This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Sometimes I like to make lists. I’m about to make three of them. One is about some things I’ve never done in poker; another is about some things I’ve sometimes done in poker; and the third is about some things I’ve always done in poker.
Will this make a good column? Will it be sufficient to make a column at all? If it isn’t sufficient, you won’t be reading this and I’ll do something else instead. If it is sufficient, I’ll probably follow it up with another column soon — based on the same premise. A lot of the listed stuff I will explain in more detail in the future, if I haven’t done so already. But right now, my fingers are tapping the keyboard, so let’s see what happens.
Some Things I’ve Never Done in Poker
1. I’ve never encouraged anyone to gamble with me who couldn’t afford it. This has been an important part of my creed ever since I started gambling. Yes, I have won money from people who suffered because of the loss, but I have never tried to hustle anyone into gambling beyond his capacity to absorb the losses. If they were bound and determined to do it on their own, I confess that I usually did not try to talk them out of it — but I did not encourage them.
2. I’ve never gone on tilt. But, with the game style I have adopted, who would know the difference? My natural instinct is to tighten up after losses and go into a protective and somewhat conservative shell.
3. I’ve never cheated. I’m proud of that.
4. I’ve never wished I had quit earlier after losing money back. I’m always philosophical about such turnarounds. I realize that by continuing to play, I was more likely to add to the win than to subtract from it. You should look at it the same way if you’re a winning player in a profitable game.
5. I’ve never gotten angry with a dealer because of bad beats. I honestly don’t associate these misfortunes with the dealer — neither should you.
6. I’ve never gotten angry with a dealer because of mistakes that cost me a pot. I treat dealing mistakes like the weather; sometimes they make you happy, sometimes they make you sad. If I were going to become irritated by dealing mistakes, I’d be wasting a lot of energy that could be better used for more productive purposes.
7. I’ve never refused to tip a dealer when I would have otherwise, because an earlier mistake had cost me a pot. I feel good about that, too.
8. I’ve never borrowed money from loan sharks. Not a dime, ever.
Some Things I’ve Sometimes Done in Poker
1. I’ve sometimes gone broke. When I was younger, I was willing to risk my whole bankroll at any time, at the mere hint of a challenge. My early poker career was one of building bankrolls, spending too much, going broke, and rebuilding. I never knew from one day to the next whether I was going to have lots of money to flash around or whether I was going to have to return to a smaller game and start all over. Strangely, my memories about those days and the extravagant ways I spent money when I had it, while never holding a job and fighting sometimes fiercely to stay solvent, still thrill me.
2. I’ve sometimes played silently. Yep. I did not always put on that wild and crazy act I’ve written about. I had my moods.
3. I’ve sometimes drunk liquor while playing poker. Not often. I don’t think this is an especially bad transgression at a sociable table. Sometimes this encouraged opponents to drink also, occasionally even more than I was, which gave me an additional unexpected edge.
4. I’ve sometimes called a pot when I couldn’t win. It’s the best advertising play there is.
5. I’ve sometimes conveyed a smart, alert, and professional image at the table. But not anymore. That image really sucks. All you’re doing is alerting your opponents to the fact that they’re being scrutinized, and this sometimes makes them more careful about not appearing weak in your eyes.
6. I’ve sometimes made short buy-ins. Why not? Usually, it’s legal to make a short buy-in after each full buy-in. There are advantages to being nearly all in, because opponents can’t chase you out of pots and you often win with hands you would have had to throw away had you had more money on the table. Of course, I usually buy plenty of chips, but there’s something to be said for short buy-ins, too.
7. I’ve sometimes made proposition bets while playing poker. I’ve said I won’t take the worst of it, but there’s nothing wrong with taking even-money bets if it will loosen up my opponents or distract them more than it distracts me. So, if they want to bet on low spade vs. low heart on the flop, I sometimes accommodate them.
8. I’ve sometimes used game selection to make sure that I was in the most profitable game. But not always. Sometimes I opt for the tougher game that is more of a challenge. But I do this much less today than I did when I was younger and still had something to prove. You should be vigilant about finding the most profitable games, even if I don’t always do this myself. Choosing the right game is a much more profitable decision than most choices you will make at the table about how to play hands.
9. I’ve sometimes gambled at things when I thought I probably had the worst of it. But that was only to find out if I really did. There are many things that are worth exploring — not just poker games. You can invest a little money to find out if something is good or bad. If it’s good, you often can make a large score. If it’s bad, you can take a small loss and move on.
Some Things I’ve Always Done in Poker
1. I’ve always counted my chips while I was sitting at the table. That old advice about never counting your chips at the table is nonsense. It’s like telling a football coach not to look at the scoreboard.
2. I’ve always stood ready to use optional rebuys in a tournament when it wasn’t mathematically justified by profit. That’s because I enter rebuy tournaments only if I’m interested in a trophy. So, I want to give myself every edge of achieving my goal, even if I sacrifice some potential profit.
3. I’ve always ignored the stop-loss philosophy while playing poker. The stop-loss is really a stop-win. If you’re a winning player in a good game and you feel like playing, the more hours you put in, the more you’ll win. There’s no magic number that you should use to stop playing, provided you can afford to continue. The exceptions may be if your image is damaged because of the losses or you psychologically can’t cope with a bigger downturn. Also, you might be in a game that isn’t as favorable as you think. Other than that, I believe that if the game is good, you want to play, and you’re in good condition to continue, quitting in accordance with a predetermined stop-loss will just cost you money.
4. I’ve always avoided gambling at anything when I knew for sure that I had the worst of it. You’re looking at a gambling authority who has never played craps or roulette in his lifetime.
Next column, we’ll do this all over again with different items in the lists. See you then. — MC