Deceive Others at the Poker Table, But Not Yourself

Deceive Others at the Poker Table, But Not Yourself

Deception is a key principle in poker, and being able to deceive others is an important skill when it comes to being a winning poker player. At the tables, players frequently find themselves in situations where they will represent hands other than what they hold in hopes of scooping up a pot. This tactic is both commonplace and part of what makes poker such an intriguing game.

However, while you can routinely check-raise and bluff your way to profit, there remains one person at the table with whom you should be brutally honest — yourself.

Confused as to what I mean? Let me explain.

Poker is unlike most other competitions in that it can be considered a skill game with a luck component. Because of this luck factor, players are often able to chalk up their losses to plain and simple bad luck, neglecting to factor in the possibility that they may have played hands less than skillfully. While there certainly are scenarios in which a loss in poker occurs solely out of luck, more often than not a new player will cover up any skill mishaps because it is easier to blame the direness of the situation on luck.

In this way luck can become a scapegoat for learning poker players, because at any point in a story luck can be made to step forward and take the blame for a player losing a hand, even when doing so doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story (or even an accurate one).

Let’s say in the middle stages of a tournament two players with relatively equal stacks take a heads-up flop of {j-Clubs}{8-Hearts}{3-Spades}. Player A, an amateur player holding {a-Clubs}{a-Hearts}, check-calls a bet from Player B. The {k-Diamonds} hits the turn and A checks again, allowing B to continue with another bet. This time A comes over the top with a raise and B quickly three-bets it.

Player A, blinded by his pocket aces, four-bets all in, and Player B snaps him off with a quick call, tabling {k-Hearts}{j-Hearts} for top two pair. The river bricks out and Player A is forced to ship all of his chips across the table.

When recapping the situation to his friends later that day, the player laments how his pocket aces were cracked by king-jack on his final hand, and all end up commiserating how unlucky the situation was.

Perhaps over the course of the day, Player A’s bad beat story might even change, with him telling some people that he lost the hand after a preflop all-in. Or at the very least he’ll choose to omit the details of any postflop play. By doing this, Player A is reinforcing the idea of accepting false information, which is an unhealthy habit to fall into. In other words, he's deceiving himself.

This is an extreme example, obviously, yet this is a behavior I see exhibited by many of my friends who play the game. By lying about details or even slightly altering exactly how a losing hand played out, you’re depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn. Sure, a lie may save face and rescue you from your peers thinking that you are a bad player in the moment, but ultimately it kills the process of your growth.

Everybody makes mistakes at the poker table. Rather than burying these experiences away, make light of them. If you find yourself embarrassed about a situation where you got your money in badly, use that as a starting point to find new growth in your game. On the whole, making a few mistakes and being open about them is significantly less emotionally traumatizing than burying away your losing experiences, blaming all losses on bad luck, and consistently repeating the same mistakes for years to come.

This may prove to be a difficult process for some, but being honest with yourself is the only way to grow as a poker player. Each hand played provides more experience and viewing these situations as opportunities to learn will help to increase your long-term profitability as a player.

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