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Winning and Losing

October 24th, 2016 by Jon Sofen

The Game is Not About Whether You Won or Lost, but How Well You Played

Don’t be focused on the money won or lost. Be focused on how well you played. (Image:

Don’t be focused on the money won or lost. Be focused on how well you played. (Image:

So you may have seen the title to this blog post and rolled your eyes. If you are anything like me, you’re tired of lame clichés.  After all, this is probably what your parents told you when you were a kid after you struck out four times in one Little League game, costing your team the championship.

I’m here to tell you that your parents didn’t really mean what they said about effort trumping results. They just told you that to make you feel better knowing you let your team down and all your teammates hated you.

But when it comes to poker, it’s actually true that results, at least short-term ones, really don’t matter. What matters is…how well you played the game. Lame cliché or not, this statement is true and your focus at the poker table should always be on how well you played, not on how much money you won or lost.

The fact of the matter is you’re going to win sometimes and lose sometimes. And sometimes when you win, you didn’t really deserve to. Other times, you’ll lose but deserved to win because you played well and the cards screwed you.

As you will learn, you’ll make money over the long run only if you consistently play well. Those who have some short term luck but don’t play the game the right way will end up broke eventually. If you don’t put in the time to acquire the necessary skills, you’ll lose all your money in no time.

I’ve known many poker players who went on some pretty sick heaters and thought they had game. But the truth was they were simply just hitting hands. Poker is an easy game to play when the deck is smacking you in the face. So what happens when the 9-10 you raised with under the gun doesn’t hit the flop? Poker then becomes a difficult game.

A Lesson Learned

My friend James is a good dude and I feel bad for calling him out here, but I need to give you an example of why it’s important to focus more on your play than the end result each session.

James is about as good at poker as Donald Trump is at putting together coherent sentences. I taught him the basics of poker and he refused to listen. I told him to be patient and don’t play too many hands in early position. He didn’t listen.

At first, it didn’t really matter that he didn’t listen. My advice meant nothing to him over a few consecutive sessions where he seemingly hit every flop. It was so crazy. He could have played any two cards against any two cards and won.

Playing a $1-$2 no-limit hold’em cash game, he was up more than $1,800 over three sessions. That’s an impressive run at that level for anyone, even for the most experienced players. I was at his table for two of those sessions and my honest evaluation was that he played terrible poker. Justice wasn’t served.

He would call off big bets on gut shot straight draws or middle-pair and river his hand, over and over again. He was raising in early position with junk hands and then calling a three-bet. I’d never seen anything like it before.

“You’re playing too many hands,” I told him.

“I just won $1,800, you lost money, and you’re telling me how to play?” he fired back.

“Your luck will run out,” I assured him.

I was dead right. The next few times he played and lost all that money and then some. It was the least surprising thing I had ever seen. His start was pure fool’s gold. And he was a fool for thinking he would continue hitting so many big hands.

The only thing James was focused on was the money he was winning. He didn’t stop and think the only reason he was winning that money was because he was hitting an insane amount of big hands. Poker can deliver such a cruel lesson sometimes.

Focus on Your Play and Nothing Else

I realize that winning money is fun and losing money sucks. But if you’re only focused on the cash, you’re in trouble. If, instead, you focus on how well you play, the money will be there over time. If not, it will all be gone over time.

So here’s what I want you to do. The next time you sit down at a poker table, give yourself an honest assessment of your play throughout the day. Did you play too many hands? Did you miss opportunities to bluff? Did you miss opportunities to value bet? Did you chase too many draws? Did you make good folds? Were you patient?

Those are questions you should consider when analyzing your play. Notice how I didn’t ask you how much money you won or lost? I don’t care about that.

Short term wins can easily be written off as pure luck. And short term losses can sometimes be a sign of bad luck. That’s poker, my friends.

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