Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today, we’ll talk about how panic and desperation can destroy a poker bankroll. And we’ll examine ways to stay on the path to profit, even when luck has turned against us. So, if you’re ready, here’s the self-interview…
Question 1: Okay, so what are you talking about?
I’m talking about the fact that most poker players instinctively panic. They become desperate and take unprofitable risks.
Question 2: Maybe. But what would cause players to become desperate? Can you give an example?
For one thing, poker desperation starts with the fear of going broke. Sometimes players scramble to gather enough money to play. That small bankroll is then put in play in a game where winning seems almost life-and-death.
Wait! It’s not a mistake to play under such circumstances. It’s up to you to determine how much risk you’re willing to take when you have an advantage at poker. Just understand that the greater the risk is, the more likely you are to succeed suddenly, but the more likely you are, also, to go broke.
Don’t let anyone dictate to you how much risk you should take. The decision is up to you. So, as I said, there’s nothing wrong with scrounging up money and putting it all on the table, knowing it could be gone in 10 minutes.
That’s a choice. Another choice is to play smaller and nurse that tiny bankroll. A third choice would be to keep gathering a bankroll from the real-world and wait until it grows to, say, $5,000 before playing.
It’s up to you. One truth that’s seldom considered is that if you gather $200 bankrolls and keep taking shots 25 times, that can have a similar chance of success as waiting until you have $5,000 before playing.
Being underfunded 25 times at $200 is still $5,000. You just don’t have to wait as long before playing, and you must expect to go broke often. But, you might rocket skyward with one of those $200 shots and never need the rest of the $5,000.
So, again, it’s your choice.
But, unfortunately, most players don’t get full value from tiny bankrolls. They get desperate. Desperation can destroy in two ways: (1) It can pressure you into folding hands when you have an advantage, for fear of being out of action; and (2) After you begin to lose, it can prompt you to make bad calls, knowing that if you fold, you’ll be left with inadequate funding.
Question 3: Are you saying poker desperation is about being underfunded?
No, it’s much more than that. It’s also about not having time to get even. When players have spent many hours in a game and are losing badly, they begin to realize that they aren’t likely to win.
That’s when they often take silly chances, trying to recover. That’s another form of poker desperation.
Question 4: Are there any other forms of poker desperation?
Sure. Desperation comes from watching luck swings from within. Luck should always be observed from afar. I know. That sounds like a riddle. So, let me clarify.
Time seems to move slower when you’re sitting at the table, suffering through a card drought. And, worse, time slithers like a snail after you wait and wait for a quality hand and then lose with it.
You might intellectually realize that over a long span the picture will normalize. Your luck will level. But you don’t feel that way at the moment, because you’re experiencing the tragedy from within, rather than thinking of it as a brief blip that won’t matter much when you zoom out. That’s what I mean by observing from afar. Zoom out.
Question 5: So, what’s the solution?
Part of the solution is realizing that getting even for tonight doesn’t matter. Stop focusing on wins and losses by sessions. A poker session is just an artificial span of time in which you did your job. Your job is to make correct decisions.
You get paid by the decision, not by tonight’s outcome.
And you need to never try to get even. Getting even is an alien concept to superior poker. You are, actually, always even. You are where you are when the next hand is dealt or the next decision is made.
I remember closing time in Gardena, California, decades ago. The floor supervisor would declare last hand, but it was a bluff. Tables would actually be allowed to continue for another 15 minutes or so. During that time, the quality of play would be so poor – as players desperately tried to recover hours of losses in mere minutes – that some pros only played the last half-hour before closing. And they made a living!
Obviously, there was a great deal of money lost because opponents were trying to get even. Don’t be one of them.
But, beyond that, the solution is simple. The solution is to pretend you’re not there.
Question 6: Huh? Pretending you’re not there doesn’t make any sense. Could you at least explain it?
Yes. Just be an observer of your fate, as if you’re controlling a character inside a video game. Make good choices and watch. In poker, pretend you’re the commander. But you’re not there. — MC