Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
This is about poker, but first I’m going to make psychologists mad again. I don’t like the profession. Don’t misunderstand that statement. I’m intrigued by psychology and believe it should be one of the great branches of science.
Unfortunately, it isn’t. Psychology is all about people – their moods, their beliefs, and their reactions. (Okay, there’s psychology for animals, too, but this isn’t about that.) Psychologists should separate their feelings, opinions, and biases from their observations. But, if you’ve read any contemporary books by popular psychologists or seen their television appearances, you realize that many of them are governed by their own emotions.
Quite likely you’ve heard them advocate wacky theories that contradict one another. Now, for sure, there are intelligent psychologists who treat their trade as a science. Some are my friends. But mostly the profession has been hijacked.
Here’s an advisory. When you visit your shrinks, there’s a good chance you’ll be talking to people who were drawn to the profession by a compulsion to understand the human behavior that bewilders them. As a group, psychologists are the least-likely people to treat the subject as science.
They’re clueless and obsessed with human nature that seems incomprehensible to them. And have a compulsion to fix it. You’ll be helping them, more than they can possibly help you.
The people who would be most capable of mastering psychology go into other fields – like mathematics, physics, and poker (see, there’s “poker”). That’s a shame.
But anyway, I’m done with this rant. Let’s move along to poker advice and today’s word: Compulsion.
In psychology, compulsion means many things, but mainly it’s an uncontrollable urge to do something. In poker, compulsion is one of the primary things that destroy bankrolls – and that’s the topic of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What is the worst poker compulsion?
It’s the compulsion to play. That single decision – whether or not to enter a game – is the one from which bankrolls are built or broken. Before you sit at a poker table, you need to evaluate your chances.
Are there a lot of players in the game who seem inferior to you? Look for lots of calls and not many raises. Whenever you see that, the game will probably be easier to beat. Huge pots built by aggressive raises aren’t usually a good sign.
The most profitable opponents for you are ones who call too often with weak hands, but fail to raise enough, thereby not taking full advantage when they have small edges. Also, look for games with laughter. Serious-looking players are usually participating to make money. Players who are giggling and having a good time are often playing recreationally and are good sources of income.
Always remember, it’s not how good you are that determines your profit at poker. It’s the difference between your skill and the skill of your opponents. Therefore, an average player in a really weak game can earn more than a world-class player in a strong game.
You need to evaluate the game objectively. You don’t have to play at all. You can find a better game or wait until tomorrow. Fight the compulsion to play.
Question 2: Can you name another common poker compulsion?
Not only can I name one. I’ll tell you about it. It’s the compulsion to play at a higher limit than would be wise. Some players feel compelled to play for bigger stakes. They think they can make a lot more money in a hurry. They also enjoy the ego boost that results from playing higher limits.
Whenever you feel yourself driven to sit in a game beyond the limits you’re most comfortable playing, weigh the value of that game in terms of expected profit against other lower-limit choices. Sometimes you’ll have to concede that the game is less profitable. But even if it’s a little more profitable, that usually isn’t enough to justify playing, because the risks overwhelm the rewards.
Question 3: Is there such a thing as a compulsion to bluff?
Absolutely. And most players have it!
Often, it’s the compulsion to put yourself in jeopardy and survive, to get away with something. Sometimes it’s just a compulsion to save a hopeless pot or to later gloat.
The only rational reason to bluff is that you’re likely to make more money than you’ll lose if you make that same decision thousands of times in identical situations. Otherwise, don’t.
Question 4: What are some other poker compulsions, if there are any?
There are many poker compulsions. One is to show off with fancy plays. Another is to make the final raise and be king of the aggressors. Still another is play weak hands just for the thrill of tempting fate.
There are many more. Poker is a game that invites compulsive behavior.
Question 5: Is there a cure for compulsion in poker?
Sure, and it’s simple. Just ask yourself this question before you make any decision: “Do I feel compelled to do this?” Wait! I didn’t say to think about the question now, while you’re reading this. I said to actually ask yourself that question in the heat of poker combat.
If the answer is yes, stop. Reevaluate the situation and then act. Sometimes you’ll end up doing the very same thing, but you’ll be doing it for a logical reason. Often you’ll change your decision favorably and make money. So, the secret is simply to stop and ask yourself a question. It’s foolproof. — MC