Poker and the ego

Irexes

Irexes

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Successful poker is about tiny edges. In order to exploit these edges in the long run you need to play with a good understanding of the odds, bankroll management, variance, player types, the importance of position, subtle changes in context and on occassion even the value of the cards you are dealt!

However there are a lot of people who grasp most or all of the above and yet either lose or don't win as much as they could. This may be because they get stacked in ring or fail to make the final stages of tournies enough and often it's because for whatever reason they stop playing the "correct" way and let their ego take over.

This article is about the role the ego plays in poker and how to avoid letting the competitive beast within allow you to throw your chips away in a chest-beating frenzy. Why is this important? Because in my experience getting good results in the long run is as much about making laydowns at the right-time as it is about check-raising or floating or winning coinflips.

Putting chips in the middle is easy, it's aggressive it gives you a chance to win the pot and it feels goooooood. Folding is an admission of defeat, it says "you've outplayed me" and it feels bad in comparison. But as Marsellus Wallace says to that chap from Die Hard, "That's pride f*cking with you. F*ck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps."

So here are a handful of areas where I think ego, or pride if we use Mr Wallace's term can be a factor. And of course some, none or all of them may apply to you.

Losing players are losing players

Playing correct 95% of the time and then making mistakes due to tilt or the need to catch the maniac out by playing like a maniac yourself means you are a poor player. It doesn't mean you are a good player who suffers from the occassional lapse, it means you are a poor player. Failure to control the ego, whether it manifests through tilt or bad calls is as big a hole in your game as overplaying low pairs or not understanding position.

You would never say "I'm a good player I just lose because I overplay small pairs." but the line "I'm a good player, I just have sessions where I go on tilt" crops up a fair bit. Given a sufficiently large sample if you are not winning, there is something wrong with your game. Admit it and fix it.

Who cares what they think

It doesn't matter what people think of you. If you must have external acknowledgement of how great you are then post in forums like cardschats Brags and Beats (like I do when I want to be loved) or stare longingly at your officialpokerrankings ranking (I do this too!).

The ONLY thing that matters is that in the long term is that you are beating the game (and hopefully enjoying it). It is absolutely irrelevant if PokaGOD69 thinks you are a weak-passive because you folded to his preflop resteal, in fact it might help because you know you are not and you can use this false image he has of you to your advantage later.

Let them call you a donk, let them continue to make false assumptions about you. You know better and the moment they disappear from your screen they are gone forever from your life.

(A subsection of this is showing bluffs. People often justify this by saying, "I wanted to tilt the table". No, you wanted everyone to think what a clever chap you were, be honest. Take the chips and move on)

This relates to another area I like to call..

Catch the maniac!

Sometimes there is a guy at the table who is bad. They are making mistakes pretty much every hand and are ripe for the picking. Sometimes they may even be telling you or others what you are doing wrong.

One of the big edges in poker is exploiting these ATMs and relieving them of their lovely chippies. However the ego is telling you that you are better than him, that he doesn't deserve that big stack which he got by sucking out with his push with KQ utg.

This can and does result in loose calls because "he never has a good hand", "he was a maniac so he could have had anything". Neither of these justify getting involved unless the right situation occurs. So maniac raises large, as he has for the last 5 hands and you look down at 66 and are facing a call for half your chips, should you call? Possibly, but it should be because it's the right thing to do, not because you are "better than him" (for the record I'd fold).

When playing a maniac wait for your spot and then get the sucker. If your spot never comes it doesn't matter, don't force it, don't become a maniac to catch a maniac. Of course there are plenty of valid ways to work a spot, but that's another story.


Blind battles and Heads Up

There is a particular kind of relationship that develops in protracted battles over blinds or in Heads Up play. You both know that more often than not you are playing with less than great cards and that potentially a reraise will take a nice juicy pot.

Of course aggression is key and you should be dictating the play, but it is easy to take repeated blind steals as an assault on your manhood (or womanhood) and strike back out of wounded ego rather than for good poker reasons. It is of course easy to justify this as a resteal :) but don't let your ego decide when you do it.

Bad beats

They don't matter, no-one cares and it's a good sign if you are getting all your chips in a pot ahead a lot. In the long run you will win.

Folding is a positive decision

To get a bit high-brow on you for a second let's talk some Sartre. He said (probably in French) that doing nothing is a decision, it is not the absence of decision, you have to actively decide to do nothing.

I like this because it forces us to acknowledge that passivity is not what happens while we decide what to do, it's what happens when we decide to do nothing. I think folding can be viewed the same way. It is not a passive act of inaction, it is a positive decision based on a huge range of factors.

Folding gives us the opportunity to pick a better spot, to demonstrate that we have the skill to invest in a pot and then walk away from it when we are probably beaten.

A good correct fold is without doubt the hardest thing to achieve in poker. Any fool can shove any time (it's a great egotrip!) it takes real skill to fold QQ preflop when it's clearly beat, or laydown the flush draw because you would be kidding yourself that you have the odds to call. What makes it all the more tricky is that the rest of the table will never know you laid down bottom set or the idiot end of the straight.

Again, it doesn't matter, learn to enjoy a good fold it's the basis of success.



Just to conclude, I've focussed on the passive aspects of removing ego from your game, primarily folding and patience. However from a state of analytical awareness it is also possible to spot opportunities for aggression which may not occur otherwise. The tremendous Zen and the Art of Poker refers to a state of detatchment, where you are entirely aware of the game but are unaffected by it and therefore able to play in an optimum way. And of course this usually means aggression.

If you really remove ego from your game you will find yourself being really happy with how you played despite the fact that you lost. You will be able to accept losses as a natural and normal part of successful play. But perhaps more importantly you will be able to successfully criticise yourself when you win, either because you could have played better or because you played like a fool and got lucky.

Players driven by ego are often so focussed on short-term outcomes (even the result of single hands or tournies) that they are unable to accept that their play was bad even though they won. Again it's all about the long run and the long run, as they say, is very, very long.
 
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blankoblanco

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A++, excellent post rexy
 
ChuckTs

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I'm a slow reader, but I'm sure it's top notch as usual. Gonna have to catch up on it later.
 
Debi

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Nice food for thought - if I ever get good enough to think about having an ego I will read it again.
 
Irexes

Irexes

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Nice food for thought - if I ever get good enough to think about having an ego I will read it again.

But Daks, you're a lady, you are exempt from 99% of ego-related issues anyway :)


And thanks chaps, of course this whole post was just an excuse to use the Pulp Fiction quote.
 
skoldpadda

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Simply excellent.
 
I

imlosinit4u

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Thanks for that post.I know these things in my head but sometimes they are hard to apply.Thanks for the reminders.
 
heatfan03

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This is a great post. It has been my final obstacle in my opinion and i have recently achieved it. It took a while but once u start making correct folds u forget about the "pain" from losing the hand and some guy thinking your weak and u feel achievment in making a good read and picking a better spot.
Having No EGO will help u win. I know its helped me now im getting over it.
 
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Gavinski

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It took a while but once u start making correct folds u forget about the "pain" from losing the hand

Can't agree more. Making an awesome laydown feels as good, if not better, than the awesome calls.

"You can't win a game of poker until you know how to fold"

I also think the "ego" affects people more in live games at times, when you are sat right in front of them. It can sometimes be hard not to let these players affect your game. I sometimes find folding and just concentrating on something else for a couple of hands can help me re-focus.

Great post BTW, Irexes.
 
NineLions

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Excellent thoughts, as always Rex.

In Freudian terms, would this mean playing from the superego, while keeping the id in check?


One of the concepts I liked from Zen and the Art of Poker was that folding is a weapon, and to wield it like a big club.


I'd like to learn more about how to get the ego out of it. I remember reading about one of the good young high stakes players and he demonstrated for his brother how he plays at these high stakes games. He was in a big hand and his brother said aren't you excited? And he said, no, feel my heart, and it was just going at a normal rate. He said when he's watching his favourite sports team he gets excited, but not while playing poker.

That's where I need to work towards. I can still feel my heart race when I get in a big hand, and I am almost as aware of my inability to play properly against players whose game I don't respect, and conversely my intimidation when I play against players whose game I know is better than mine.
 
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protoskull

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I love the feeling when you fold a great hand and hindsight proves you made the right decision. That's almost as exciting as taking down a big pot. I am like you NineLions though, I can't control myself at the poker table. I get very nervous when I dont have the nuts but think I'm ahead.

Even worse, my teeth chatter for the first 15 minutes after I sit down at a table online! I am playing my first game in a casino on Thursday and just know I'm gonna be even worse there. I try to convince myself it doesn't affect my decision-making though and I hope it doesn't.

It's difficult to remain aloof from what is happening in front of you and I envy the ice-cool people who can do that. Then again, the thrill is half the fun for me...
 
F Paulsson

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tl;dr

PS. You should have waited for your 1337:th post to write this. DS.
 
rainsoaked

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That's where I need to work towards. I can still feel my heart race when I get in a big hand, and I am almost as aware of my inability to play properly against players whose game I don't respect, and conversely my intimidation when I play against players whose game I know is better than mine.
This is where I am as well and my hope is that by giving a nod to what's going on internally and then still taking what I feel to be the proper action/inaction, the racing heart etc will eventually fade. The ol' Zen embrace thing.​
Excellent thread. Think I'll frame the opening post and hang it above my monitor.​
 
HartAttack3

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sexy post rexy, gotta say i have to control my ego as well, also I never did think of it, but it is true about the whole heart racing with a big hand thing. Gonna need to fix that before I give myself a heart attack :)
 
wickedlovely

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Blind battles and Heads Up
Of course aggression is key and you should be dictating the play, but it is easy to take repeated blind steals as an assault on your manhood (or womanhood) and strike back out of wounded ego rather than for good poker reasons. It is of course easy to justify this as a resteal :) but don't let your ego decide when you do it.

There are so many excellent points in this post. I have most of my ego problems when I reach the final 2 or 3 in a tourney. I seem to forget it's about winning the entire thing not showing everyone who's got the most guts.

One of the concepts I liked from Zen and the Art of Poker was that folding is a weapon, and to wield it like a big club.

I like this, gonna have to memorize it :D
 
Dorkus Malorkus

Dorkus Malorkus

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Playing correct 95% of the time and then making mistakes due to tilt or the need to catch the maniac out by playing like a maniac yourself means you are a poor player. It doesn't mean you are a good player who suffers from the occassional lapse, it means you are a poor player.

I love this - it's so very true. Seriously, if I received a small sum of money each time I heard someone saying "I'm a really great player but I tilt a lot" or suchlike, then I'd have a rather large sum of money right now.

I like the bit on folding too. A lot of people don't seem to realise that (albeit indirectly), good players make money from folding where others would have 'incorrectly' called or raised - instead they see having to fold as some kind of personal insult.

Worth also stressing that the section on maniacs is primarily tournament strategy, no? In a cash game it would be advantageous to be pushing your edge with 66 (or whatever), assuming you think you have an edge. Sure, it's a very swingy way to play, but such is poker. You just have to control yourself a little and ensure you don't become more maniacal than the maniac!

Anyway, I ramble. Nice post sir, make a note to archive it in a month or two. :p
 
Irexes

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Worth also stressing that the section on maniacs is primarily tournament strategy, no? In a cash game it would be advantageous to be pushing your edge with 66 (or whatever), assuming you think you have an edge. Sure, it's a very swingy way to play, but such is poker. You just have to control yourself a little and ensure you don't become more maniacal than the maniac!


Cheers DM, and the maniac bit is absolutely a tourney thing. My personal bias is showing :)
 
Irexes

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But of course. I was employing second level cool-and-interestingness in my response :)
 
F Paulsson

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But of course. I was employing second level cool-and-interestingness in my response :)
And yet you fail to see through my faking-hurt-feelings-pretending-like-I-didn't-get-that-you-got-me fourth level of sarcasm and wit?

Or wait, was I just fifth-levelled?

Damn, Rex, you're a tricky, tricky man.
 
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