Saturday, May 27, 2006

Poker Is A Game Of...

Poker is a game of chance
Poker is a game of people
Poker is a game of decisions
Poker is a game of skill
Poker is a game of bluffing
Poker is a game of incentives
Poker is a game of information
Poker is a game of uncertainty
Poker is a game of control
Poker is a game of situations

Not my thoughts on poker - though many of them I agree with - but rather those returned from a simple Google search.

To that list, I'd like to add one of my own:

Poker is a game of mental fortitude

Is there any other game in the world that can be so cruel, yet so rewarding?

Since taking up poker about two years ago, I've had highs and lows. Nights where I could do no wrong, and nights where I couldn't win a hand.

It's been an adventure, an experience, and a challenge.

More than most amateurs, I've taken to study. My poker library, and online resource lists are substantial and still growing.

Yet all the books in the world are no substitute for experience. Getting out there and putting my cash on the table, seeing the flops, making decisions, and feeling the elation of raking a big pot, the despair of my chips sliding in the direction of an opponent.

When I'm not playing, I'm reading; when I'm not reading, I'm writing; and when I'm not writing, I'm thinking. Much to the chagrin of the wife.

Every so often she catches me with a distant look on my face, and instinctively knows I'm rerunning a recent, or not so recent, hand in my mind.

Often that look is somewhat pained, since in poker it feels so natural to dwell on the negative, and discount the positive.

Which sets it apart from most other sports, where the positive is accentuated, and the negative allowed to slip away.

Generally after a football game it's easy to forget about the howlers - misplaced passes, sliced shots, missed tackles - and focus on the highs, whether they be a goal, a save, or just the result.

In poker, it's different. I need Poker Tracker to remind me when my Aces last won a 15BB pot, or my straight draw outdrew a flopped set, but I can still remember low points from the distant past.

These need not necessarily be suckouts - though they often are - but also terrible misplays. Slow plays gone bad, fishy calls, misread opponents. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Ours or theirs.

Which is where mental fortitude comes in. In very few sports can you play well against an inferior opponent, do everything right, induce or exploit their error, and still lose.

There's a helplessness that comes from getting the chips in the middle knowing you are ahead, only to see victory snatched away by a cruel turn of the cards.

With helplessness comes despair, especially since there are so few means of exacting retribution. The raging footballer can tackle more strongly; the boxer can punch harder; the athlete can throw further, jump higher, run faster.

Liberation through physical exertion. Waves of endorphins cascading through the brain. They may not win, but they can gain near instant resolution of their inner torment.

The poker player? They can tilt, and lose more.

Or, weather the storm, grit their teeth, and remind themselves it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Which is oh so tough to do. Human nature drives us towards instant gratification.

Sucked out on? We want revenge.

Down a buy-in from a silly mistake? We want to redeem ourselves. Now!

Poker just doesn't work that way. Sure a few bluffs can force the action, and regain some lost ground. In the short term, until our opponents recognise the changing dynamic of the game, and begin to take advantage.

Ultimately, folding a bad hand 'earns' us as much as betting a good one. Which is not an easy pathway to that sought after gratification.

The player with mental fortitude understands that, and gets on with their normal game.

The player without mental fortitude tilts, and lets a good decision gone bad become a series of bad decisions gone worse. As stronger players sense their deteriorating mental state and covet their chips mercilessly.

With experience comes the ability to ride out the storm, and maintain equilibrium.

It's not something which can be learned from a book, and different people will find their own coping mechanisms, but it's an essential part of the poker players armoury.

Reading other blogs has certainly been of assistance in fortifying myself against the cruel downswings.

Books are fine for learning about probabilities, pot odds, and strategies, but being able to see inside the minds of players in similar situations to my own, having them share their emotions and experiences, has helped me better understand my own feelings and enabled me to manage my responses to frustrating situations.

Equally, this blog has provided a safe outlet for my emotions, when otherwise they may have been expressed in a more reckless, and financially disastrous, manner at the table.

Maintaining mental fortitude is but one piece of the jigsaw which forms a good poker player, but it's an essential piece.

Inability to accurately compute pot odds will cost the occasional bet. Inability to maintain composure in the face of bad luck will cost your stack.

It's something I'm still working on, and I suggest you do too.

1 comment:

razboynik said...

Very wise words !
You can only really appreciate those words if you have been through the wars.