Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
This self-interview deals with poker resolutions. That can mean New Year’s resolutions or ones that start anytime, even in the middle of an overcast day.
Question 1: How can resolutions start anytime? Aren’t they reserved for January 1st?
No. And artificially selecting any future date as a starting point – New Year’s day or otherwise – limits success in life and in poker. Why?
Well, I believe that the last days before resolutions take effect are the least profitable for people. Let’s say that a poker player selects a starting date that’s two weeks away on a birthday, the first of next month, or the tradition of midnight beginning January 1. Fine.
But the hours and days leading up to that new beginning are dangerous and usually costly. Whenever you plan an artificial date for improvement, it’s human nature to squander opportunities in the weeks, days, or hours leading up to the moment of activation. That can be particularly unprofitable in poker.
I remember being in a New Year’s Eve game in the 1980’s and John (a pretty talented player) was barging into five-card draw poker pots with small pairs and even an inside straight draw. He joked and willingly showed these weak hands for all to see.
He laughed and explained, “I only have four more hours to play this garbage. Then it’s New Year’s resolutions time for me.” I’ll always remember those words. That attitude constitutes a double resolution. You’re resolving that you will play well once your rebirth starts, but you’re also resolving to play poorly until then – to get it out of your system.
If you don’t adhere to the New Year’s resolution for long, you’ll actually lose ground, when balanced against the harm done during preparation for it. That’s why I don’t like setting future start dates for improvement. Start now!
Question 2: Does a resolution need to be general, like to play better poker?
Of course not. Resolutions work better if they’re specific. In fact, you might want to tie resolutions together into a poker campaign.
Question 3: A campaign? This is getting weird. What is a poker campaign?
I started thinking about poker campaigns decades ago. And the concept came into further focus when I was working with Planet Poker a dozen years ago – the pioneering real-money online poker site.
We were having discussions about how much personal historic data online poker players would like to see. One argument was that too much detail would overwhelm casual players. Another was that, since most players lost after the rake was factored in, the majority of players might get discouraged when confronted by their online histories. That might cause them to quit.
I argued that my experience had shown that players were always looking for a fresh start. I’d know players in real-world poker who had kept records of their daily activity. Some broke the games down by betting sizes, time of day, type of opponents, and more. But when fate was cruel, they became discouraged and often quit logging results.
Often they would start over months later, with renewed resolve. I think there’s good and bad about doing that.
It’s good, because players might have better focus at first, as they try for a new history of good results. But it’s bad, because by ignoring past history, they are likely to be fooling themselves into thinking they’re winning players. It’s easy to get on a short-term lucky run and think you’re a winner, ignoring the long-term truth that you aren’t.
But, look. You can improve at poker. And you can become a “new you” as a player. If you’re dedicated about your poker play and objective about monitoring your results, maybe declaring a new campaign is a positive decision. That’s why I recommended that the online software include a new-campaign option.
And you can do this in the real poker world, too. You can even give special names to your campaigns, like “New John 2012” or “After Argument with Shirley” or “True Dedication Campaign.” Whatever.
Question 4: What are the most important poker things to include in a campaign?
Anything that has cost you money in the past can be included as a don’t-do resolution. Take time and prepare your campaign carefully.
Maybe part of it is resolving to pay particular attention to the game before entering – and only playing at the most-profitable tables. Maybe it’s resolving to call less often, because you realize that you’ve been making many unprofitable calls. Maybe it’s resolving to never let your emotions get involved in your poker decisions.
Whatever ingredients go into your new campaign, make sure you’re choosing things that you’ve carefully considered – things you’re sure will help improve your results.
Question 5: Are there dangers involved in declaring a new poker campaign?
The main danger is the “scratched car” syndrome. When people resolve to do positive things, they perceive that the results will be perfect.
In poker (as in life), that expectation of perfection can destroy a campaign. Slip-ups are almost certain. When this happens, a common attitude is, “Oh, well, I tried. Now I’ve failed and the campaign doesn’t matter anymore.”
It’s like buying a brand new car and later dealing with its first blemishes. That tiny scratch makes the car less than perfect, and at that point some people stop caring as much about its appearance. The same thing happens with a poker campaign. A blemish can make you stop caring.
So, the trick is to pretend you’re steering a sailing ship toward a distant port. For brief moments, you’ll drift too much to port or to starboard. But you’ll simply adjust and steer as well as possible. You won’t say, “Damn! I’m slightly off course, so I’ll just let the ship steer itself now. It doesn’t matter.”
Of course it matters.
Question 6: Could you summarize those thoughts?
Oh, if I must. If you want to perfect your poker game, spend time thinking about what you can improve. Wrap all your major improvements into a multi-part resolution. And tie it together by declaring it to be a campaign and giving it a name.
Then start immediately. Don’t wait for next year. — MC