By Bernard Harris
When you think of winning, what comes to mind? Do you envision set-over-set battles where you stack your opponents? Perhaps a slow and steady grind where you gradually chip up? For most, winning money involves either getting better hands to fold or having the best hand at showdown. Thus, it’s only natural for players to focus on pot odds, equity, and other principles of poker. But poker is more than just the cards. There are other aspects to the game that, if neglected or ignored, can cost you over $10,000 a year.
Deciding which table to play at is one of the most underappreciated factors of long-term profitability. The right table can mean the difference between losing three buy-ins or going home with money bursting out of your pockets. We want to target tables with lots of chips and action; where players average 100+ big blinds for no-limit and 20+ big bets for limit. Similarly, we want tables in which the mood is upbeat with lots of talking, laughing, and (hopefully) drinking going on. All of this leads to players having a good time, playing incorrectly, and lots of chips sloshing around.
Berating Bad Play
When we witness (or become victim to) a horrific play the worst thing we can do is berate the fish for making it. Every time we see an awful play we should rejoice, since that play represents long term profit! Unfortunately, much like a four year old compelled to blurt out an embarrassing truth, our egos can’t help but be compelled to correct bad play—don’t.
When we berate bad play we poison the fun atmosphere essential for loose, action-filled, profitable tables. Instead of players enjoying themselves and making incorrect plays, they now tighten up for fear of looking foolish. Eventually, repeated criticism will result in the most unforgiveable poker sin—chasing easy money off the table.
A mistake many players make is to leave a hot table the instant they double up. The thinking is that once we’ve made our daily nut, why stay at the table and risk our profits? Ironically, most players think nothing of grinding for six hours in an effort to get unstuck a couple of buy-ins. What’s the big deal? Surely leaving after a big score is profitable. Similarly, what’s wrong with trying to win back our losses?
All things being equal, the above questions/philosophies maximize our time at difficult (unprofitable) tables while minimizing our time at easy (profitable) tables. Let’s say you are forced to play a six hour session and cannot leave until your time is up. Would you rather play at the table where you doubled-up within 45 minutes or at the table where you lost two buy-ins within the first hour? When you leave a winning table early but stay at a losing table chasing your losses then you are inadvertently choosing the less profitable second option.
Acting Out of Turn
Why is acting out of turn such a big deal? This seemingly innocuous mistake negates one of the most important principles in poker—position. Position often means the difference between winning and losing a hand. Whether we smash the board or completely whiff, prematurely acting tips our hand to our villains. Betting out of turn conveys strength and will incentivize weaker hands that may have bet into us to check/fold. Conversely, checking out of turn conveys weakness. Instead of possibly seeing a free card or picking up a tell that villain is weak (and thus vulnerable to a bluff), we give villain everything he needs to play optimally, including betting us off the hand.
Many players are unaware of the ramifications of the above leaks. Sitting down at a rock garden table instead of party central is an easy one to two buy-ins worth of potential profit lost. Berating bad play, killing the fun mood at the table, and chasing off the dead money can result in another buy-in worth of easy money down the drain. Unintentionally maximizing our time at difficult tables while hit-and-running the most profitable tables is another one to two buy-ins forfeited in opportunity costs. Lastly, perpetually acting out of turn also costs us significant money over time.
If we were periodically guilty of merely one of the above offenses and played twice a week (100 sessions per year) that would equate to 100 buy-ins worth of mistakes per year. Assume a modest buy-in of $100 and you see we’ve managed to set $10,000 on fire.
All that’s required to move this money to the win column is simple observation, awareness, and basic discipline. Select good tables, be nice to the fish, stay and play while winning, and act in turn; do that, and you will see a five figure increase per year in your earnings.