Poker Strategy

Stop being a bad poker player!

Stop being a bad poker player!

Warning: we’re going to get a little deep today but stay with me – the payoff will be worth it.

I read a poker quote by David Mamet recently that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It said:

“Many bad players do not improve – because they cannot bear self-knowledge.”

Poker players who are perpetual losers, he says, only remain like that because they can’t face the reality of the situation – the reality that they suck. Or that they don’t have control over their emotions. Or that they neglect studying because they lack discipline. Or that they can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to succeed because, to them, it would mean that their parents did something right.


I warned you – we’re going deep today.

In these players’ minds, it is infinitely easier to blame bad luck, external circumstances, and even other players for their losses than to look inwards and reflect on their own shortcomings. It is a self-protective mechanism for people whose sense of self is so unstable that any criticism – be it external or internal – threatens to derail the entire ride.

So, what should we do if we ourselves are terrified (consciously or subconsciously) of looking beyond the surface and beyond our defenses – at the core of our being?

In the words of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the classic self-help book The Four Agreements:

“Awareness is always the first step because if you are not aware, there is nothing you can change.”

book The Four Agreements

So, whether you are a perennial donor at the poker table looking to finally turn things around, or you just want to plug some mental and emotional “leaks” so you can elevate your game (and ROI), the answer begins with meaningful self-reflection.

One good place to start is to ask yourself: if an angel came down from the heavens and proved to me, beyond a show of a doubt, that all my poker losses were due to imperfections in both my strategy and (perhaps more importantly) my character, what are the forms those imperfections are most likely to take?

What are the beliefs I hold that don’t serve me?

What are the emotions that guide me to trouble?

What are some things I could work on to reduce the impact of variance, not its presence?

What is it in my character that is holding me back from success, both in poker and more generally in life? (hint: they’ll often be one and the same!)

As you go through this process of self-discovery, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to know the answers to these questions instantaneously, the path to victory reveals itself through consistent effort, self-reflection, and self-correction.

As he said:

" Do not be concerned about the future; keep your attention on today and stay in the present moment. Just live one day at a time. Always do your best…and soon it will be easy for you. Today is the beginning of a new dream."

Perhaps, a dream of winning.

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