Obsessing about your poker results can be destructive. Caring about something which is completely out of your control is a recipe for letting your emotions run riot and tilt creep in. But how do we humans, being such results driven creatures, supress the instincts to check our session graph, stare at our bankroll, or berate ourselves for good bluffs that happened to get called this time? Here are five bits of advice I give to students on a daily basis.
1. Keep your Bankroll Hidden
At the top right of the PokerStars lobby, you can always view your bankroll if you need to but doing so religiously during or immediately after each session is a terrible habit. This incessant monitoring trains your mind to prioritise results over correct decisions. Why make poker all about the short-term luck, when it is the long-term skill which truly makes the difference? Click the little eye next to your bankroll to conceal it and make a rule that you are only allowed to check on a weekly basis, or even better, once every two weeks. This will allow you to forget about the volatile short-term swings and help you focus on maximise that long-term edge.
2. Do not Count Winnings as Won
Variance giveth and variance taketh away. Players who become overly elated at winning 10 buy-ins for their regular cash game are devastated when they lose nine of them the next week. Players who do not allow upswings to feed them the illusion of success will keep it together much better when the next inevitable downswing comes along. The luck in poker is always greater than it seems when you’re winning and is never as extreme as it feels when you are losing. Avoid the trap of accrediting your upswings to crushing your opponents while attributing downswings to them just getting lucky. When you win $70 playing $10NL, try to remind yourself that your currently hourly is only $3.50 (or whatever you think it is) and that the other $66.50 will therefore be taken back by lady luck at some point in the future.
3. Do not Count Losses as Lost
If you are a long-term winning player, then your big losing sessions are as much of an illusion as your big winning ones. Let’s take the example of a pro who expects to win $55 per hour playing tournaments. Of course, these winnings are not handed out in regular hourly pay-checks but in long processions of slowly bleeding money followed by sudden rushes of winning it all back and more. When you are on the inevitable downward trend of your graph, try to remember that all of the little cashes you make by keeping it together and creeping into the money will keep you afloat in the long-term. When you lose $300 three days in a row, you are simply paying your fee for getting those crushing $5000 cashes. The next one could be around the corner, but only if you can keep your game together. Seeing losing days as necessary interludes between cashes will keep you motivated, which in turn keeps you disciplined.
4. Only Analyse Hands from Point of Decision
One major results-oriented trap that snags many an aspiring poker player is the urge to use information gained at showdown to criticise or endorse a decision you made before showdown.
“If I had just bet bigger on the turn, he might have folded that hand and not rivered the set. I always do this to myself!”
“Aha he had a bluff. That means my rage-call was fine after all.”
“It was so obvious. Of course, he had the straight. What a dumb call.”
These thought-process are all using non-existent information to assess the quality of decision-making.
You want Villain to call a turn bet with an underpair to your top pair. If he rivers a set sometimes, well, too bad, but in the long-term this will hardly ever happen.
Calling due to anger is not justifiable by the fact that you ran into a bluff this one time. If you lose more often than your pot odds allow, then calling is burning money and you need to work on your mental-game.
If it was so obvious that he had the straight, you wouldn’t have called. What was the evidence you had at the time and should your hand be a fold against the average player in the pool?
It is vital that we catch ourselves in the act of these results-obsessed thought processes and correct them before they train us to become fickle, results-mad players.
5. Make Peace with Your Choices Before Pressing the Button
Before you press the button, try to believe that the choice you are about to make is the one that follows from using your current skill set to its fullest potential. You might lose this time, but that does not devalue the decision to call. You might make a mistake by calling, but that is not your fault if you applied your technical skills to the best of your ability. It is much easier not to let results skew your assessment of your play, if you can feel confident and act with conviction. If you are full of worry and doubt as you go to make a bet, it will be very natural to berate your choice if that bet doesn’t work out this time. Even if you feel lost or unsure, try stating: ‘this is my best guess at what to do here. I can analyse the hand fully later’.
It’s all about closure – the ability to move on proudly even when variance hands you a bitter pill to swallow. This is how we rise above the temptation to let results dictate our poker journey.
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