Book: "Your Worst Poker Enemy"
by Alan Schoonmaker, PhD; published 2007. 324 pages.
I thought this was a very good book. I took a little while to get into it: the first 60 or so pages (Part I) are basically an argument as to why you need to be logical and analytical as opposed to "intuitive". He gives good arguments in the 'books vs experience' debate, and I will probably reference this book in any debates on that subject in the future.
Part II starts to get a little better as far as the reading. He first talks about various forms of denial, their consequences, and suggestions to combat them.
The chapter titled "Are You Really Running Bad?
" points out that you can feel as though you have been extremely unlucky for several reason, including: overemphasizing bad beats, denial of reality, and, most interesting to me, expecting too much. Here he starts to hint at the slim line between winning and losing, and how small the edges are in poker.
He goes on to chronicle how winning players can become losing players, and then gives recommendations as to what you should do to overcome the attitude of "I'm so unlucky
". He lists seven, but here, in my opinion, are the top three: Stop whining. Accept responsibility for your results. Lower your expectations.
His next chapter briefly delves into some of the differences between males and females, and advantages each gender has in poker.
The next chapter, "We are all Magoos
", aims to remind us to keep a little humble, pointing out that even the greatest players have done extremely stupid things before (remember the Grinder exposing his straight to Scotty in the WPT?).
Next he looks at reasons to quit a session, getting into the usual talk about stop losses vs. time sessions vs. any edge. He also gives a system used by a psychologist colleague. But the most interesting one was the "two mistake rule"
used by a friend of his: he automatically left the game whenever he made two serious errors, as defined by an action he would not have taken when he first sat down.
In the afterthought to Part II he gives some questions to answer to help you self evaluate.
Part III is titled "Understanding Unconcious and Emotional Forces
", and starts with look at the traditional Freudian id, ego, superego structure of personality as related to poker.
The chapter "Why do people play so badly?
" was one I read with interest, have recently actually asked my wife out loud something very similar. I was not quite satisfied with his explanation(s):
1. They don't know how to play: he gives a composite interview with wsop
ME players how seemed not to have prepared in any way for such a large tournament with a big buy in against the best players in the world.
2. Wrong motives: he then lists a bunch of mistakes that people make when playing.
3. They lack essential traits: he gives Barry Greenstein's list, with a few of his own added on.
4. Cannot handle Poker's Confusing Feedback
: this was the most interesting topic. He addresses the fact that you can sometimes make a good play and lose, and sometimes make a bad play and win. I couldn't help but think of the numerous posts on the forum to the effect of 'I open limped w Q6s and flopped a full house'-- it's because 'rewards' like this occur the people continue to play poorly. The fact that the human brain learns by identifying patterns makes poker's feedback very confusing, and thus difficult to master through playing/experience alone.
I don't think this chapter really addressed what the title promised, although it did contain some (obviously) useful information. Especially in the first two he seemed to kind of make one point, but then his follow up was on a slightly different topic. I do, however, think he addresses the ideas in more depth later, especially the idea of different "motives" for playing beyond making money/+EV (see below).
The next section is on "Destructive Emotions
", including hope, love for action, fear of risk, fear of randomness, aversion to conflict, anger, ache to get even, and pride. I thought the "fear of randomness" was the most interesting: he points out that these are the people who think they have a lucky dealer, or are always demanding deck changes. We've all seen or know people like this, and it's informative to get a look at their possible underlying psychology.
He goes on to talk about the specific ways the emotions hurt us in poker, and suggestions for controlling destructive emotions.
In the next two chapters he takes a more thorough look at anger and at arrogance. Brief highlights from the anger chapter: "identify your triggers
" and "If you're just expressing your anger (or really an emotion) with your (poker) action, you are probably making a mistake."
The next chapter was a good one, "Luck, ESP, and Superstitions
". He talks about why people believe this stuff, touching on "confirmation bias" and the idea of the "believing you are lucky will make you lucky" fallacy. To be fair he does address that positive attitude can have real positive effects, just not ones that bend the actual laws of probability.
The next discussion is about table talk, and how telling your opponents how you play is detrimental. Pretty short, pretty basic.
The next chapter "Paranoia at the Poker Table
" gets into why people think (online) poker is rigged, or why they believe they are being cheated live. One thing he points out regarding "live" players who seem only to lose online: they only think
they win live, because of recall bias and because they keep such bad records. He then gives some excellent recommendations that I think deserve quoting here:
1. Monitor yourself. This includes asking for and listening to unbiased opinions.
2. Accept responsibility
. He touched on this before, but points out that a long losing streak is much
more likely to be attributed in part to something off in your game rather than purely to variance.
3. Accept randomness
. It's a fact of poker. I think everyone struggles with this at least a little bit from time to time.
4. Learn the laws of probability
. He means the real underlying laws and their logic, not just mesmerizing an odds
5. Focus on things you can control.
That is, your decisions, not your outcomes.
The next chapter is on "Machismo
" and its negative effects on your game.
An interesting point: "the fundamental law of all predators: Attack the weakest prey"
. It might seem obvious to say but machismo leads to all sorts of actions that violate this law. Schoonmaker lists some of these actions, then gives recommendations to combat this behavior. He points out that poker is a delayed gratification activity the demands we sacrifice
temporary pleasures of ego for the longer term pleasures of the bottom line.
Next (sorry if I keep saying "next" lol), "Preventing and Handling Tilt
". This was an excellent chapter, obviously very important. Highlights:
--taking the time to actually identify your "triggers
--pretending you have someone you have to explain all your actions to standing behind you
--"don't pray to the poker gods
", which gets back to focusing on your decisions (the things you can control). This is a fundamental attitude change: if you find yourself yelling "One time!" or other such statements at the flop you know you have work to do here.
Part Four "Adjusting to Changes
" talks about the need to constantly improve, the folly of complacency, and how the poker is changing and will continue to change, including the continued effects computers (and bots) will have on the poker landscape. All his chapter titles contain "Darwin
" in them, so you get the idea of where he is coming from.
Part Five is "Handling Stress
". He starts out with an excellent discussion of "Coping with Losing Streaks
". Again he touches on taking responsibility for your results (via your decisions), and point out that the edges are small in poker. He also talks about an interesting idea he calls a "psychological bankroll
", as opposed to a monetary one: money you can't afford to lose because of the mental anguish it causes you (vs. the actual dollar loss).
He goes on in the following chapter to talk about why you might lose in formal poker cardrooms (both b&m and online) as opposed to home games, pointing out the differences between them and making suggestions for adapting. This chapter probably isn't too applicable to too many of his readers.
Next he discusses "Vicious Customers
", i.e. the poor and abusive behavior of some players. He gives some examples, delves into these player's motivations, looks at why it is allowed or gotten away with a lot, and suggests dos and don'ts. He goes on to discuss some new problems that need to be dealt with in the current climate, and reasons for them.
His final chapters are good ones, focusing on the dangers of an "unbalanced life" and the possible destructive aspects of being "obsessive" about poker. I wont get too much into, since this is a pretty long post already, but these chapters, although a bit short, were some of the most thought provoking.
Anyway, to sum up: a slow start, but some really good stuff mixed in with some ok/less interesting stuff, but well worth the read.
The title is of the book is taken from a Stuey Unger quote: "At the table, you're your own worst enemy."
Schoonmaker's next book will be "Your Best Poker Friend" (or something to that effect), which will take a look at the other side of the coin. I'm looking forward to it.