Phil Ivey or Chris Ferguson, but it’s a big mistake to do so at the detriment of your basic game plan. By gunning for the glory of “beating” these pros, many inexperienced players leave themselves open to being run over by their competitors.

    If you really want to impress the pros – and your fellow competitors – keep your emotions out of the game. Focus on playing the best cards in the best situations possible and those big pots you’re hoping to win will happen on their own.

These are just a few of the ways that your ego can get in the way of playing solid, winning poker. When you get caught up in these mind games your long-term goals, whether they be winning a tournament or building up a bankroll, will suffer. This may not be a team game, but it’s always good to remember that there is no “I” in poker.

Eddy Scharf