My secret to not getting upset at poker


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2007) in Casino Player.


I’m frequently asked something like: “How do you keep from getting upset when opponents play weak hands and draw out on you?” That’s an important question, because the biggest portion of potential profit that is squandered by serious players is a result of emotionally meltdown.

Their anguish can be traced to having been drawn out on when they held hands with winning expectations. That’s when they start to play poorly.

Fine. But there’s a solution – one that I’ve taught for many years. It will seem bizarre to you at first. The secret is to cheer for your opponents.

I don’t mean that you should cheer for your opponents in some cynical, back-handed way. I mean you should truly want them to beat you, and you should rejoice whenever they do. Often serious poker students balk at this. One student told me that my advice “is contrary to having a winning attitude at poker. I keep a competitive attitude at all times, and that means I’m always aiming to win the pot.”

Not intelligent

That sounds intelligent on the surface, but it isn’t. First, I’ll remind you that winning the pot isn’t the object of poker. If you just want to win the pot, you should bet and raise whenever possible, trying to drive players out, and if anyone remains to see the showdown, you’ll always be there. That way, any hand that can possibly win will win.

You’ll never be left thinking, “I would’ve won that pot if I hadn’t folded.” Anytime you hold 9-5, you’d still be competing. And anytime the flop comes 8-A-K, you’ll still be hanging in there with that 9-5. And when the final two board cards turn out to be 7-6, you’ll proudly claim the pot with your 9-high straight.

You’ll be the great world champion of winning pots. But you’ll lose too many times in the effort. You’ll be playing terrible poker, not being selective about hands, and willing to commit your chips with only faint hope of corralling the pot.

Cheering

I say: “The object of poker isn’t to win pots; it’s to make the right decisions.” Okay, so poker is about making the right decisions. What does that have to do with cheering for your opponents?

Simple. You need to take pride in your decision making. You need to be confident. But that confidence should not be linked to whether or not you win the pot. In the long run, just as much money can be made by folding correctly as by raising correctly. So, with that in mind, I’ll ask you a question: “If you’re confident about your abilities and believe in your skills, knowing you’re going to be a long-range winner, why do you care who wins the pot?”

You shouldn’t care. And I don’t.

No reason

There’s no reason to root for yourself to win a pot. You should only root for yourself to make good decisions.

If you make those quality decisions, hoping to win the pot won’t help you actually do it. And hoping your opponent wins the pot won’t actually help him, either. But when you get emotionally attached to your quest to win the pot, you’re likely to become upset when it doesn’t happen. As a result, you’re apt to grow unstable and play worse out of frustration. You can avoid this by rooting for your opponent.

Do you see it now? Rooting for your opponent won’t damage your long-range confidence. It won’t change who wins the pot. It won’t hurt you; it won’t help your opponent. But it will keep you from being upset when your opponent gets lucky.

I teach that if you cheer for your opponents only two things can happen. Either you’ll be rooting for the winning side or you’ll win a consolation prize – the pot. Think about it. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

9 thoughts on “My secret to not getting upset at poker”

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  1. I feel like Poker1 is a family, so because of that, Im going to speak very honestly on this subject. I wonder how many people would be so upset about getting drawn out on when you have a proper bankroll and are not worried about individual sessions. I know when I had a working bankroll, I was never worried about individual sessions, nevermind single hand outcomes. (Heres the honesty part, lol). After a bad divorce, bankruptcy, etc… All the sudden I found myself without a bankroll. Thats the first time I truly started feeling the pain of suckouts, and bad nights. Im a poker player, thats what I do, and thats what I will continue to do. So, on the bad nights, and suckouts that just bury you. Its easy to get upset, because you realize you might not be eating that night or the next day, lol. You see that 4 outer smack the river, and in your head, you say “I just cant believe that happened, right now… the worst of all times for that to happen”, lol.
    Anyhow, thats just my thought. People get upset with suckouts and bad beats when they are on short bankrolls, and those beats can literally put you out of action or even put you out of “life” for a period of time, lol. Personally, Ive accepted this path, and am ok with it. As much as I hate it sometimes, I think its a path I have to take personally, and something I need to live through in order to get to where Im going. Ive matured enough, that on those nights, I shake everyones hand and walk out with my head held high, and keeping that terrible misery to myself.
    I guess my only point in this whole babbling post is, I dont think that many people get upset with suckouts. I think people get upset of the thought of not being able to eat after the hand is over with! lol. Its much easier to root for the other side, when your rolled, and the outcome of the hand makes no difference on your life or your current bankroll.

  2. After suffering a bad beat and losing a big pot late in a online tournament, I take a deep breath and type in the comment box, “nh, well played” and try to build my stack back up, if I didnt get felted.

  3. surprised you didn’t mention the fact that if people like you and aren’t afraid to mix it up with you for fear of ridicule or abuse, they will be more inclined to make loose calls and play more marginal hands with you.

    1. That is one of the cornerstones of my teaching. Even though it might not be covered in this entry, you’ll find many other entries here at Poker1 that explain that powerful truth. Simply, when you’re fun to play with, you earn extra, descretionary money from opponents. They choose you for their weakest decisions. Consider these gifts or tributes to your personality. — Mike Caro

  4. I was excepting this one to be really short, haha!
    My guess for the asnwer was "don't play" haha.
     

  5. It works well, thanks for sharing. It also keeps the game limber. Players can get awfully tense when stacks go into the middle, you can avoid this by taking the lead and breaking the tension with a smile and friendly encouragement, as M prescribes. And if you loose, shrug and respond with a smile ” well, that’s poker”.

    If you respond by tensing up and fighting off inner demons, you’re tipping the other guy off that he may have played bad against you, and you’re also teaching him how to act when you draw out on him. You gotta keep losing fun if you want players to stick their money in against you.

    Also… its kind of a covert jab at their moment… hard for a guy to relish fiendishly in victory when you are the one cheering him on. :)

    KJ

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