Over decades, I’ve identified one of the main reasons that the majority of skillful poker players fail to win. It’s surprising, and it isn’t what you think.
It has to do with their inability to “stabilize.” And in today’s self-interview, I’ll explain what I mean.
Question 1: What does the word “stabilize” have to do with poker?
A lot. Like I said, it describes one of the primary reasons that poker players lose.
Question 2: Before we get to that, you said it was “one of the primary reasons” for failure to win. What are some of the other reasons?
Besides an inability to stabilize, which I’ll discuss shortly, presuming that you ask relevant questions, there are several reasons for failure.
Going on tilt is one. Competing against too strong a group of opponents is another. Being cheated is one, also. Not treating poker as a business, playing too large for their bankrolls, playing too creatively, entering too many pots, not choosing the right seats, and poor game selection are others.
Question 3: Wow! Interesting list. Is going on tilt really that common a reason for losing money at poker?
Time to go public. My behind the- scenes campaign to protect Internet poker has failed.
Timing is crucial to maximizing poker profit – but probably not in ways that come immediately to mind. Let’s discuss that in today’s selfinterview.
Question 1: What does timing have to do with poker?
When players say, “Bad timing,” or “Your timing was off,” they’re often responding politely to an opponent’s failed bluff, after calling with strong hands. They either mean to make that opponent feel better or they’re using a psychological ploy. It’s one intended to suggest that they wouldn’t have called, had their hand not been so powerful, thus inviting the foe to bluff again in the future. When you hear similar words when you’re caught bluffing, you should back away from bluffing that opponent.
You also hear someone talk about their own bad timing – or yours – in the context of having a strong second-best hand or having made a flush on the river that loses. And there are other ways that the word “timing” is commonly used in poker.
However, I’m not talking about that today. Let’s explore what I am talking about. Next question.
Question 2: I get it, you’re talking about the flow of the game, getting in sync with the action. You need timing there, right?
In order to make quality decisions in poker and in life, you need to understand the word “important.” And I’m not talking about its definition.
You already know that. Exactly what am I talking about, then? Well, that’s the topic of today’s selfinterview.
Question 1: So, what is it about the word “important” that you think I don’t understand?
Let me answer by throwing a couple of questions right back at you. Let’s say I told you to walk to the end of a hallway. Then you must turn either left and enter a room or right and exit to the patio. Waiting for you – in the room and on the patio – will be a poker hand. If you choose the higher-ranking hand, you win a billion dollars. If you choose the lower ranking one, you win nothing.
So, your questions are: If I give you 10 hours to make a decision, how much time will you spend deciding; and how important is this decision?
Question 2: Clearly you’re giving me an extreme example of decision making. Let’s see. Well, I’d probably take the whole 10 hours. And, obviously, the decision would be incredibly important – the most important one of my life. So, how did I do?
I want you to think about poker in an all-new way. Imagine a world where poker isn’t about calling and betting. Instead, it’s about buying and selling. If you image that world, then you’ll understand poker as it really is. And you’ll probably make a lot more money at the tables. I’ll try to explain that in todays self-interview.
Question 1: Why does it matter how you define poker? It’s still the same game, right?
Right. It’s the same game.
Whenever you see a description of anything, you can say, “why does it matter? It is what it is.” Often it does matter, though. That’s because how you imagine something determines how you use or react to it. Take a television, for instance. It could be described as a container surrounding a window that glows. In that context, it would become a great nightlight or decoration. If you define a TV that way, its purpose is to destroy the darkness. But if you define it as the receiver of transmitted information and entertainment, it has a more valuable purpose.
What’s all this talk about “missing a bet” in poker? You hear it often, but is it real science, just jabber, or both?
That’s the topic for today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What does missing a bet mean?
It means that a player declined the opportunity to make a bet when it would have been profitable to do so.
Question 2: So, missing a bet sounds like a bad thing. Do you agree?
In theory, missing bets can cost money. Just like any other judgment mistakes, betting is often a close decision. And the answer to whether a bet has been missed or not isn’t always obvious.
What is obvious is that many poker players are so worried about missing a bet that the entire concept is damaging their bankrolls. I was there when this craze started. It was back in the 1980s when I first heard the term, I think.
It began as an infrequent way for players who envisioned themselves as superior at poker to point out mistakes others were making: “You missed that bet!” This prodding quickly became a plague that remains with us today – embedded deeply in our consciousness.
Sometimes the scolding was done in a friendly way and sometimes it was done to embarrass. It became so common that players would immediately point out their own missed bets, before they could be criticized by anyone else: “I missed a bet. I’m so sorry. I know better, really. Now I’m going to cash out, go home, and ponder my wasted life, because I’m an unworthy player.” Well, maybe not, but almost.
Question 3: So, wasn’t that a good thing – being conscious of missing bets?
In today’s self-interview, I invite questions on anything.
Question 1: Have any of your opinions about poker changed over the decades that you have been researching and analyzing the game?
Not many. And here’s the deal with that: poker theory is timeless.
It puzzles me to read so many comments from young players proclaiming that poker advice is outdated. Actually, there was a time when this was true. That was before I and others began to treat our game scientifically in the 1970s.
Back then, much of the advice was based on homespun wisdom, on what appeared to work or not work, on empirical data. The word “empirical” mean that conclusions are based on observation or personal experience, rather than analysis, logic, and research.
Today’s word, “win,” relates to poker in ways that aren’t clearly understood by many players. In fact, what the word means to them is dangerous, so dangerous that it actually keeps some wouldbe professionals from winning. Confused?
Well, when we’ve finished with this selfinterview, you won’t be. This stuff is important, so I’d consider it a personal favor if you zoomed in and focused on what I’m about to share.
Question 1: I don’t get it. How can players be confused about winning?
When you win, you win, right? Maybe you’re the one who’s confused. You aren’t exactly making yourself endearing as an interviewer. What’s your question?
Question 2: I thought my question was clear. Winning is winning, so why are you telling me that it isn’t?
There are different kinds of winning in poker. Some of them cost you money.
You should never enter a poker game feeling like an old west gunslinger and getting your ego involved. If you do that, you’ll fire away at opponents with a barrage of raises. You’ll win their attention and, for at least a short time, you’ll be intimidating.
But then what? Then you’ll realize that you can’t win money in the long term, only attention, because each raise needs to be profitable. Deciding when to raise and why to raise is the topic of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: You said that a raise needs to be profitable. How do you know when that is?
I heard from a friend of forty years, Art Sathmary, last year (2012). He phoned me unexpectedly to touch bases. Art, with his famous “ASQ” waiting-board initials, remains one of the true legends of Gardena poker.
Gardena? You had to be there to understand. That small Los Angeles suburb was poker central in America for decades. In fact, it billed itself as the “Poker Capital of the World.” This self-interview is about that and about a small event involving Art and me that changed my way of thinking about poker.
Question 1: Before you explain why today’s word is “quarter,” tell us about Gardena. What was it like?