Ego and Poker: Identify and Defeat a Costly Inner Demon

Ego and Poker: Identify and Defeat a Costly Inner Demon

“More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego...”

~Albert Einstein

Ego is a force we regrettably deal with on a daily basis. It is as much a threat to our personal relationships as it can be to our professional success. The poker table has a particularly cruel way of bringing the ego out of players, and the effects of this condition can take a severe toll on their bankrolls.

Ego is often the underlying cause of “tilt” and many other costly leaks in one’s game. Left unchecked, it can spell the end of a poker career of an otherwise good player.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines ego simply as “the opinion that you have about yourself.” As a result, ego often involves ideas of self-esteem and even self-importance, which at the poker table can turn into a devilish trait that presents itself in many ways.

Often we see players with large egos act very confidently at the table and provide loads of “free advice” about how to play your cards better. They might make sure everyone sees that they are buying in for the table maximum, with a wad of cash to spare. These exaggeratedly egotistical behaviors are very easy to spot.

Meanwhile many other players will play their cards using a heightened sense of self-worth and can be more difficult to spot. It can sometimes be even more difficult to recognize these elusive traits in ourselves.

When a player sits at the table with the ego monkey on his shoulder, he inevitably opens himself up to gaping holes. Egotistical emotions, even if subtle, cause players to call preflop raises with more speculative hands than they can optimally play. Hands with little value look playable because ego tells them that they can rely on their superior skills to negate the weak hand. Draws become more attractive and bluff equity is seen where there is none. Miracle calls are attempted because these players “know” they are smarter than their “inferior” opponents.

Entering pots with weaker hands than we should often leads us to being dominated in later betting rounds. Ill-conceived, emotionally driven bluffs cost us tens of blinds if not more. The most successful professional cash game players generate between 10-12 big blinds of profit per hour. But a few instances of emotionally-driven decisions can easily wipe out an entire session’s profit.

Ego tricks players into believing they should be able to beat these “far weaker” opponents. When that does not happen, the player’s ego becomes bruised, which in turn can lead the player to go on tilt, a catastrophically costly path. The damage done to bankrolls by playing while on tilt is significant, manifesting itself at the poker table constantly.

The good news is there are a few concrete steps that can be taken to minimize the ego that you bring to the table.

First, try to approach the game from a humble point of view. The fact of the matter is, in many instances, you are probably not as good as you think you are in relation to your opponents — a hard but necessary pill to swallow. The sooner you realize this possibility, the quicker you can begin to overcome the negative results of ego.

Second, if you are one who sometimes finds it difficult to control your emotions early in a session, consider initially buying in to the game for the minimum during the first orbit before topping up to the desired amount. Doing so serves two functions. It forces you to be humble by not thoughtlessly throwing around a maximum buy-in, while also allowing you to observe the players at the table for a few hands without risking many chips. Make sure you top off by the time you get the button, however, so you can add positional advantage.

Third, take emotion out of your poker decisions by only applying logic. Use if-then type reasoning with your choices, rather than trying to “go with your gut.” This will help you emotionally detach from the game, thus reducing the negative consequences of ego.

Finally, take frequent breaks during sessions. Remove those lead weights anchoring you to the chair and get some oxygen and walk around. The poker game is not going anywhere and you will be able to resume your non-emotionally driven game upon return. You can use this time to evaluate your previous play based upon logical reasoning.

Poker players who are successful check their ego at the door. They do everything they can to remove emotion from their decision-making process, while taking advantage of their opponents who wear their ego proudly.

Trust me, your bottom line will thank you for it.

Jason Bloom is a professional poker player of 10 years playing in mid- to high-stakes cash games in California, Las Vegas, Florida, and Belize. He writes about his play and other aspects of the poker world at The Poker Politico.

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