Most poker players think like losers. I know this because most poker players tell me in excruciating detail how they think about the game. Whether I like it or not, I’m going to hear seat three’s lesson on why raising with pocket tens is a dumb idea. And then I’m going to hear how lucky I was to spike the ten on the river
Thinking like a loser is sure to keep you losing. Why? Because it means you are focused on the wrong things, and this poor focus will prevent you from improving. Here are some things I hear players say that represent loser thinking. I’ll talk about why they are bad and then suggest some ways to turn that negative energy into positive.
1. Bad beat stories
Bad beat stories are the worst. They are pure negativity. No amount of brooding will change even a single river card from now to eternity. Thinking about a bad beat is guaranteed to improve your play not one iota.
And when the bad beat thinking takes over, it shoves all other constructive thought out of the way. If you’re still thinking about that ten on the river two hours later, that’s two hours you weren’t playing your best and two hours you have almost no chance to learn anything from.
Of course, once the bad beat monster gets in your brain it’s hard to get it out. Bad beats happen all the time, so the next fix is always just around the corner. There’s no sure way to get past a beat, but here’s what works well for me.
First, play on a comfortable bankroll. If you’re worried, really worried, about losing the money you have on the table, you are setting yourself up to think like a loser. On the other hand, if you keep five buyins in your pocket when you play, you will never have the thought, “Wow, if I lose this buyin, that’s it.” Playing on a short roll is playing scared, and when you do get a bad beat you’ll naturally resent it that much more.
Second, book some wins. If you’re focused on bad beats, it probably means you’ve been losing lately. Obviously you can’t just will yourself to win, but you can decide to call it a day the next time the natural ups and downs of poker have put you ahead a couple hundred bucks. Mathematically it makes no difference when you quit your sessions, but booking a win or two can be just what it takes to clear your head.
My hope is that the next time you’re tempted to tell a bad beat story, you’ll think of this article. Dwelling on bad beats is self-defeating, and it’s thinking like a loser. Get up and walk around. Reminisce about that tournament you won last year. Count sheep. Anything. Just get the beat out of your head.
2. Complaints about opponents
Here’s another doozy. “How am I supposed to win with that jerk in seat eight calling every hand to the river?” Unless the jerk in seat eight is Phil Ivey, chances are he’s not causing your problems. He’s just playing like an idiot. People who play like idiots lose their money. They may not lose every single time they play, but they do eventually lose. And most of the time they lose fast. If you don’t believe me, try playing like an idiot for a few hours and see where it gets you.
Poker is a zero sum game (minus the rake of course). That means that if the jerk in seat eight is losing money (and he is), then someone is winning it. It should be you.
Here’s how it goes. Say there’s a guy who is calling 75 percent of his hands preflop and then calling to the river with any pair. Twice in a row you had A-K, and you missed the board while he flopped bottom pair. He called you down and won both times. Frustrating, for sure. But here’s how many players react. The next time they flop a pair against this player, they bet it once and then just check it down hoping to win the showdown. Then when they win, they shout “Hallelujah,” and stack the tiny pot.
That’s thinking like a loser. They’re too focused on the fact that this crazy player has beaten then, and not focused on why what this player is doing is crazy in the first place. The player is crazy because he pays off too much with weak hands. Therefore, to take advantage, you should bet your real hands harder than you usually do. Checking the pair down to try to “win cheap” is self-defeating. Instead, you should bet, bet, bet.
If you find yourself tempted to complain about an opponent, stop yourself. The opponent isn’t causing you problems. Instead, he’s an opportunity. Think about what he’s doing wrong, and then adjust your play to take maximum advantage of it.
3. Waiting for a better spot
Okay, most people know that bad beat stories aren’t productive (though judging by how often I hear them most people also haven’t taken the lesson to heart). And many people know that bad opponents don’t beat you in the long run. But there’s something I hear all the time that has entrenched itself as a sort of conventional wisdom. Yet it’s loser thought.
“I kind of thought he might be bluffing, but I folded anyway. I figured I’d wait for a better spot.”
I cringe whenever I hear people say they “waited for a better spot.” Nine times out of ten, it means, “I was too chicken to take decisive action, so I took the easy way out and folded. I can’t embarass myself if I fold, right?”
This one’s a little tricky. I’m not saying that folding is a bad thing. It’s what I do almost every hand. But habitually waiting for a “better spot” is a big problem. Why? Because people who do that often end up waiting for a near lock before they put their money in. There’s another word for that play style – nit. Being a nit isn’t bad because it’s uncool. It’s bad because it’s not very profitable in most no-limit games.
Good players take some chances. If they get a read that someone might be bluffing, they pull the trigger and call or reraise. They don’t say, “Well, I think it’s a bluff, but I think I’ll fold anyway and maybe I’ll flop a set in a few hands and he’ll get it in with me.” That’s wishful thinking, and it’s thinking like a loser.
Evaluate every decision on its own merit. Ignore the mythical “better spot” that may or may not arise. If a daring play seems like the right play, take the chance. You’ll get burned sometimes, but it’s the only way to learn.
[This article appeared in the December 15, 2010 issue (Vol. 23, No. 25) of Card Player.]