Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Winning Mentality

Reading over my last month or so worst of posts, I haven't given a lot of improving tips, just been posting good results a lot. For the faithful who've been checking back hoping to maybe learn something I thought I'd do a post on this topic, one I've done a lot of thinking about lately.

What does it take to be a consistent long term winning poker player? Well, there is the obvious. You need to know the math and how to read your opponents, have good money management skills and know when to stop playing etc etc. But there is an intangible I have been noticing in some people who I have seen hit a wall with their growth. Something I think I am lucky to have a solid grasp on.

If you want to beat the game long term, as a professional or even as an amateur part-time player, it is absolutely positively a must that you have the right mental approach to your own game, to analyzing your own play.

My circle of friends got very into poker in college. We all take great pride in our poker prowess and each probably thinks he is the better player. We all learned the basics of low stakes limit hold em and like everybody else, thought we were the best player alive after reading Super System for the first time.

A few of us took up playing as our soul or a major source of income. Only me and one other friend (of a group of about 7 or 8) have been consistent long term winners as we have moved up the stakes, and I think my own progression has been a bit of a smoother ride because the other guy has some major house edge leaks (I do too, I just don't go to Vegas enough to make them an issue).

What is different with the two of us? Our intelligence is not vastly different from the others. Our math skills also are not significantly better (if at all). Neither are we better readers of other people.

What is it then? Both of us have a non-traditional approach to ourselves, and to life. It isn't the same approach, but it elicits some of the same results. For him, he is a very humble guy who finds it very hard to put full confidence and faith in a position or idea. This allows him to remain open to new idea's and methods, while not becoming overly attached to his previously held beleifs. What I have is similar. I have no problem being critical with myself and admitting that I am wrong. I seek out opportunities to do this constantly. I have never, nor will I ever, think I am one of the best players there is. I know I have a long way to go to improve and will always be looking to do this.

What is the mentality of the others? Over confidence in their own abilities. Once they learned the basics of the game they just stopped learning, and assumed they knew everything. Now when they lose, they don't ask themselves what they did wrong. They tell themselves (and you, whether you want to listen or not) how the other guys were idiots and they should have won.

This is the absolute worst thing you can do as a poker player. Though I think it is the downfall of many a potential great player. I have several friends who have the most amazing ability to read other people, I'd pay a large amount of money to gain this ability. But they don't spend enough time analyzing the other parts of their game and try to learn. They assume they are amazing and act as such.

What you have to always be doing is questioning yourself. Look for times that you made a mistake. Don't try to repair your ego and make yourself feel better about a bad result (as is human nature), be willing and able to admit that you made a mistake, so next time you can do it right.

One example of a time I did this was at last years WSOP. I made the final table of a $500+30 event at Bellagio. I was so excited to get to the final table and I played great poker and ran very hot up until this point. Then when I got to the final table I tried to run it over (I came in as a huge chip leader). I proceeded to bust out 9th even as the other players were obviously willing to take stands against me. They made what looked like bad calls, and many players would go their whole lives berating these 'fish' for making these horrible calls against me. In reality, what happened was I was playing way too fast and should have sat back and relaxed with my chips. I learned an expensive lesson that day.

What did I do with this knowledge that I had messed up? I talked with people about how is the proper way to play a final table. I admitted to myself that I did not know everything and sought the advice of others who were smarter and more experienced than me. This is the hardest part for many people. Making that leap that there in fact are people who are better than them. Many people cannot admit this. What was the result of the knowledge I gained? After making probably 20 final tables at tournaments without a win, I have now either gotten 1st or 2nd 6 of the last 7 final tables I have made. There is some heat there, but I have also drastically changed my final table approach...with some amazing results. Though I am still on a war path to improve at MTT's. I am not trying to sell books about how to beat them or convince everybody I am the greatest, I know I have a long way to go. I will always know that. That is the only way I will stay on my game and improve.

So the moral of the story is, instead of falling into the common trap of thinking you are an amazing player...convince yourself that you in fact have a lot to learn and need to keep improving, for that is the only way you will improve. Being a poker know-it-all is only a certain path to one place, failure.

Thanks for reading, now get back to the tables!

Wild Bill