Sunday, March 18, 2012
What Makes a Good Poker Player?
I keep forgetting that there is a subset of my readers who are not active in the poker community and I get subtle (and not so subtle) reminders now and then based on a comment that they leave or something that they say in conversation. So, to my point I need to focus on explaining certain things better instead of just putting it out there and pretending that everyone understands what the hell it is that I'm saying.
If there is something above and you get stuck on a section or even a word, feel free to ask and once I see it I'll give a more detailed answer or I'm sure one of my other poker playing readers might jump in with a brief description/answer as well. I'm lost in my own little world where everyone understands me and women think I'm handsome and want to raise puppies with me!
Now, just recently one of my readers who runs Splittersblog asked me a simple question with a not so simple answer: "What makes a good poker player?"
Honestly, I don't feel that I am really qualified to give this question the full answer that it deserves because I still consider myself just a constant tourist, a little fish in a big pond so to speak. I play well enough to show a profit almost every year (Oh, that word almost pains me to type - a year where you do not show profit really kills the ego... shit it kills the Id (not the Wizard of), the ego and the superego for that matter!). I win more sessions than I lose and my biggest win over the course of the year is much bigger than my biggest loss. So, I'm going to attempt to draw up a response that requires thought on my part (I hate thinking in advance) and hopefully encompasses a lot of what it really takes.
The first thing to note about poker is it is the only game in the casino where you are not playing against the house, but instead you are playing against the other players at the table. Sure the house is still going to get their money in the form of the rake which gets dropped nearly every hand but your main purpose is to take money off of the other players.
This does not happen in Black Jack, Craps, Routlette or any other game so of course it creates it's own unusual dynamics.
I feel that I can skip some of the really obvious stuff. I mean, you are not going to read over my list and then tell me "well, you didn't write that it was important to know the hand rankings" because that would be stupid and I would probably have to track you down and issue some public humiliation (except to you Fboy! I'm not traveling overseas just to make fun of you, that would be expensive).
So, I'm glad we cleared that up.
Axl Rose best summed up the most important part of a good poker player, Patience, yeah yeah yeah , just a little patience...
Without patience you probably are not going to make it far playing poker and you will continually watch your money be shipped to another player. Why is patience such a big factor? I'm glad I pretened you asked.
The simple fact is that you are dealt more crappy hands over the course of your poker life than you are dealt good hands. There will be some nights where you will be dealt nothing but crappy hands and you will be forced to continually fold while waiting for what might end up being just your one and only opportunity to strike during the evening. This is one (of the many) reason that it's impossible to win all the time. Poker would sure be easy if we were constantly dealt Aces or Kings and flopped sets, straights and flushes. If you don't like the thought of sitting at a poker table for hours on end and watching other players win pot after pot while you get dealt King-Seven offsuit then this game might not be for you. Sure, you will have times where you'll be on a hot run of cards and the chips will be piling up like flap-jacks at the Waffle House, but most of the time you are going to find yourself folding and waiting for the next hand.
This leads us to another good one, the power of observation. What are you going to be doing after your cards are folded and other people are still playing the game? Observing. Learning. Watching other players. Yeah, I guess if you look at your standard low stakes poker games today not a whole lot of this is going on. People are reading magazines or books between hands. People are texting and making phone calls. Hell, people are even bringing Nintendo DS's or PSP's to the poker table because they can't deal with the boredom of waiting for a hand and they don't care enough to improve their game by getting reads on their opponents. However, if you have a desire to be good and succeed then you should be studying the other players at the table to see what they are doing, when they are doing it and trying to figure out why they are doing it.
If two people go to showdown (all bets called on the river and their cards are turned face up while the dealer sorts out who won) then you should be looking at their cards and paying attention to what they have.
You should be trying to reconstruct the hand, and thinking about how they got to where they are. It is true that some hands play themselves and no thought is necessary. But, if you see two people going to showdown with weird hands then you need to figure out how they got there and how to take advantage of that in the future.
Does the opponent like to call down with 2nd pair because he doesn't believe you hit anything?
Does the opponent raise his draws or does he call down until he hits?
Is the opponent capable of raising with air or does he only raise when he has a monster?
How does your opponent play when he has a good hand and there are lots of draws on the flop?
Will he raise? Will he check raise? Will he call an all in on a draw or will he push all in on a draw (important difference).
Does he think about what other people might be holding or does he only know his two cards and their realative strength?
Other than patience, knowing your opponents and being able to figure out what they have is the most important part of succeeding in this game long term.
You can get by with just sitting around and waiting for monsters and trying to get your money in, but when you know your opponents you can figure out situations to milk them for a few extra dollars here and there which will add up to a lot in the long run.
If you know that your opponent will call down with Top Pair and weak kicker (and not raise) then you can make some smaller bets to string him along.
Self-Control - do not play when you don't feel like you can give 100%. Don't play just to put in the hours. Don't play when you are angry, sad, etc. Play when you feel great and want to play and have mental clarity
This may or may not seem obvious to people, but when you are not in the right frame of mind you can find yourself doing things you shouldn't. For instance, if you find yourself playing at the table when you are a bit on the angry side, you will most likely become more aggressive at the table and usually it's not a controlled and well thought out aggression. You will just become a spewtard and lose money quickly. Making huge bets, raises, re-raises just for the sake of making them and trying to bully the table around. Taking your aggression out on the rest of the players so to speak. However, at poker this rarely works the way you want it to and someone is going to "look you up" and take your money because you are playing like an idiot.
Mental focus is very important in poker - this is why you should get up every hour or so and take a small walk, even if only for a few minutes. Stretch the legs and rest the mind for a few.
This also goes for during your session. If you ever take a bad beat and feel yourself loosing your cool - you either need to leave the game or find a way to regain your focus. A good walk will help there, maybe putting your headphones on and cranking out some Pantera will set your mind at ease, etc. Whatever it is that will work for you, find out what it is and do it. Maybe you are the type that just needs to quit for the evening and be done with it - if that's what it takes then so be it. Just learn that you reached your breaking point and have enough sense to actually do something about it.
It's surprising how many people will continue to play when their mood has been altered for whatever reason and then piss away all of their money. I've seen people go from 4 buy-ins at the table ($800+) to nothing because they took one bad beat and then went crazy trying to get the money back, making stupid plays, stupid raises, pushes, etc and within 30 minutes then lost it all. A lot of the time these people put more money on the table and blow through that as well. Mental Focus. Learn it grasshopper. Keep in control of your emotions or do not sit at the felt.
I will end here as this is long enough and maybe I will revisit later to add more to it. But, this is a good start to answer the question "what makes a good poker player?"
Feel free to make fun of me if you disagree with anything above - these are just my own thoughts on the subject hastily written.