Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
Some players lose because they enjoy playing poorly. And that’s fine with me. For many of us, poker is a serious struggle to win. We depend on the money.
But others approach poker quite differently. They may know they’re going against the odds with inferior skills, but the adventure is fun. They have other sources of income, and money they lose is a recreational expense. Without these players, we wouldn’t win.
Thinking of them as “suckers” is like being a famous singer and hating your audience because they can’t carry a tune. How stupid is that?
Anyway, we all start out as suckers at poker and some of us evolve. Fine. But as we evolve a terrible thing often happens. It’s pride. And pride is heavy. When it steps on us, it can squash a bankroll 10-foot high in hundred-dollar bills until it’s the size of a ticket to the centerfield bleachers.
That’s not theoretical, either. I’ve seen it happen over and over. And that’s the topic for today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Isn’t it natural to be proud of your abilities? If you’re good at poker, how can taking pride in that be bad?
Of course you should be proud of your poker skills. You’ve earned the right to be.
That’s not what I’m talking about though. The danger is the things that pride can cause you to do, if you’re not careful.
Question 2: Like what?
Like playing too big for your bankroll. Every world-class poker player I’ve ever known went through that phase. Some remain stuck in it today. You’d be surprised how many of poker’s signature players fail to maintain a bankroll.
Sometimes that’s because of failing businesses or investments beyond their control. Sometimes it’s because they continue to take unnecessary risks at poker or at other forms of gambling. What I know for sure is that most players have the urge to play the biggest games, even when there’s more money to be made in smaller ones.
Evolving players often promote themselves to a larger limit, often because that game is temporarily populated with weak players. Those might be wise decisions, but the problem is that when those weak players leave, they don’t leave with them.
Pride makes them stay, sometimes returning day after day to games beyond what their bankrolls dictate. It hurts to demote themselves.
So, once they begin playing bigger, they don’t want to move down again. That’s especially true if they lose. You’d think that’s when they would logically back away from those games in the spotlight, but it just doesn’t happen that way.
Pride destroys many bankrolls by tempting players to play games that are too expensive.
Question 3: What else?
Getting even with another player is costly. Let’s settle this right now. In poker, it doesn’t make any difference who you win money from. If you lose $1,000 to a bluff, it doesn’t matter if you win $1,000 back from that same player or from someone else. In either case, you’ve recovered.
Many players wait for a revenge opportunity to bluff opponents who have shown them cards after successfully bluffing. On average, going out of your way to even the score just costs money. It’s a mistake of pride.
Also, while we’re talking about bluffing, it’s a mistake to take pride in how successful you are at stealing pots. First of all, if you’re able to routinely bluff successfully, you might have the wrong image.
Most of your opponents make the mistake of calling too often, so the trick is to project a playful, but bewildering, image that invites even more calls – causing them to compound their mistake. If you regularly succeed by bluffing, you’re probably losing a lot of profit you should be making by being called with weak hands.
Distort the truth
Additionally, if you try to keep score regarding how well you’re doing by bluffing, you’ll distort the truth. That’s because you’ll give yourself credit for many times that you win the pot, but weren’t actually bluffing. You had the best hand, but never knew it! Don’t let pride force you to bluff.
Pride also can cause us to show off in poker games. There’s satisfaction in winning pots by using deceptive strategy. But if we enjoy the thrill too much and do this primarily for our audience of opponents, we lose money.
And it’s a mistake of pride to challenge the best players when more money can be made against weaker ones. On rare occasions, you can hone your skills against the best. But those aren’t the times when your bankroll usually grows quickly.
Question 4: Are there more?
Lots more. I’ll name a couple.
Unwillingness to reevaluate and change long-held beliefs about how to play will cost you money. Once a player has uttered a poker belief aloud, he often feels obligated to that opinion and married to that tactic. Pride won’t let him change to a more profitable solution.
Pride causes some players to ridicule opponents for poor plays. If you do that, you only motivate those opponents to play better. You’ve made them uncomfortable about making unprofitable decisions, so they play better and avoid your pots in the future. That’s expensive.
Question 5: What’s the biggest damage that pride does to poker players?
Pride causes ego-driven poker players to “play the part.” Playing the part can be the greatest threat to your poker bankroll. When you go into the game trying to look like a serious, studious poker superstar, pride will stomp on your chips.
The secret is to project a carefree image, suggesting that you’re there to gamble and have fun. Never worry about what others think about your play. You’ll grow richer if opponents don’t think you’re there for serious business.
At poker, being underestimated is profitable. Being respected is just pride. — MC