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Problems Handling Winning
I love titles that look like silly statements. Problems handling winning? Who would ever have that?
Isn't it like wondering whether one could deal with falling in love, hitting the lottery, finding a diamond under a bush on the lawn? How can there be problems here?
I got to thinking about this when a reader ("Andrew1") commented on my earlier article Dan Gilbert at Harvard.
It means pretty much what it implies: when people get what they want, they turn out not to like it nearly as much as they thought they would.
At a poker table the "want" is money - winning it and all the things that accompany it.
There are three key points here.
Money won isn't as satisfying as a loss of an equivalent amount is unsatisfying. Most people don't know this, which is one reason why Gilbert's "miswanting" effect is so strong.
2. A lot of players don't know how to handle winning. You see this all the time. Guy goes on a rush, stacks chips like a new graduate from an architecture program, thinks he's invulnerable, a champ, a nascent professional ready for the circuit.
Come back a couple of hours later and he's picking felt out from between his front teeth.
3. A lot of players don't know how to maximize the gains that accompany a rush of cards or the generosity of the resident fish.
When the gods of the game smile upon you, you better be ready. You better know how to deal with winning, and you need to maximize your gains or you won't be able to cover your losses.
Now we can't do much to change the first of these. It's pretty much a given. The best advice is understand the principle and live with it.
Be as happy when winning as you can, but don't expect it to be quite the wonderful thing you think it will be when you first sit down.
But we can deal with the other two. Here are some ways. If you think of others, let me know. The better we understand this issue the better off we'll be (even if not as happy as we think).
1. Tighten up so as not to give back chips. There are a host of factors that contribute to a rush, and one of them is that you hit hands that are mathematically unlikely.
You get in for free from the BB with T-8o and flop the nuts. You limp with pocket sevens and flop set over set. These magical hands are seductive; they make you think they're worth playing for a full bet or out of position.
They're not. If you stacked a guy when you limped from the button with A-6 and hit two pair, don't for a second think you should play this hand UTG.
2. Loosen up to turn a pretty good day into a really good one. Yeah, I know, this looks like it contradicts the above. It doesn't really.
I'm not telling you to call an early raiser with T-8, just suggesting that with a big stack you can loosen up a little. You can use your chips to intimidate others. You can afford to tiptoe into some pots looking to felt someone.
Big stacks project power and skill. Use the image - no matter how far from reality it is.
3. Leave if you've lost the urge to continue to play. The "post-rush letdown" is real. You feel oddly drained, tired and happy, and would like to just go sit in a comfy chair and relax.
You don't have to, of course, but if this feeling does sneak up on you, pay attention because continuing to play under these conditions is almost always a bad idea.
4. Never forget: the game will return to "normal." One of the difficulties of dealing with a winning streak is that you lose perspective. You start to feel as though you can play "any two," that you're invulnerable ("The Truth About Playing Rushes").
You convince yourself that either (a) K-J is a great hand to call a raise with 'cause of all that paint or worse, (b) you're so good you can outplay your opponents with it.
The first is certainly an illusion, the second likely one. Don't overplay your hands just because you've got some chips to burn.
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Hope this helps you handle winning ... try to enjoy it.
Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies. Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.
Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semiretired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
More poker strategy articles from Arthur S. Reber:
- Keep Fit, Stay Sharp, Play Better Poker
- Who Really Wins at Poker?
- Fifty Things to Say - Who Knew?
- The Pros of Confidence