Don’t go broke: Help yourself
However talented someone might be at the poker tables, they can nevertheless go broke if they don’t apply common sense to every aspect of the game. It seems difficult to believe that, with articles and advice about subjects as crucial as Bankroll Management being so easily accessible, and with so many disaster stories to remind us how easily one can go broke, it continues to happen.
Yet the stark reality is that more than 50% of poker fans continue to find themselves no longer in a (financial) position to keep playing. It would be easy to assume that everyone who logs on to play for several hours every day is a profit-making grinder, but this is not the case.
Why are there still so many players who manage their poker life – and in turn their bankroll – so poorly? Is it a mystery, or are there specific causes? In this article we present reasons why even ostensibly experienced ‘regular’ players go bust.
Poker players tend to overestimate their ability
Poker players tend to think of themselves as being better players than they really are. Many of us are generally guilty of this kind of thinking, and perhaps poker is the kind of game that attracts more such positive, optimistic oriented people than, for example, chess or golf. Whatever the reason, poker tables are populated by a good number of players who have the habit of believing too much in their perceived poker skills, and this potentially hazardous mindset manifests in the form of poor decisions and faulty play.
As is often the case in poker and countless other aspects of our everyday lives, when the foundations of our fundamental approach are themselves faulty, the negative implications can be considerable, and the longer we fail to address the problem, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to remedying our failings is blaming bad luck as a reason why this or that outcome worked against us. It’s far more appealing to explain away poor results by deciding they are beyond our control than to have to acknowledge – and then work on – our shortcomings. There’s an irony here in that when luck and the not insignificant role it plays is mentioned, poker fans who seek the (not undeserved) respect and credit for the game downplay the luck element, yet when an excuse is needed for why they lost a big pot after raising pre-flop with J7 suited and seeing their flush beaten by a bigger flush on the River are the first to blame luck for the chips then heading in the wrong direction across the virtual felt. We can’t have it both ways; we can’t cherry pick which timed luck is or isn’t a part of the game. The claim that we would be big winners involved in bigger and better things were it not for suffering from way more than our fair share of poor fortune is the mantra of the stubborn poker player. ‘We create our own luck’ might be a rather simplistic and even inaccurate line used by successful people, but there is indeed some truth to it. If we are in the habit of voluntarily putting ourselves in situations where we are so susceptible to proverbial banana skins that we fall foul of bad luck too often, then we are, of course, inviting Lady Luck to act against us. It stands to reason that getting involved hand after hand with the aforementioned J7 suited and the likes of A7, 94, K8 and so on is far more likely to lead to trouble than restricting ourselves to applying sensible hand selection. If we’re so concerned with bad luck, then it’s a good idea to limit the chances of it rearing its ugly head – in the grand scheme of poker, we do essentially create our own luck.
Note that many players compound the problem of weak play (see below for Bad Habits) by ignoring their good luck. Instead of accepting that we’ve won a hand due to good fortune, we prefer to interpret the positive outcome as a confirmation that we played well. This results-based approach is delusory and dangerous, and a terrible habit in which to find ourselves – especially if we use short-term extra good luck to justify moving up levels and therefore put our bankroll in jeopardy (and this can be disastrous if we are so convinced of our ability as world-beaters that we refuse to drop down levels when everything points to that being an imperative).
It’s important to have a realistic and honest outlook on the game that acknowledges our own responsibility and the fact that our choices contribute in a major way to the ultimate outcome of a hand. Luck does play a part, as do other factors, but the fact is we are in albeit limited control of our destiny.
Bankroll Management and Variance
Bankroll management is always a very important part of the game, this holds true regardless of how well we’re doing. It’s easy (or, at least, it should be!) to understand that if we’re running badly we need to adjust accordingly in order to protect a damaged bankroll. However, it’s no less important to remember that we must endeavour to nurture and cultivate our bankroll at all times. With this in mind, an upswing doesn’t at all give us license to suddenly abandon a hitherto sensible and circumspect Bankroll Management strategy. Giving ourselves the ‘luxury’ of throwing caution to the wind because a good run of results has made us eager to see a quick increase in our spending ability is a slippery slope – too many players have seen the relaxation of prudent BRM lead to their fortunes going in the wrong direction. A reckless approach inspired by running hot can lead to disaster even quicker than failing to adjust in the other direction after running badly.
A sound appreciation and understanding of Variance is crucial if we harbour even modest ambition. Every poker player, regardless of their ability or where they see themselves going in their individual poker quest, needs to make sure they both have a sensible bankroll strategy in place and an awareness of Variance and its potential implications. We often use the term ‘recreational players’ to describe those who don’t take the game too seriously and – compared with so-called ‘grinders’ who put in long sessions at the tables purely to generate profit – play for fun, but this runs the risk of suggesting they don’t approach the game (on and off the table) logically. Even recreational players should be looking to get as much fun out of the game as cheaply as possible, so the same rules should apply! Quite simply, ‘fun’ players tend not to perform so well because they fail to adhere to golden rules even less than those who consistently beat them. Moreover, the food chain continues in that those in the latter group in turn lose to other players who themselves have more discipline and who are more willing to be introspective and self-critical. The cycle continues thus, and will remain the same until everyone steps back and respects BRM and Variance…
Tilt can quickly lead to going broke
As so-called ‘4-letter’ words go, Tilt is one of those unwelcome words among poker fans. We all recognise it in others’ play, but as well as trying to brush it under the carpet when we’re guilty of it, we also fail to recognise the causes. One would think it’s a given that a level head is an absolute must for anyone with even the most modest expectations from poker but, evidently, so many are lacking on this front (or, more accurately, don’t like to think of themselves in this context).
In terms of bankroll management, for example, it’s easy to keep plodding on doing the right thing when everything goes according to plan and nothing out of the ordinary happens, but how do we cope when something unexpected comes along? What do we do in the face of bad beats or downswings we feel last longer than we deserve? It’s precisely in this kind of situation that so many players let themselves down by going on tilt. The word is so descriptive of how we can lose rationality to the point that we make potentially disastrous decisions that it’s used nowadays in everyday life as well as poker.
Even experienced, good players are prone to tilt. They are well aware of it, of how things can so quickly go wrong, how bankrolls can be devastated during a single session and so on but, despite feeling confident that they’ll avoid tilt should they be confronted with a difficult situation, they succumb to weakness nevertheless. Losses suddenly need to be recovered ASAP, stakes are increased, massive ‘hero’ calls are made when folding would normally be recognised as the only option, risks are taken; meanwhile, others are capable of letting fear dictate their decisions. Tilt is tilt, however it manifests itself. The results are the same, and often disastrous. And anyone – even the most skilful players with seemingly magical ability – is susceptible to it.
Taking time away from the tables to acquaint ourselves with ourselves is well worth the effort. If we understand how we cope with this or that, and make a conscious effort to recognise triggers and have something in place that helps us maintain some kind of emotional balance, then this aspect of our game will make an enormous, positive difference in the long term.
Bad habits at Micro Limits can lead to going broke
Just about everyone in poker takes their first steps on the path to would-be glory by cutting their teeth at so-called micro limits. The level of opposition tends to be on the low side, with the vast majority of players thinking on terms of only their own cards and the connection they do or don’t have to the board. Play tends to be basic, with virtually no nuance or deep thought. This might sound like great news for those looking to exploit weak play by adopting a solid, albeit unimaginative ABC strategy, and, indeed, it’s not overly difficult to beat the game at micro stakes. We can get away with playing a sub-optimal game – even one that features inaccuracies – and still come out ahead.
And herein lies a potentially serious problem! It’s one thing beating an inferior bunch of players, but quite another moving up levels and enjoying the same success. Too many players, so used to their flawed game-plan nonetheless being good enough to beat weak(er) opponents, take that same leaky strategy with them as they rise up the stakes ladder and, ultimately, will pay the price. Just as a golfer with a dodgy grip and style that is limiting but good enough to beat lesser players will fail to fulfil their potential by sticking with their bad habits, poker players – even decent ones – can handicap themselves for a long time, to their considerable detriment, while they continue (and cement) bad habits that have stuck with them from the beginning.
We need to evolve as players – otherwise it’s an inevitability that we’ll suffer the longer we refuse to recognise our shortcomings. As the stakes get bigger, opponents stronger and the need for more flexibility increases, so variance becomes more of a factor (and, with it, effective, strict bankroll management). ‘The stakes are higher’ is another poker term we hear in general life, and it is true that as we progress in poker the more important every aspect of the game – on and off the tables – becomes. It’s clear, then, that we can’t afford to carry with us our bad habits, as this is baggage we need to leave behind and replace with an ever-expanding bag of tricks.
Learning the game, and not only appreciating how it works on so many levels but also applying our own thoughts and theories is obviously a key part of what needs to be in place if we are to enjoy success. However, only through prudent bankroll management, ditching bad habits, being aware of our emotional strengths/weaknesses and generally getting our head right can we make the most of whatever potential we have. It is estimated that only 20% of winning players have solid bankroll management. That could well be a conservative figure, but it shows how – even at the higher levels – so many players are doing themselves an injustice. Factor in similar levels of missed opportunities across other areas of the game, and it’s clear just how many of us could do so much better…