I’m writing up this poker blog post in order to “talk to myself” and be able to read back over this one day if and when I start to think negative thoughts about my poker game. I hope that everyone else who reads this will also be able to take away some lessons from it as well. In a nutshell, we poker players – recreational and professional alike – need to remember not to be so results-focused.
In a game where skill is the dominant but not exclusive factor, it’s critical to constantly remember – and be okay with the fact– that luck plays a large role in our results at the table. So, if you’re recording bad poker results for an extended period of time, don’t only blame yourself or your poker play; chances are there’s a least a little bit of bad luck involved.
The reason I feel like I need to remind myself of all this is because for upwards of a year now I feel like I haven’t been able to get out of a poker funk. I unfortunately don’t get to play poker as often as I’d like to – usually just once every week or two (I’d love to play every day, lol). Let’s say that’s approximately 30–35 sessions over the past year. Bankroll-wise, I’m pretty much right where I started off the year, so I’ve been feeling like I haven’t really gotten anywhere. That can be very frustrating over the course of an entire calendar year. Lots of poker players get that many sessions in over the course of a month or two though.
My “pain” and relative lack of movement would be the same as any other player at a similar level but just spread out over much, much longer. I have to remember that I haven’t gotten unlucky over the course of a year – it’s just the variance I’ve experienced over just 30–35 sessions. On the other hand, what I have been doing day in and day out, week in and week out, is be involved in poker, trying to improve my game away from the table in every way I know how, and then trying to implement the improvements at the table. It’s all summarized by the inchworm philosophy brought forth in Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game of Poker. So, for the most part, I’m doing what I can do and unfortunately the cards just haven’t always cooperated.
Luck in Poker is What Makes it Exciting
Part of the fascination that tens of millions of poker fans worldwide have with the game is how an entire situation can change so drastically with the turn of a single card. Indeed, it’s that uncertainty that makes the game so exciting to play as well as when watching poker on TV. Case in point is that many poker players’ legends, fortunes, and reputations could’ve ended up being drastically different than the way the poker world knows them today if the cards had just fallen differently. Skill will only get you so far in poker; then luck takes over. The skill is in doing your best to minimize situations where you’ll get unlucky and maximize opportunities to have your opponents get unlucky against you. There’s really nothing more you can do than that.
ALL Poker Players Need Good Luck to Record Good Results
More and more we hear these days that players who’ve made deep runs in tournaments attribute their success to “run good”, winning flips, and being in the right situations at the right times. There’s luck in your table seat assignment. There’s luck in which cards you get dealt. There’s luck in which cards your opponents get dealt. Most importantly, there’s boatloads of luck involved in which cards you and your opponents have relative to one another in the same hand.
With poker players getting good at the game at an ever faster pace, it’s important to realize that the differences in skill among most categories of players are slimmer than ever before. When skill levels are so comparable, then it stands to reason that luck will play an increasingly larger role in those players’ results.
So long as you’re constantly working to improve your game, being sure not to play for staked above what you’re bankrolled for, and not jumping into a game filled with sharks who are all obviously much better than you at poker, you’re doing everything right. If at the end of your sessions you have less money than you had going in, then it is what it is, and that isn’t a fatalistic attitude.
If you’re reading poker books and magazines, talking with your friends about poker strategy and ways to improve, taking poker notes at and away from the table and analyzing them, participating in poker forums, and playing your A-game but still not seeing success, then it’s OK to blame bad luck or circumstance.
Luck Strikes at Different Times for Different Poker Players
In particular, it’s also critical to only judge yourself against yourself and your potential; not against how your poker peers are faring results-wise. It can get pretty frustrating if you see a poker playing colleague who you feel is no more or less skilled than you but achieving incredible results. But all of that frustration dissipates instantly if you just remember luck’s role. It’s only natural to be jealous of someone winning more money than you at poker – we’re human after all, but there’s no sense in getting frustrated.
At some point, your luck at the table will turn around as well. Even thousands of sessions cannot but be looked at in isolation versus the sum totality of all the poker you play throughout your life. Like my article on dealing with downswings says, remember the big picture at all times and you’ll be just fine.
Can’t Handle Poker? Then Play Games Where Luck Matters Less
If you can’t handle the fact that luck will often go a long way towards determining how you fare at poker, then I recommend trying an online rummy game or even chess instead, where luck is reduced to having practically no effect at all. After all, the best rummy and chess players almost always rise to the top, whereas the best poker players sometimes barely make it out of the starting gates in tournaments or get felted rather quickly in cash games. That’s just the nature of the beast.