By Shari Geller
The television show Breaking Bad and its story of a milquetoast high school teacher’s transformation into a cold-blooded killer has become a cultural touchstone for a good segment of America. As the show wraps up its five-season run, many are looking at the main character’s arc in all its Shakespearean glory and ignominy. As with any great tragedy, there are lessons to be learned from the main character’s rise and fall, including some that can help you - not to build a meth empire, but to become a more successful poker player.
Identify your strengths. The fictional Walter White correctly focused on his abilities as a scientist, especially with a concentration in crystals, as a tool that could help him make money fast (albeit illegally). But his biggest mistake was thinking being good at one thing meant he was good at others. He thought he was a great liar; he wasn’t. He thought he was smarter than his opponents; he wasn’t. What are you strengths at the table? Some people are better at reading their opponents than they are at assessing implied pot odds or figuring out EV. Some people are better at cash games, others in tourneys. Recognize where you have the edge and capitalize on those places.
Keep pride in check. At any number of times throughout the series, Walter White could have come out on top. The DEA had lost its scent or been pointed in another direction. Others could have taken the attention off of him. But every time, his desire to have people know how smart he was, how talented he was, how important he was, overrode his better judgment. Don’t let your ego get in the way at the poker table. If you make a great laydown, but your opponent is gloating like they bluffed you – let them think they got the upper hand. If you make a great bluff, don’t then show it only to crow about how clever you are (now, showing to put someone on tilt, is another thing).
Be disciplined. For someone trained as a scientist, Walter White flies off the handle more than Phil Hellmuth at a featured table. At the beginning of the show, he made pro/con lists and planned things out methodically, but later he began to act impulsively, motivated by emotions rather than reason. It’s difficult when money is at stake, but you have to keep your feelings out of your decision-making. Snap calls may make for great TV, but you’re far better off taking the time to replay what’s happened in a hand before acting. If you get dealt a bad beat, avoid tilt. Take a deep breath, step away from the table, give yourself time to regroup. Impulsivity will only lead to trouble.
Don’t give anything away. Walter White left evidence practically in plain view and if you’re caught up on your viewing, you know how that has worked out for him. From stolen school supplies to a misplaced book, he has done the equivalent of playing with his cards face up. Don’t help your opponents by tipping your hand. Vary your play. If your opponents don’t know whether the hand you just raised with is aces or rags, you have them at a disadvantage. But if you play a consistent game – raising early with only premium hands, flat-calling your draws, folding to re-raises – you have given them the edge. Be an enigma at the table, keep them guessing.
Breaking Bad’s Walter White may be the ultimate tragic anti-hero, but his mistakes can teach you how to be a hero in your own story.