Poker Self-Control

Playing Your A-Game

Poker Self Control“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” -- The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

This underground comic book slogan is funny, but it makes me think of a universal truth of poker: self-control will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no self-control.

No poker concept is of any importance if a player does not exercise self-control. And, the vast majority of poker players demonstrate truly horrible self-control. There is something about the game, the way it presents us with little challenges time and again, where most players will simply give in to temptation. They do things that they wouldn’t do if they were playing as they know they should, and want to. It’s like some gremlin takes over their hands and mouths, and forces them to re-raise with 77 or QJ immediately after losing to a gutshot draw.

Knowing the right thing to do is of no value at all if you don’t do it. Winning poker is fundamentally simple: figure out the best thing to do, and then do it. Figuring out the correct strategy or tactic is not easy to say the least, but when cooler heads prevail, a lot of players know pretty much what to do, and also why. Still, a large number of these people will often simply not do what they know they should do.

Suppose poker worked like this: The ground is littered with hundreds of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Every minute we can reach down and pick up one coin. Every player would know that the most profitable strategy would be to pick up a quarter each time. All players exercising self-control would then follow-through and pick up a quarter. But the way it works in the poker world, the vast majority of players will occasionally pick up a dime, or nickel, or penny, or even inexplicably not pick up any coin at all. Assuming they do want to make the most money possible, there is no reason to ever do this, even if you think a penny is prettier or just to break the monotony.

Human beings have a lot of weaknesses, and poker is a great game because it is designed to probe those weaknesses. People are challenged when they have to make decisions under stress, frustration, anger, and even joy. These are all the “turf” of poker. All the things that make decision-making difficult (except maybe love) come into play at a poker table. Whoever invented this game must have really liked screwing with people’s heads.

Still, many of these decisions are pretty clear -- outside the heat of the moment. As players who want to win, we need to “simply” train ourselves to think as clearly as we do under the best circumstances, and then act accordingly. Translated into traditional poker jargon, this means: play your “A” game all the time.

Why do you ever not play your “A” game? You leave it out in the car or something? No, of course not. Except for things like feeling physically ill -- when a person should just quit (if not in a tournament) -- there really are no reasons to ever not play you’re “A” game. The fact that many winning players can still make a profit playing their “B” or “C” games is no excuse for not playing their “A” game. Also, when I say “A” game, I don’t mean that a player who can take $73 an hour out of a Stud game should just go home if there is no stud game going that day if there is a Holdem game that he can make $57 an hour playing. Playing your “A” game means having the self-control to play your best all the time.

Assuming you want to win, you study poker and try to play well, doing this one thing, always playing your best, will separate you from 99% of the poker players of the world. Doing this one thing, while playing within your bankroll, nearly guarantees you will be a winning player.

Going on tilt is not "mixing up your play".

A bankroll the size of Fort Knox is not enough to win if you know you shouldn’t play 72o, but you still insist on doing it. On the other hand, in the hands of a player dedicated to always playing their best poker, any bankroll at all represents a seed from which poker riches can grow.

You can’t control luck. You can control yourself. And you better.

See more on Poker Discipline and Poker Luck