Prisoners of Envy

Envious Poker Opponents

Poker EnvyďEnvy has no holidays.Ē -- Francis Bacon

Envy will always be a part of poker. Someone wins a pot with two jacks, and you wish you had those jacks. But even more than that basic desire, dealing with the politics of envy is an important part of being a winning poker player.

The most obvious envy issues grow from the same root as greed. Itís not going to be very helpful to you as a player to want more than it is reasonable to want. Envying those players playing in the biggest game in the casino wonít bring you anything of value, but it can easily provide the motivation for you to play above your bankroll. There are a lot of good reasons to aspire to play in bigger games than you currently are, but just the fact that others are playing these games isnít one. Winning poker (as opposed to just gamb00ling at poker) is about personal management, patience, self-control and sensible risk-versus-reward. It isnít about doing what somebody else is doing or wanting the same car someone else drives.

Beyond resisting greedy impulses, successful players must face envy-rooted issues. While most people play poker because it is a fun something-to-do, there are a significant number of players whose game regularly falls victim to the pitfalls of envy. They hate to see a winning player win. They spend a lot of time obsessing over their object of envy rather than their own game. They may reraise a winning player merely because they are annoyed by the other playerís success. They check hands they should bet just because they want to get some thrill from checkraising a winning player. They take hands too far just because they want to lay a bad beat on their envy-enemy. They burn a huge amount of brain cells strategizing around things that are either just a waste of time, or that have an actual negative expectation.

Of course, all this conniving benefits the winning players. The winning players donít just gain because the envious players are making negative expectation bets, the real benefit comes from the fact that so many of the envious players are just a tier below the level of being winners. Envy likely isnít the only thing holding them back, but it surely contributes. While winning a great deal at poker does require much skill, winning a moderate amount isnít all that hard. But, it does require you to spend a lot of time on your own game. There is a bottomless pit of very small things that taken together equal a large chunk of profit (or loss) for every player: where should you sit at a table; which game should you play in; what does that tell mean that the player in seat three has; maybe I should eliminate (or play more) the group of my most marginal hands in this particular game; maybe I should call out of the small blind more (or less) today, and so on. Dozens of small things directly impact your results on a day-to-day basis, and monitoring them well takes a significant amount of mental effort -- effort that you sure shouldnít be wasting obsessing over someone elseís good fortune.

Winning players have enough to deal with, enough problems and challenges, that they donít have time to waste on the results of other players. Many weaker players are too mentally sloppy or too lazy to do the work to be winning players, so they do have time to fixate on trivial stuff. Instead of doing the hard work of becoming better players, they focus on trying to hurt the winning players.

In the grand scheme of things, winning players love this. Players who could be adequate adversaries end up being self-destructive weaklings. But, if you want to win at poker, you have to be able to take the desperate actions and bad vibes hurled at you by the envious. When you beat 95% of the players out of a pot, itís just that, one pot, part of the game, no big deal. But to maybe 5% of the players itís another brick on their wagon of obsession. Itís personal. Itís passionate. Itís silly as can be, but it is their primary motivation in playing. But, thankfully, that is their business. We donít care if they have foolish motivations. Our business is to know itís going on, and squeeze a little more profit out of it. Thatís what winnerís do -- find a few coins of profit in all the situations they face. Envy takes no holidays, and winners donít take side-trips down Envy Lane.

Also see: Poker Ego, Poker Greed and Stubborn Poker Players