Play Your Best - AlwaysOccasionally the truth is so apparent, so patently self-evident, so abundantly clear, that mentioning it at all seems unnecessary — even comical. You know, sort of like mom reminding you to pack warm clothes when you tell her you’re headed for Chicago in the dead of winter.
But at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I’ll say it anyway. Play your best — always. Now, before you consign me to the scrap heap of redundancy, ask yourself whether you always do play your best, and if the answer is “No”, ask, “Why not?” The sad, simple truth of the matter is that many of us seldom play our best. Not all of the time, anyway — and here’s why.
Poker Is Too Much Fun
Poker is fun. We love it. That’s why we haul ourselves to the card table every chance we get. It’s so much fun, in fact, that we’d much rather play a hand than fold it. When we get in a game with a lot of loose players, and see a hand like 7-6 run down a pair of kings, or an inside straight that gets there against all odds, then witness the unadulterated joy on the face of the winners raking in pot after pot with hands they really shouldn’t have played, the lure becomes undeniable and the gambling fever is contagious. We get caught up in playing far too many hands, and we do it simply because it’s fun. And when we lose more than we should have, what do we do? All too often we loosen up even more, in an attempt to scoop a big pot and get even in one fell swoop.
We Call Too Much
Not only do most players call too frequently, they are not as aggressive as they should be when they do have a good hand. Most players enter far too many pots and refrain from folding once-promising holdings that are not helped by the flop. Then they compound this by not raising nearly enough in situations that clearly call for it. Suppose you hold K-J in an unraised pot. The flop is K-8-4 of mixed suits, and the big blind comes out betting. If there are players to act after you, this is an almost automatic raising situation. You might have the best hand right now, and you certainly don’t want someone who entered the pot in late position with a hand like 8-7 or 7-6 to take a card off the deck and beat you with a long shot draw. Even if you knew your opponent held a king with a better kicker and you decided to play anyway, you are better off raising than calling. Here’s why. If you had a 25% chance of winning the pot when it was multi-way, and were able to drive out two or three opponents by raising, you might improve your own chances of winning to 40%. While you’re still an underdog, raising increases your chances of winning — never mind all the dead money left in the pot by those your raise managed to eliminate.
We Tend to Play to the Level of our Competition
I’ll bet that if you found yourself in a game with the last eight winners of the World Series of Poker, or even with the eight best players in your local cardroom, you’d play better than you usually do because you have a lot more respect for those players. But if you were in a game with the eight biggest fish in the world, you might find yourself playing nearly as poor as they do. Many top players have been quoted as saying that they do not play well when they drop down to lower limit games. Keep this in mind: Not only is poker a seductive game on its own, it often tends to lead us down a primrose path where we find ourselves playing just like our opponents — even when we ought to know better.
Don’t Play When You’re Psychologically Weakened: Poker is tough enough to beat when you’re at your best. If you’re tired, stressed out, dealing with other problems that may intrude on your thoughts, fighting the flu, or you’ve got the blues — don’t play. One of the real benefits of playing in casinos and public cardrooms is that the game never really ends. It is usually there whenever you’re ready for it. Don’t make the fatal mistake of taking your troubles out on your bankroll.
Monitor Your Own Play for Weaknesses; Then Act On It
There have been times that I’ve played when I was tired or psychologically weakened. I recognized the condition but instead of acting on it, I denied it. On those occasions I’ve generally lost money. In fact, the act of denying that I’m in tip-top game shape is the single biggest flaw in my game. When not at my best, I have played in what should have been very profitable games, but lost because I’ve allowed my ego to seduce me into believing that I was still the best player and a big favorite. While I might have known much more about poker than my opponents, when psychologically weakened, I was anything but the best player at the table.
The truth is deceptively simple: If you’re not ready to play your best, don’t play. And when you do play, keep your own standards foremost in your mind. Don’t tumble down to the level of your opponents. Tell yourself it’s OK to play your best. Then do it.