AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 10.12.2020 · last updated 10.12.2020

Indulgence is a sin in poker

This is a game that revolves around money, after all, and, as such, demands our utmost respect. We don’t walk around not caring whether money falls out of our pockets, or willfully spending five times the price for a coffee, so why do we so liberally waste money – even give it away – when playing poker, purely due to indiscipline or self-indulgence?

‘Discipline’ isn’t a word we use much in everyday life, and that’s probably because we don’t like it. Drink, food, time, health, money – there are so many aspects of life that require us to adhere to certain rules or guidelines. And, alas, the same goes for poker. In fact this is a key part of the game, so it pays (literally) to try to incorporate discipline into our thinking and overall approach if we are going to enjoy any kind of success.

Two important elements of poker are, for example, Position and Patience, yet we are all guilty of not respecting the golden rules associated with them precisely because we lack the discipline to constantly remind ourselves to keep our feet firmly rooted to the ground.

Ironically, it’s once we’ve reached a certain level of experience that we start to get used to letting our guard down occasionally, as if we’ve earned the right to ‘spoil’ ourselves as a reward for all the time and effort we’ve put in to the poker quest. But indiscipline isn’t a treat or a luxury – it’s consciously allowing ourselves to make poor decisions whose results, in the long-term, are guaranteed to be detrimental, whether that’s spoiling our chances of doing well in a tournament or contributing to a losing cash game session. In other words, failing to stick to what we know best is the poker version of self-sabotage that ultimately serves only to lose money.

Professional golf is an excellent example for would-be poker aficionados. The world’s top players – even diehard veterans – who we might think have reached a level of expertise that would mean there’s nothing more for them to learn are constantly practicing. They hire coaches to help them with just one aspect of their game, they hone their technique to ensure that from the first to last shot of a day’s play they have approached everything with a view to optimal performance. Weaknesses that find a way into their game tend to manifest themselves when there’s a drop, however temporary, in this clinical level of discipline. And when this does happen during a tournament the true professional can be seen up bright and early, hitting ball after ball until any unwelcome and potentially damaging wrinkles have been ironed out. The same goes for tennis players out on the practice courts hitting a truckload of balls, addressing weaknesses and areas of technique that might have been causing problems from time to time or, worse, that have become bad habits.

The thing is that when we watch sport and see famous names making mistakes, even we can see what they’re doing wrong! And we sit in front of the TV, incredulous, wondering what possessed Tiger to go for a shot that seemed doomed to failure from the moment the idea managed to find its way into his thought process, when all along the correct choice was obvious; or why Nadal, who plays tennis with an almost automatic ruthless consistency, is suddenly unable to get the ball over the net. Yet we’ll be sitting pretty on a massive stack after deliberately plotting a sensible path in a tournament, only to jeopardise it all by abandoning the disciplined strategy that has served us so well thus far. We mistakenly allow ourselves to translate the fact that our stack is the biggest t the table as our talent also being the biggest, and we’ll call off a medium stack’s all-in with KJ (because we know something they don’t…), maybe follow that loss with a totally unconvincing bluff (because we’ve suddenly acquired other worldly psychic powers of mind control…).

We’ve all been guilty of such carelessness, felt annoyed about messing up, and then before long indulged ourselves yet again with the same kind of poor play. What’s quite bizarre is that we know we’re being undisciplined even when we’re throwing our chips in to the middle. There’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of thing.

So, if you’re new to the game or still at that stage of the learning process where you can try to nip any bad habits in the bud before they even have the chance to take root, you’ve been warned. If you’ve been around online poker for a while and any of this resonates, then it’s time to take a step back and iron out whatever indulgences or bad habits might have crept in to your game. Discipline.

Have fun…

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