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Winning

Posted by Prabhat Mukherjea on 2012-08-19 at 12:00 AM

Isn’t as easy or as fun as it sounds. That sounds a little wrong, but think about it for a second.

“Are you eating”?- “Yes”. “Are you breathing”?- “Yes”. “Are you playing poker”?- Yes.

“Are you winning”?- At this point it should be obvious that you can’t just say yes or no so easily. It’s not even clear what the question means. In one sense, we obviously won’t know until the whole thing is over and then we will know whether we were in the process of winning or not. In another sense, we could be “winning” when we would expect to win- maybe if we had a huge stack or chiplead deep in a tournament. It is in these situations that players with less confidence or experience tend to suffer.

In general, I believe that poker players and indeed most players of any sort of game will never start having good results on a consistent basis until they are mentally ready for success. As I pointed out earlier, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on winning and treat it as a very special thing quite separate from playing. The result of this tends to be that until a certain point there is a very clear mental difference between “playing” and “winning”. When one is not used to winning at a certain limit or stake, any time you get a big stack or look like you are going deep, there is a tendency to remind yourself not to “screw it this time” or not to “donk it off”. In general it becomes difficult to treat the situation as normal.

I don’t think its a coincidence that certain players at certain stages of their careers tend to choke up at crucial stages by being too careful or have huge blow-up hands when near life-changing money; the added pressure makes it much more likely that you stop thinking consciously and start acting instinctively and end up applying only that bit of your poker knowledge which you have understood very deeply. At those stages it is a huge advantage to not be burdened by such concerns. This tends to happen when you are used to winning and instead of trying to win you are just playing with the implicit understanding that playing includes “trying to win”.

Sadly I don’t have any novel advice on how to deal with this kind of pressure or how to make the mental jump to a stage where winning is normal and not a exceptional event, still I thought it would be useful to think about some of the psychological pressures that face MTT players, (this is particularly important for MTTs because ALL the money is in the deep runs and wins which will accompanied by these stressful situations).

Update: Since my last blog I have been running and (I think) playing pretty good. I finished 2nd in a hyper-turbo on Sunday for $3500 and then shipped $44 turbos on back to back days of playing. I am finally off what had been a pretty long downswing and I am hoping this is just a sign of things to come.

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Prabhat Mukherjea

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