Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
A great deal of your poker success depends upon control. Its importance is greater and its meaning broader than most players think.
So, let’s make “Control” today’s word and feature it in this self-interview…
Question 1: I’m not really sure what you mean by “control” as it applies to poker. Are you talking about emotional control, bankroll control, or what?
All of it – especially the “or what.” You need to control yourself and stick to your best game all the time. And if you fail to play your best always, at least recognize that failure and steer back on course.
Don’t get upset. Don’t let others prod you into playing poorly. And be reasonable about how much of your bankroll to risk and where to risk it. That’s also control.
Fine. But let’s talk about your “or what.” Assuming you have your own emotions intact, the “or what” represents the big poker profit.
“Or what” is controlling your opponents through intelligent manipulation. So, put it all together and that’s what I mean by control. Where do you want to start?
Question 2: Oh, goody. I get to answer a question, too. Let’s see. Okay, I want you to start by telling me about emotional control in poker.
Sure. It’s the biggest secret to poker success. Simply play your best game all the time. That seems too obvious to even utter, but I’m uttering it nonetheless, because almost nobody plays that “best game” constantly.
Making correct plays is a matter of adding up small edges. It’s about not doing anything silly, not straying off course. Occasionally, you’ll have big edges and win huge pots. Fine. As long as you do that by making the right decisions and not by going against the odds, then those big pots are important to win.
But guess what? All players have their share of big pots. They’re rare, not routine. The main battleground that will determine whether you win in the long run and how much is the little hands. The vast majority of hands you’ll ever play at poker will be borderline. They’ll usually be slightly profitable or slightly unprofitable on the surface. But you can extend your earnings by playing them very well or go broke by playing them very poorly.
Where is this heading? It’s heading to this unarguable truth: The more time you spend making correct decisions, the more you’ll win. Obvious? Well, how about this: One poorly played hand can destroy hours of correct play.
Think about it. You’re playing poker seriously. You hope to make a living; it’s your job. And, so, you invest those hours. Sometimes time passes slowly. You stick to your game plan. You’ve done a lot of folding and played a few hands that you knew to be profitable.
Now you begin with a pair of aces in hold ’em and flop a third. But someone makes a straight on the river and you’re suddenly buried for the night. See that sad sack in this photo? That’s you.
And now, for a brief, angry moment, you stop caring. You barge into the next pot against the odds and lose. How much? Well, enough to mean you’re going to have to play perfect poker for the next seven hours, on average, to rebuild what you’ve just destroyed.
You see, if you want to be a winner, you’ve got to understand that you’re not just losing money by playing poorly; you’re losing time. So, the secret is control.
Resolve to play your best game all the time. “All the time” means even when you don’t feel that it matters. If you know how to play sensibly and play your best game all the time, you’ll be one of the rarest creatures in poker – a winning player with constant control.
Question 3: Okay, so what about bankroll control?
I don’t really want to talk about that right now. Don’t risk too much in games with small edges. Don’t spend your bankroll, because there will probably come a bad-run during which you’ll wish you hadn’t. We’ll discuss the finer points of bankroll management another day. Move along.
Question 4: What did you mean by controlling your opponents? How can you do that?
Controlling opponents is where the biggest money is. Before you can do it, you must first be noticed. Here’s where I quibble with those who think poker is purely tactical and that you should keep a quiet disposition.
Successful people don’t typically hide in the shadows. Poker is people-on-people warfare, you against them. They’re emotional, your opponents. Know that. And because they are, you can coax them into making really bad calls and playing bad hands against you.
But you can’t control your opponents as well by displaying a mean spirit as you can by conveying kindness. It’s easier to sell something if people like you. When you have winning poker hands, you want extra calls, and you need to sell.
Don’t let them know
Do that by being friendly and not seeming as if you take poker seriously. Poker profit is deadly serious to you, of course, but you must never let other know that. Giggle. Play a few very poor hands for advertising. That’s a poker investment in future calls, so it doesn’t count as straying from your best game.
Giggle some more. If you antagonize opponents, if you scold them, if you ridicule them, well, you’re losing money even if you win a little extra this hand. You won’t be someone opponents choose for their weakest hands or weakest calls. They’ll find it unpleasant being in your pots and provide less profit.
So, remember to giggle. A carefree and unpredictable image is what has won the most money at poker since the beginning of time.
Question 5: Could you summarize your thoughts about control in poker?
Sure. The trick is to play your best game all the time. Be totally in control of your own decisions. And make it as painless as possible for your opponents to lose control of theirs. That’s the secret of control. — MC