Poker, ego, and "getting what you deserve"

Dorkus Malorkus

Dorkus Malorkus

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)

MP2 (t5795)
CO (t440)
Button (t1535)
SB (t3125)
BB (t7490)
UTG (t3975)
UTG+1 (t3733)
Hero (t6070)

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

Results below:
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? ;)
Last edited:


What a star!!!

DM, thanks for this m8, it is exactly what I`ve been going through in recent days.

After spending the month building up a net profit of $400 I lost about $250 going through this senario after a guy made me fold QQ on a board of Ah9dJs4h3h. He called my raise after the flop. Then called it again after the turn. Then pushed all in with a similar stack to mine after the river. I folded and he showed 8d8c :eek: I done my normal, called him a clown, etc. I then went on to blow $120 in an hour, followed by another $130 the next day :mad:

I am gonna take on board what u say - u have explained it very well, ta very much ;)


it is true im currently in the best run of mtt results ive ever had and have lost half my bankroll i keep makin the money deep stacked and taking beats and losing early but eventually i am gonna have 1 where the beats dont come and will win it all back pleeeeze god :D


Excellent article as usual, Chris. rep+.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go stare at a self portrait I just finished that I hang above my bed.

EDIT: (just realized how long this is; don't mean to give you a life story).

In all seriousness, I have a huge ego. I'll fully admit that; I hate the fact that I do, but that's that. I've always been among the best at what I do. With hockey, I was always the fastest player in my league, and always was near or on the top with scoring. I was the champ back in elementary school with high jump and the 400-metre run. Before high school, I would nearly ace any test I took (...except english. I've always sucked with english :mad:).

I turned out to have problems in high-school because I literally couldn't accept a mark lower than a %90. I suppose you could say it hurt my ego :p The work was harder, and if I had studied for project and worked and worked and knew it wouldn't get past a %65 or %75, then I'd just give up. That led to alot of failed marks and lazy projects if they were at all 'difficult'. It was either %90+ or nothing.

Moving to poker, I found that I won most of the home games I played, then I moved to online poker and won with that too. I made a small fortune by my standards (short of $3000) without putting in a penny, but soon I hit a brick wall. Again with not being able to accept anything less than %100 success (or close to it), I got really pissed off and would tilt alot of my money off making poor decisions like the above hand. I just couldn't accept AA getting busted with a preflop all in, or other similar situations.

My point is that, at least for me, my ego not letting me accept anything less than near-perfection has had a huge effect on my poker-playing. I've only recently been able to keep my emotions and tilt under control while playing, and it's definitely had a positive impact on my playing. So TY sir for shedding that light on the importance of ego in your game; I'd always heard the phrase "never bring your ego to the table", but never really thought about it in-depth.

End rant.

Again, great thread Chris - rep+.


if i dont get what i deserve on the table, they get what they deserve in the parking lot ;/


I am just now getting to this thread but I had an epiphany after about 6 months of playing that you just explained my exact problem. I would call off hands at times that I knew were huge dogs or might even be drawing dead at times because of the ego/i'll teach this guy a lesson syndrome. Then I would proceed to reraise him with rags and try to get all fancy (definite tilting) just to get them back.

Thank god I'm over that.


plays poker on hard mode
He would have sucked out though, obviously.

Miscounted the number of runner-runner draws he had. 7d7s, 7d7h, 7h7s, 2d2s, 2d2h, 2h2s, 2h7s, 2s7h, 2d7s etc. etc. You were only a slight favorite on the flop, probably a good fold in retrospect


Now I know why my TILT thread bombed :p

See what I mean by people saying what I want to say in a more articulate way? Well at least that rhymed... Anywhooooo < Who says anywho anyhow? > the deserving thing kinda plays into tilt and the solutions for it I was writing about in the other thread. The point is I'm gonna hijack this thread and pose my question here < Is this out of line? >. I wanted to have active members in the community share different techniques for getting off tilt and get back on track to playing the best game they are capable of at that moment. I say that cause some things are a given but can't be taken back right before a game... like lack of sleep or poor diet. Those are things that need to be taken care of ahead of time. I'll submit my robot style <in the tilt-gameover thread (yeah yeah shameless plug :D )> and I hope to hear yours.
Please let me know if this post was a no no... not trying to step on toes BTW once again very nice thread Dorkus
Last edited:


Excellent post and it's touching on the same area that "Zen and the Art of Poker" looks at.

Essentially it is about removing emotional involvement in the game while engaging fully with every nuance and subtlety. The very zenlike notion of detatched involvement.

I think the Kings hand above is a great example. I've played with the some peoeple live who clearly think they are better than the others at the table or in the hand. So they overplay or fail to give their "lesser" opponent credit when they are beat, or go on tilt with their remaining chips when the poor player sucks out. They may be more educated in the game, they may have more experience and they may have had some success, but a complete game includes the ability to take understand and deal with the element of luck as part of the natural ebb and flow of the game.

Players who paradoxically claim they do better against better opponents because there are fewer bad beats are particularly prone to this.

Great post +rep.