The Poker Long Run

Winning the Real Game

Poker Long Run"I get knocked down but I get up again
You're never going to keep me down."
-- "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba

Poker is not a game of the moment. It seems to be, with pots being awarded nearly every minute, but the truth of the matter is winning poker is all about the long-run. Bizarrely, most players play for the moment: the thrill, the buzz, immediate gratification. Most players lose. This is no coincidence.

Players should normally gear their decisions toward what is best for the long run and not fall victim to the temptations of the moment. That pitfall of temptation swallows up many a good player, including many who over time could move from being merely "good" to being one of the greats. Oodles of players can handle things when they are going well -- only to explode like a Pinto at the slightest stress.

Then also, anyone who plays serious poker can point to players who could do much better than they are, but since they've been "down so long," whenever they get a burst of good fortune (and bankroll), they become truly different people. The fellow who didn't have a pot to pee in a few weeks before now bets $4000 on the over/under of the third quarter score of a pre-season football game. A few weeks later this player is busted. Duh.

Keeping your eye on the prize, regardless of momentary circumstances, is a poker skill with a definite dollar value. Absent luck and assuming some skill, perseverance on an even keel is what gets the money. I'm not putting down aggressive, sensible risk-taking. Far from it. I'm talking about something else, something hard to put a finger on, that applies to both ring games and tournament poker. Maybe it's easier to understand by using an example from politics and one from sports.

John A. MacDonald, longtime Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, dominated Canadian politics in the 19th century. During his forty years in public life, MacDonald faced a succession of leaders from the Liberal Party, and usually came up on the winning end of the ticket. He once remarked: "The great reason why I have been able to beat [Liberal Party leader George] Brown is that I have been able to look a little ahead, while he could on no occasion forego the temptation of a temporary triumph."

Is that a poker concept or is that a poker concept?!!

I see it all the time in tournaments. Due mostly to good fortune and good cards, players jump off to a big lead, or have a big rush in the middle of a tournament. They pile up great gobs of chips. Certainly some times these players with a big lead go on to win, but these are the players I like to go after. The very best player to play against in a critical situation is a player who has been running good! Give me an opponent who has had good fortune tossed in his lap all day long. They make the most mistakes. They think they are indestructible. Please keep away those players who have been grinding away all day! They aren't deluded, drunk with the trivial success of doing well when there are 50 people left. That temporary triumph is no triumph at all, especially if, like often happens, they begin to play less sharply than they would if the deck wasn't constantly hitting them in the forehead.

Football offers another good parallel. One of the sport's great philosophers, Alex Karras, once remarked that when his Detroit Lions played the Green Bay Packers, the Lions pounded the Packers up and down the field for sixty minutes, but when he looked up at the scoreboard, he would see the Packers had won the game!

Like in football, the point is to win the game -- and the game of poker lasts a lifetime.

See also Poker Defense, Poker Strategy and Reality TV and Poker Memory