Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Sadly, Doyle Brunson left us on May 14, 2023. He was 89 years old. Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
I’ve heard it said a hundred times: “Professional gamblers should never take the worst of it.” Those words always thunder through my head like a tornado roaring closer and closer. They’re terrifying to hear, because not only are they untrue, they signal impending doom for any poker bankroll.
Most of the money I’ve ever earned as a gambler has come from my willingness to take the worst of it. Every successful big-limit gambler I know can be wagered out of small sums of money again and again. And he’s happy to be the victim.
If my words sound strange to you, listen closely. I’m about to share one of the biggest secrets to my success. Most average poker players will enter into games hoping to win, but will often find themselves outmatched. In their minds, though, it isn’t that they’re being outmaneuvered or outplayed. It’s that luck has turned against them. And that illusion keeps them pumping more and more chips into the pots, hoping fate will be kinder, hoping they’ll get back to even. And then win.
More likely, their nightmare will consume them and things will get worse. And worse. They’ll leave the table like whipped puppies who’ve unwisely done battle with the big dogs, hobbling off with tails tucked between their legs, broke and battered. I’ve seen it again and again.
Now, you’re probably thinking that just proves the wisdom of the advice never to take the worst of it. It doesn’t. It proves only that average players aren’t looking at poker sessions as short exploratory ventures, designed to determine whether they have the best of it. Can you imagine a Texas oilman, in the heydays of oil exploration a few decades ago, drilling to see what’s down there and, when finding nothing, drilling deeper and deeper, eating up more and more money until he went broke. It didn’t work that way with successful oilmen. They drilled to find out. When it turned out to be a dry drill, they accepted that loss and used their capital to explore elsewhere. That way, they only needed to strike oil once in a while to get very rich. Poker’s like that.
Now, I believe I can beat just about any poker game, so I’m going to strike oil at almost any table. But sometimes the amount is puny and it isn’t worth my time. I’m quick to leave a game that doesn’t show promise, and so should you. In order to make as much money as possible playing poker, you need to be in the most profitable spots as often as possible.
I’ve seen experienced players lose money for their lifetimes, simply because they weren’t willing to explore. And once they finally did sit down, confident that they had the best of it, their egos and their lack of discipline guaranteed that they would just sit there and take a beating when they were wrong. They weren’t willing to take the worst of it to find out, because it never occurred to them that one of the main keys to poker profit was exploration. And while these potentially superior players lost, because they pitted themselves unknowingly against even better opponents, weaker players were actually winning at a table nearby.
Why better players fail
Among skillful players, why do many on a higher tier fail, while those who aren’t quite as good succeed? It’s because the latter have learned that most lifetime profit comes from being in the right spots at the right time. And in order to determine if it’s the right spot or time, you need to risk taking the worst of it.
In the retail business they say that the key to success is finding the right location. The same is true with poker. You will make much more money in a good location than in a bad one, but you need to spend a little money exploring to see which is which.
Now, I take this principal beyond just poker. One of the things about a poker lifestyle is that the people you meet like to gamble in many different ways – sometimes it’s poker, sometimes not. So, I’m always getting opportunities to make bets. It might be backing someone at table tennis. When I was more agile, I was a pretty decent golfer, but I would often be confronted with bets from players I thought I might beat, but – on the other hand – I might get whipped.
Take a chance
I’ve always been willing to take a chance – to explore. Some of my biggest wins as a gambler have come from initial uncertainty. I knew that I would be able to quit or renegotiate. So, at worst, I’d lose a few thousand pounds. And at best, I’d win a few million, simply because I was willing to walk away and few opponents are willing to do that.
And that turns out to be a very big secret in poker, in gambling, and in life. You don’t need to always have the best of it. But in order to chase down the money, you need to be willing to find out. — DB