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In this article
- The downswing excuse and why you should stay away from it
- The popstar principle
- 4 methods for becoming a better player
A professional attitude is a must for any aspiring poker player. Talent alone is worth nothing if the individual lacks a desire to read, learn, and develop their game. Even on the middle limits, you lack experience, and development is crucial. Sadly most poker careers fall short at this point, and come to a premature end.
The downswing excuse
If you want to start playing poker profitably, then you should be aware of the following statement:
Of course, all the self-proclaimed poker pro's of the world would be in hysterics over this assertion. Are all the Slanskys and Greensteins of this world really wrong?
Man has a remarkable tendency of creating excuses and will do anything to justify his behaviour, bad luck, or mistakes in every day life.
"The love of my life left me... and she's found someone else!"
It's a lot more tempting to present yourself as a helpless victim, as opposed to holding your hands up and admitting your mistakes. In reality, you spent too much time playing pool with your friends, while your girlfriend was alone at home. You crave sympathy from your friends and peers.
To your disgust, a colleague receives a promotion at work. Even though you feel you're more deserving, in reality, your colleague has shown far more drive and dedication to the company. While you were lounging at home, phoning in ill with an ‘acute cold', he was toiling away at the office, working over-time.
Maybe it's that football match with the incompetent referee, who was biased to the other team. Every marginal decision went against you... but in reality you were second best on the day.
As you can see, man doesn't hesitate to dish out excuses for their wrongdoings and failure to perform.
This habit is nothing more than a defence mechanism. Just as our eyes close instinctively when something flies towards them, we protect our ego. The examples above are defence mechanisms that try and maintain our confidence and self-esteem... and yes we are all guilty.
All too often when someone criticizes us we instinctively go into defensive mode and try to justify our behaviour or flatout accuse our counterpart of being 'wrong'. Would it be so hard to instead think about what was said, and perhaps accept that the criticism was justified? Instead of being humble and accepting our mistakes we instead lash out with irrelevant, immature jibes in an attempt to change the topic. If someone accuses us of being arrogant, instead of producing a constructive response, we'll label them as ‘sad' or ‘stupid'. Yet is this the solid foundation for an argument? Instead of considering the criticism we go into the offensive, since we feel cornered and attacked.
But what does all this have to do with poker?
The answer is quite simple. This kind of attitude will have a negative effect on our game, and deadly impact on our bankroll. The problem is that many books and articles present the poker player with the perfect excuse on a silver platter.
There are countless articles on downswings, and forums are littered with players lamenting horrendous bad beats. Rather than take in any constructive advice, we seek solace in others' misfortunes, and dismiss these beats and losses without analysing our game.
For many, it's a lot easier to dismiss a hand as a bad beat, rather than analyse the hand on a forum and receive constructive criticism. This might take more effort, but it enhances our learning experience, and can only make us more successful.
Of course, there are situations where a downswing victim really does suffer horrendous luck; his nut flush gets busted by a 72o full house on the river, in the 100th hand of the session. It's at these times you deserve sympathy and encouragement. The previous 99 hands, where you made dubious calls and unrealistic raises and relinquished your blinds too easily, are, however, conveniently overlooked.
Would it not be more constructive to analyse your hands after a losing session and be frank with yourself - it would have been a break-even session if I'd played to my potential.
Many beginners will state:
"...I know I have a few leaks here and there..."
Reading something like this, you assume that the person who wrote it believes that his game is 70-80% perfect. The phrase ‘here and there' implies a near perfect game. In "Ace on the River" Barry Greenstein writes that on every night he plays poker, he makes around 10% poor calls/raises/folds. In this case we can congratulate our beginner from above, since he's only 10 or 20% away from the level of Barry Greenstein - too bad he's not playing on the same limit.
There are players, however, who start directly with an upswing and feel they have an air of invincibility about them as they storm the limits at an unbelievable pace, and at 4-5 BB/100 hands, quickly reach the $1/2 or higher. At this point, there is no reason for these players to question their own abilities. (author's note: my poker career started this way, too). But suddenly the ruthless world of poker strikes back with a vengeance. The victim experiences their first big downswing (which is actually poor play that becomes more exposed at the higher limits). They lose 150 BB or more within 1000 hands and fritter away half their bankroll...
...an interesting thought process now begins in the minds of most players:
- Thesis 1: My winrate over 20000 hands is 1.5 BB/100 H.
- Thesis 2: "Winning players" have a winrate of 1 BB/100 H. BB/100 H.
- Conclusion: I am a winning player.
From this follows:
- Thesis 1: I know that even winning players can have downswings in the region of 200 BB or more.
- Thesis 2: I am a winning player.
- Conclusion: My loss of 150 BB must be a downswing, so I can keep playing the same way and my luck will soon turn around.
Sadly, many players would rather reach for the ‘downswing excuse' than confront their game.
Here is a fitting quote from Thomas Jefferson:
"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Let's return to our original statement: "There is no downswing in poker!"
A small example:
A family acquaintance works as a glassblower, manufacturing a particular kind of glass. Even though the blowing process is identical every time, there's still a danger the glass will pop or crack. The more experienced the glassblower however, the less likely this is to occur. Let's assume that in this business there is an apprentice, who's allowed to manufacture the glass. But he's unsuccessful at blowing the first time and the glass ends up broken and useless. What is the probability that this mistake is due to the incompetence of the apprentice, or due to nature of the profession, regardless of glassmaker's experience?
What I'm trying to establish is that at the start of your poker career, a significant loss is usually due to poor play rather than a general downswing.
There are two ways of measuring success in poker:
The quality of the posted hand: suppose player A starts playing poker and posts 20 hands at the end of a session. Over time, you'll receive more positive responses, and can judge how well your progressing. The degree of success is determined by how quickly the quality of the hands posted increases.
The money, i.e. Winrate: The more hands we play on one limit, the closer we come to our actual strength expressed by x BB/100 H.
At the beginning of a poker career, method 2 is completely worthless. No matter what your winrate over 3000, 4000, or 8000 hands is, it will rarely be an adequate measure.
Method 1, however, is the preferred method in the beginning.
How to go about improving your game will be addressed in parts 2 and 3 of this article. In conclusion, I would like to stress to all beginners, that downswings in the beginning of your poker career are usually the result of poor play as opposed to bad luck. When you're inexperienced, you should invest more time practicing.
The popstar principle
We'll start this chapter with a short story. It's Thursday evening, and I want to relax after an intense, two hour poker session. I'm prepared to watch moving wallpaper, anything that's easy to absorb, so I turn on the television and end up watching Pro7, where a young lady is wailing into a microphone. The show is called ‘Popstars'.
The point of this show (other than engaging bored viewers like myself) is to give upcoming artists the chance to prove their talent and eclipse fellow participants. Paying more attention to the show, I ask myself not only who will progress and who will be eliminated, but why? Essentially, what are the attributes judges look for when molding a future popstar?
Obviously you have to take things you see on television with a pinch of salt, but it became evident that talent and voice weren't the primary attributes the jury were looking for. Let's assume you're given the enviable task of producing a new popstar and taking them to the peak of the entertainment industry. What would you look for?
The voice? -- this would seem relevant, but in a time of ever improving recording studios and the ability to optimize a voice in live performances, this factor is becoming less relevant.
Looks? -- Of course it would be ideal if your popstar were good-looking, but again there's make-up, styling, and - if necessary - surgery, which offer numerous ways of changing this. Again, this factor can be seen as secondary.
Dancing ability? -- Two left feet are no advantage for a popstar career, but with enough hours practice and good trainers, you can perform an adequate routine.
The factor that stands out, however, is -
The will to do what is necessary to be successful!
As was already mentioned, as a music producer you have vast knowledge and experience of everything involved in the music industry, from advertising and autograph sessions, to hours of practice in the recording studio. The only thing you can't be sure about is: will my potential popstar go along with it? Is he or she passionate, dedicated and determined? Ideally, as a music producer in the search for the perfect artist, you are looking for a superb voice and a great measure of will. But as a realist, you'll list some definite priorities.
In this list you may note: it is possible to compensate for a lack of talent through the will to work hard. But it is not possible to compensate for lack of will with talent.
To put it succinctly, the voice is worth nothing if the willingness is lacking.
And whether you like it or not, it's just the same with poker.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel (or poker, in this case). All the material you require is at your disposal on PokerStrategy, and what more, it's been tried and tested by hundreds and thousands of people. Of course it helps if you have a basic concept of math, but there are numerous charts and tables to help you get a grasp of these things. If you possess the emotional strength to withstand bad beats and misfortunes, then that's helpful, but you'll need more to guarantee success.
It's great if you have a natural talent for analysing the board, but through studying articles and ciphering through forums, this can be developed anyway. I cant emphasize it strongly enough - if you want to be successful you must be prepared to continually question your knowledge and ability, and possess great willpower.
Now that we've established what's necessary to play successful poker, practically, what should we do?
Hand posting/session review
There is no better way of reviewing a session and analysing your game than posting your hands in a forum. This is absolutely fundamental to your development as a player. Generally, you will receive a great deal of constructive feedback and discussion. It will make you all the wiser for when you next encounter a similar situation.
Note down EVERY hand of EVERY session that you've deliberated on. Even winning players on the middle and high limits never stop questioning and analysing their own hands.
There is a professional hand evaluator on every forum. Their opinions carry a lot of credibility.
- Wade through the sample hand forums. Read other players hands and leave your thoughts. Whether you study the beginner, advanced or pro sections and articles, refer to the respective forums. Don't waste too much time and energy reading texts that can't advance your game.
Working with the articles
Work does NOT mean reading an article just once.
Work means: reading an article enough times that you can explain the content to a friend without hesitation
Work means: Summarizing the article, and then summarizing the summary.
Work means: Looking for an article on a particular topic, and finding a relevant example hands on the forum.
Work means: Reading one article many times, rather than many articles once. The latter will lead to vague knowledge and leaks in your game.
Staying focused/working environment
When you begin a session, make sure you give your undivided attention to the game. Avoid playing while watching TV, surfing the internet, or talking on the phone to your girlfriend.
All these factors hinder concentration, and you can miss out on important stats and reads. You may view poker as just a hobby, but it's still something to be fully prepared for. Avoid playing it half heartedly... many people play in a football league as a hobby, but you will always turn up for the match with the right equipment, and won't be calling your girlfriend during halftime.
The correct equipment for poker is the starting hands chart, along with the odds and outs table. The whistle is the posting of the initial big blind, and the game isn't over until you've left the table.
Let's be honest, the greatest fun is derived from success at poker, not poker itself. I can be a huge football fan - but if I just sit on the bench every game and my team mates ignore me in practice because I'm bad, soon the fun will evaporate along with my motivation.
PokerStrategy offers its members an exclusive, comprehensive Public Coaching Programm. There are top players ready to share their knowledge with you on every topic, be it NL, FL, SNGs or tournaments. All you have to do is demonstrate a willingness to learn. For any aspiring poker player with ambitions of raking in profit, this opportunity is a must. Private, one on one tuition, which you should view as a shrewd investment, is also available at a reasonable price.
Suppose you book an hour of private coaching every two weeks, at an expense of $50/month, playing the limit $1/2. You play around 500 hands per day, or 15000 hands in a month. So if private coaching finds a small mistake in your game that's costing you .2 BB/100 hands, you'll make a profit of 5BB from the coaching. This is calculated as conservatively as possible - usually you play more hands and, as a beginner, your winrate increases more than just.2 BB/100 hands.
Another problem is when a player amasses a bankroll too big for his ability, because of an initial upswing. Rather than invest in some private coaching, he continues in the same vein, and before it's too late his bankroll has taken a considerable dent. If your blessed with an initial upswing, make sure you utilize your profits for private coaching, so you can develop your game and stabilize your bankroll.
Why am I referring explicitly to private coaching? Well, there are two ways for a beginner to invest his poker winnings:
Cash out and blow the dough.
Invest the money in books or private coaching.
I hold the latter alternative in option 2 to be the most rewarding, as a private coach has already processed information from a range of literature, and will be able to enlighten you accordingly.
These are the four key factors that separate the successful players from the perennial losers. In order to reap the rewards, you must be willing to dedicate time to practice. If you do, the game will transcend into something that is more than just a hobby, but a way of making additional income.
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