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Poker Winners Are DifferentGet the Mental Advantage
By ALAN N. SCHOONMAKER
LYLE STUART BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Alan N. Schoonmaker
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePoker Winners Are Really Different
Professional poker is a ruthless meritocracy. -Barry Tanenbaum, professional player, coach, and author
Barry summarized a critical difference between poker and most other professions. You can make a living, even a good one, as a mediocre salesman, teacher, lawyer, carpenter, or doctor. Most people are mediocre, but nearly everyone makes a living. In professional poker you can't survive unless you're among the best.
In fact, all cardroom and online poker games are ruthless meritocracies because so few people win. Many experts estimate that-because of the rake, tips, and other expenses-85-90 percent of all cardroom and online players are long-term losers, but they have no solid data. Jay Lovinger, an ESPN columnist, says the numbers are even worse.
There is one group that can and does track this kind of stat, though they are not about to publicize the results. That group consists of online poker site management, two members of which revealed to me ... [that] only 8 and 7 percent, respectively, of all players on their sites finish the year in the black.
This book will help you become one ofthat small percentage of winners. If you are already winning, it will help you win more. You will see how winners and losers think, feel, and act; then learn what to do to increase your profits.
The word "loser" may offend you, but-as we just saw-most players are losers. Of course, there are not just winners and losers. There is a huge range from big winners to big losers, and most players are somewhere in the middle, winning or losing less.
To make it easier to see the differences between winners and losers, I will describe the extremes. However, most chapters end with a section titled How Do You Rate? There you can estimate the degree to which you resemble winners or losers.
Do You Act Like a Winner or a Loser?
Let's compare your approach to a winner's. I'll describe a few situations and give you several choices. Pick the action you would probably take (not the one you think is the textbook answer). Even if you don't like any alternative or like two of them, pick just one. Don't pick one that you wouldn't have considered if I hadn't mentioned it.
The "textbook answers" are in appendix A. Answer every question before looking at appendix A. Looking at any answer may affect your other answers.
You have pocket aces in a no-limit hold'em game with $2 and $5 blinds. You push in your $100 stack. Assume that everyone has random cards. How many callers do you want?
Pick any number from one to nine.
You're in a very soft no-limit hold'em game. An obnoxious drunk has put nearly everyone off-balance. He plays almost every hand, raises more than half the pots, and has been extremely lucky. He has a huge stack. Despite playing your usual solid game, you're losing heavily. He's given you three terrible beats and needled you every time. He even said, "You don't have the guts to play good poker." Then he laughed at you. What would you do?
Ignore him, keep playing a solid game, but adjust to his wild play and its effects on the other players.
Say, "You're an idiot, and you're going to lose that stack."
Explain why you play such a solid game.
Loosen up to show everyone that you're not afraid of him.
You were a steady winner at $20-$40 limit hold'em, but you're on a terrible losing streak. You lost $6,000 in the past two months, and financial pressures forced you to take $4,000 from your poker bankroll to fix your roof. Your bankroll is down to $2,000. You see seats open in four games. Which game will you join?
A tight-passive $10-$20 game. Nearly everyone is weaktight, and nobody is at all aggressive or tricky. You can beat them because they are easy to read and bluff. Of course, you cannot beat them for much.
A fairly typical $20-$40 game. You are better than all but two players, and those two are about your equal.
A wild $15-$30 game with huge pots. There are two maniacs, three loose-passive players, two strangers, and two moderately competent players.
A loose-passive $15-$30 game. Six players are loose-passive, two are moderately competent, and one is a stranger.
Tomorrow you will play at your first final table of a high buy-in, no-limit hold'em tournament. You will have an average stack. Five of tomorrow's opponents are highly regarded pros. You have played against only two of them, but your friends have played against all of them. You know the other four players, and they are about as good as you are.
Even if you finish tenth, it'll be your biggest payday. If you finish first, it'll change your life. You're so nervous that you're afraid you won't sleep well tonight or play well tomorrow.
It's 9 P.M., and the final table will start at noon tomorrow. Assume that you can take only one of these actions. What will you do between now and then?
Ask your friends for suggestions about how to play against the pros, especially the ones you have never faced. But make sure that you get to bed by 2 A.M.
Study Harrington on Hold'em, Volume II: The Endgame. You bought it, but never read it. Now might be a good time to study it because it focuses on the endgame.
Go to bed immediately. Since you know that you won't sleep without help, take sleeping pills. Unfortunately, they often give you a "hangover."
Take two glasses of wine just before playing to steady your nerves.
You're playing in your usual $1-$2 blinds no-limit game. You bought in for the maximum of $200 and lost it almost immediately when your aces got cracked by kings. You lost your second $200 buy-in when you raised with ace-king, flopped a king, bet aggressively on the flop, went all-in on the turn, and lost to a flopped set of nines. Your third buy-in and half of your fourth one were lost more slowly.
You can't seem to do anything right. If you have a hand, you don't get action or you get beaten. When you bluff, you get called, sometimes by players with weak hands. You have never lost $700 in one night, and it's really bothering you.
You have $500 in your pocket and another $1,000 in your checking account. You can withdraw up to $1,000 with your ATM card, but must leave $800 in your account to pay your rent. What will you do?
Go home immediately.
Keep playing, but promise yourself that you will quit if you lose your $100 stack.
Rebuy immediately and, if necessary, keep rebuying until your cash runs out and then quit. Promise yourself that you will quit then.
Keep rebuying and, if necessary, use your ATM card to take out the $200 you don't need for your rent. But promise yourself that you won't touch the rent money.
Switch to the $2-$5 no-limit game. You know only two players, but the game looks pretty soft.
You're playing with your closest friend and notice that he has a completely reliable tell that he is bluffing. What would you do?
Tell him immediately and quietly what it is.
Wait for a good time; then pull him aside and tell him what it is.
Keep quiet and use it against him.
Compare all your answers to appendix A, and then come back here.
What Have You Learned About Yourself?
Compare your answers to the textbook answers, then write what you learned about yourself in the blank space below. You may not want to do it, but analyzing yourself is an essential self-development step.
___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________
Later chapters will help you to compare yourself to winners and losers on many dimensions. It won't be fun, and you may even get annoyed at me. But-if you want to become one of the handful of winners-you have to do many unpleasant things.
The biggest difference between winners and losers is that losers do what makes them comfortable, but winners do whatever gets the best long-term results.
Why Should You Read This Book?
Are you satisfied with your results? If you are, don't read this book. If not, read on. You've tried to improve your game by reading books, watching videos, and talking to friends. Perhaps you're winning a little more or losing a little less than before, but you still aren't satisfied. Why hasn't your increased knowledge and skill produced better results?
The answer is simple: you're not thinking, feeling, or acting like a winner. Winners have a fundamentally different approach to poker, and you probably can't win big without copying it. The critical first step toward becoming a winner is to change the way you think about poker and yourself.
Winners Are Not Necessarily More Skillful or Talented
If you asked, "How are winners different from losers?" most people would answer, "They play better." That answer is true, of course, but it misses the point. Greater skill is not the most important difference.
It certainly helps, but many strong players fail, while weaker ones succeed. You may know excellent players who are often broke and moderately skilled ones who win consistently and always have money. In fact, some world-class players are broke. Despite their immense skills, they are losers.
I am not kidding. Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar are generally regarded as the best players of their eras, and both died broke. So did Hall of Famer, Nick "The Greek" Dandolos. The same may happen to some of today's top pros.
Nolan Dalla, the media director for The World Series of Poker, has been reporting on tournaments for many years. He wrote, "One of the most troubling aspects of the tournament circuit is seeing how many players are constantly broke. I'm not talking about bad poker players or novices. I'm talking about names and faces everyone would recognize."
They are broke because of poor emotional control, an inability to evaluate themselves objectively, a need to challenge tougher players, and many other reasons. An important, but rarely discussed reason is that they are not much better than their opponents. "Your success at poker depends, not on how well you play, but on how well you play in relation to your opponents." If most players in a game have approximately equal abilities, the small differences in abilities will have little effect. It is an extremely well-verified statistical principle. For example, research proves that Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) scores are poor predictors of grades in elite colleges because they accept only the highest scorers.
I am writing this book during the Olympics, and the same principle is extremely obvious there. The Olympians are such superb athletes that the differences between them are tiny. The winner in an event may be a few hundredths of a second faster than the second, third, and fourth place finishers, while any of them would finish far ahead of nearly every non-Olympian.
The same principle applies to poker because most games are "stratified." As games get bigger, the players get tougher. The skill differences between high-, middle-, and low-stakes players are often much greater than the differences between players in most games at any level. "We cannot stress enough that-in the bigger games-most of the worst players are good enough to beat the smaller games."
If poker players and Olympians compete only against weaker opposition, they will nearly always win. In addition, it doesn't matter whether you win an Olympic event by a hundredth of a second or ten minutes. You still get the gold medal. In poker you want to win as much as possible, and the easiest way to win a lot of bets is to play against much weaker players.
The subjects this book discusses have much greater effects on your results than your knowledge or skill because the differences between players are huge. In most games the skill differences between players are much smaller than the differences in their motives, discipline, thoughts, reactions to feelings, and decisiveness. These differences are the core of this book.
That's good news because you're stuck with your natural ability. It came from your genes and history, and you can't change them. However, with hard work you can change some of these characteristics. This book can help you to become a winner, regardless of how talented you are.
That's enough discussion. You want to know what you should do. Most chapters contain this short section that shifts the emphasis from analysis to action.
1. Learn how you compare to winners.
That's this book's first objective. It describes how winners think, feel, and act to help you compare yourself to them. You may dislike some comparisons, but you should learn what they are.
2. Commit yourself to making the necessary changes.
Learning these comparisons is just the first step. If you don't commit yourself to changing toward the winners' patterns, this book will waste your time and money. If you can't or won't make that commitment, you'll continue to get the same, disappointing results. It really is that brutally simple.
Chapter TwoWinners Are More Motivated and Disciplined
To win at poker, one must want to win. More importantly, one's subconscious mind must want to win! ... The poker player who can't control his mental and emotional state will never be a winner, and it doesn't matter how much experience, natural talent, money, or knowledge he possesses. -Jason Misa
Winners have both an intense desire to win and extreme self-control. Like the "rational man" of classical economic theory, they do whatever it takes to maximize their long-term profits.
They work harder, study longer, remain more alert, act more deceptively, avoid games they can't beat, attack more ruthlessly, criticize themselves more harshly, refuse to yield to their emotions, and always insist on having an edge. They make these and many other sacrifices that most people won't make. In fact, they are so competitive that they may feel that they're not sacrificing anything important. Everything but winning is hardly worth thinking about.
You may think that it is unhealthy to compete so compulsively. I agree and have argued forcefully that-from a mental health perspective-you should be more balanced.
But this book concerns only winning, and everything you feel, think, or do that conflicts with that goal will reduce your profits. You must decide how important winning is to you and how high a price you will pay for it. Some people naively assume that they can win without making sacrifices. They will certainly be disappointed.
Excerpted from Poker Winners Are Different by ALAN N. SCHOONMAKER Copyright © 2009 by Alan N. Schoonmaker. Excerpted by permission.
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