Poker, ego, and "getting what you deserve"
I've been meaning to post this for a while, but I'm lazy. :/
Let's take a look at a boring hand. BB is a weak, straightforward player who is far too loose preflop.
PokerStars No-Limit Hold'em Tourney, Big Blind is t200 (8 handed)
Preflop: Hero is MP1 with K, K.
1 fold, UTG+1 calls t200, Hero raises to t800, 4 folds, BB calls t600, UTG+1 calls t600.
Flop: (t2500) 5, A, 9 (3 players)
BB bets t1000, UTG+1 folds, Hero folds.
Final Pot: t3500
No showdown. BB wins t3500.
What's so special about this hand? Not a lot, really. We have a huge hand preflop, it turns to crap on the flop, we get bet into by a very straightforward and weak player, and we fold because we're likely drawing to two outs or less.
We silently curse our luck at getting such a horrible flop for our Kings, and we silently curse our opponent's luck in likely outdrawing us. But we fold, because it's the correct decision (note that BB could of course be bluffing
, but we can't assign him a significant bluff% because of our read).
So, what's the point here? The point is, every decision you make in a poker hand, you must make while as devoid of emotion as possible. The number of times I see players (usually 'bad' players in any case, but sometimes even somewhat solid players) do bizarre things in the heat of the moment like shove with Kings in the example above is pretty ridiculous. Why do they do this? Well it's true, the player could be afflicted with "Can't let go of a big hand preflop" syndrome, but what about if a solid player, who should know his hand is no good here, does the same thing?
It's all about ego. The solid player's though processes can easily be summarised as follows:
Preflop: "Alright! I've got Kings, and I've got this huge calling station donkey crushed! He's gonna call and I'm gonna take a lot of his chips here!"
Flop: "Goddammit, I'll teach that ************* donkey to outdraw me! Actually, he might not have outdrawn me! He could be bluffing! Or he could fold a weak Ace if he has one! Or I could hit a King! ALLIN!"
Our ego, especially in hands like this, and especially coupled with the effects of tilt, can and will lead to us making irrational judgments, and hence irrational decisions. The flop 'commentary' above is usually a stange mix of conscious and subconscious, which can make it somewhat difficult to combat (to pose a somewhat paradoxical question, "How do you stop thinking about something you don't know you're thinking about?" - *answer at the bottom of the post
So how do we combat this? Everyone should already know that you need to leave your emotions in check when entering a poker game
. Heightened emotions lead to irrational decisions, just as an overly large ego can.
Do not think of poker in terms of immediate 'deserves'. In other words, you should not be thinking "I deserve to win this tournament because all the other players are horrible and I am great" (even if it is true), or perhaps more appropriately to the above hand, "I deserve to win this hand because I have a huge hand and my opponent is a terrible player". Poker is not a game of 'deserves' in the short run, and if you think of it as such, it will slowly drive you insane in a sea of runner-runner flushes and rivered two-outers. Yes, in the long run the better players will win, but each individual hand, and each individual decision is about as short-run as you can get. When you don't get what you 'deserve' (i.e. the flop and the action in the hand above), this can almost cause our brain to revert to childhood times, where I'm sure at some point we've all thrown tantrums and done stupid things just because we didn't get that awesome new toy we really wanted (or 'deserved', perhaps?). Sure, it's often a more subconscious and less obvious thing in adulthood, because in maturing we have learned more about keeping our emotions in check, but the fact we have not got what we 'deserve' can still lead us to break down to some degree emotionally and therefore logically. Thus, in the hand above, we may make an absolutely horrible shove.
(Note that 'the KK hand' is a somewhat extreme example I've used to illustrate a point. Even if you're sat there thinking "LOL what kind of donk would shove with Kings there?", this may do you some good. )
For similar reasoning, do not think of poker in terms of certainties when there are uncontrollable elements at hand. "I'm going to win this hand" is a horrible thought to be thinking (unless you actually really are 100% going to win the hand, heh).
Always make sure there is a solid foundation behind your decisions. If a horrid player raises from middle position, another horrible player calls from late position, and you're on the button with 98s, you're not calling because "These guys are donks", you're calling because "The fact these players are weak and more likely to stay in with and overvalue marginal hands means that I may well get paid off hugely if I hit a very favourable flop". Notice the "if" in that sentence. We're not saying "I deserve to win a huge pot here", because, again, we don't 'deserve' anything. Thinking like this could well turn you into the donkey that overvalues 98s on a K92r flop ("I have a pair and I deserve to win - ALLIN!").
There's a difference between 'ego' and 'confidence'. If you take someone like Phil Hellmuth, your first immediate thought may be "That guy has a huge ego". Well, I dunno. Maybe he does, and has just learned to keep it in check at important times. Or maybe he's just confident. Or perhaps it's all just an act for the cameras. I don't know - I've never met him. There's nothing wrong with going into a poker game thinking, "I am going to bring my A-game to the table tonight", though.
All you can do is play your best and make optimal decisions in the short run. Let the cards and the long run take care of everything else.
* The answer is of course to not have thought about whatever it was you didn't know you were thinking about in the first place. Simple, right?