Why You Suck at Poker Part 4: It’s Not About You

How many times have you heard something like “Why are you picking on my big blind again?” at the tables. I’ve heard it thousands of times. And how often do you think it was really true? 

being targeted in poker

Do you feel like this? Let it go, it’s really not about you. (Image: Deposit Photos)

How often have you thought to yourself “I don’t like that guy, I’m gonna steal his big blind with this junk hand from middle position because I want to make him sad”? I assume your answer, just like mine, is never. Most players have never done this at all.

If I’m “targeting” a player, it’s because I think they’re weak and I might play a few more hands against them. That means raising their big blind two or three times in an hour is almost never going to be related to who’s in the big blind, and when it does, it isn’t because I don’t like them. 

Most players take everything personally because they don’t see the game clearly. We’re all self-focused: it’s part of the human condition. But we have to realize that the rest of the world mostly doesn’t give a damn about us. There are people who love you and, maybe, a few who really dislike you, but the overwhelming majority of people don’t care about you at all. They care about themselves. 

And raising your blind, bluffing you, three-betting you, or anything else that might cause you to take offense probably has nothing to do with you at all. They care about themselves and they’re simply trying to win money. 

This is made even worse by the fact that random things almost never appear random. If you show someone a string of randomly generated numbers, they almost never think it looks random. The only way to get the majority of people to believe a string of numbers is randomly generated is to intentionally create a string of numbers that are not random at all, but that have the right distributions to convince humans they are indeed random. 

So, when things happen at the poker table, our focus on ourselves, our belief that other people are probably focusing on us, our lack of ability to handle randomness, often convince us that those jerks are targeting us. And it’s made even worse by the fact that some of it is actually true. We are indeed in a competitive environment where everyone else is trying to take our money and make us unhappy. 

When you start to believe these things, it causes all kinds of problems that can make you suck at poker even more than you already do.  

Tilt

Believing that someone is targeting you or picking on you can make you understandably angry. No one likes to be picked on. I don’t know about you, but being angry and feeling like I’m under attack would definitely cause me to tilt badly. It lets emotions control your behavior rather than logic, which might be great during a guitar solo or an intimate kiss, but is terrible in a poker game.  You’re not going to solve your problem by going on tilt. 

Bad ranges

If you think someone is picking on you, then you’ll assume they have a much wider range than they really do when they’re playing hands against you. Without accurate range reads, you’re not only going to lose money, but you’re going to lose it to the very person who you think is attacking you, which makes the tilt problem that much worse. 

Targeting them back

If you go on the offensive, targeting the person who you think is coming after you, your own ranges will be way off. You’ll be playing too many hands, and, probably, playing them badly while you’re tilted. Your opponent, meanwhile, is probably playing just fine because they have no idea of what’s going on and were never targeting you in the first place. 

Revealing that you’re emotional

If you’re having the first few problems I listed, then it may become obvious to the rest of the table that you’re tilted, playing too many hands, making bad decisions, and generally behaving in an emotional way. That may cause your opponents to actually start targeting you. Complaining about someone targeting you puts an actual target on your back. 

Bringing attention to ourselves and our game

It’s generally a bad thing to have people paying attention to you in a poker game. The more attention you draw, the more people will learn how you play, spot any tells you may have, and figure out how to beat you. Even bad players will pick up tells subconsciously and end up making better decisions against players they’ve been watching. You don’t want people paying too much attention to you, and whining, complaining, and playing too many hands are all great ways to make that happen. 

How to stay centered

It’s important to nip this thing in the bud. Don’t let it fester and grow. Remember that it’s very likely that you’ll play hands with some players more than others for an hour or two. It’s also important to realize that players on your right are much more likely to be raising your blinds simply because they’re more often opening light when you’re in the blinds because of their position. No matter how you think you’re being targeted, you probably aren’t. 

zen buddha card protector

It’s important to maintain your zen at the poker table. (Image: PokerStars)

And if you are being targeted, then tilting, playing too many hands, and messing up your game isn’t the way to respond. If you’re comfortable with your game, you don’t need to respond at all. Even if you’re sure you are being targeted (you really aren’t), you shouldn’t be making any big adjustments. 

Being targeted would just mean that a player is choosing to play too many hands against you and being overly aggressive when they play those hands. Personally, I would love an entire table full of players like that. My opponents all making mistakes against me? Yes, please. Target me all day long. It will just increase my win rate. 

Most importantly, focus on why you’re playing poker. You aren’t there to earn respect. No one cares if you played “the right way” or not. And you aren’t there to teach anyone a lesson. I promise you, no amount of losing is going to teach a bad player that they shouldn’t raise your blind. You definitely aren’t there to show anyone how good you are. That’s not only silly, but it’s also a really bad strategy because it will cause people to play better against you and pay more attention to you. 

I’ve paid my mortgage mostly from playing poker for 20 years now. Part of the reason I’ve been able to do that is because I’m not concerned with how people see me. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way at times to make sure people don’t think I’m a good poker player because I can’t pay for a vacation or a night out with respect. I need money for those things and, the only way I  can get that money is if I don’t suck at poker. Now get out there and try not to be so terrible at poker. 

And when you do screw up, as I often do myself, forgive yourself and get back to it with a clear head. Because, and I want you to repeat after me here, no one at a poker table cares about what you’re doing; they’re only there for themselves. They’re not targeting you and they don’t want your money any more than they want anyone else’s.

Written by
Chris Wallace
Professional poker player, HORSE world champion, author.

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