Everyone makes mistakes, on and off the poker table. But when you know what you're about to do is a mistake and you still do it anyway, that's when it hurts the most.
I don't think it's possible to be a very strong poker player without being brutally hard on yourself. As a strong player you are fully aware that every mistake you make costs you money. If you play for a living, you simply cannot afford to be making large mistakes at the table.
The larger the mistake, the harder you will come down on yourself for making it. As I mentioned, the most painful instances are those in which you know beforehand that a certain move is a mistake, but you go ahead and make it nonetheless.
This always seems to happen when your eyes get bigger than your hand. When a pot gets really large and you start dreaming about how good it will feel, and look, to have all those chips in your stack, you start mentally spending the money before you even have it.
At this point you will start playing on hopes and dreams to make the fantasy come true. Logic goes out the door in favor of crossing your fingers.
Poker Mistakes You Can Avoid
We've all been there, and it hurts. Here's my latest moment of weakness:
I'm sitting at a $2/$5 No-Limit table. The average stack is around $1,200, and the game is very aggressive. We've been playing a mandatory straddle for two hours, with every pot being opened for a raise from $30 to $100.
I'm viewed on the table as being very tight but solid. I've cultivated a super tight image at this game, as it's impossible to make a bluff any other way.
My stack is at $1,700, I'm two from the cut-off and I get dealt pocket jacks. Someone raises to $45 ahead of me; I chunk it up to $120, and the player directly on my left calls, leaving us heads-up to the flop.
The player on my left has me covered in chips and is also the tightest player at the table. He only plays nuts or close to, doesn't gamble and is rather quiet.
After he cold-calls the $120 pre-flop, I'm able to put him on a very tight range of hands. He can only hold pocket nines, pocket tens or ace-king. Anything less he would have folded pre-flop; anything more he would have reraised.
I'm not saying that this is a good read to make all the time, but for this situation with this specific player against my specific table image, I would have bet my life on one of these three hands.
Also, the fact that the original raiser folded makes it very possible that a weak ace has been folded, leaving him one less out on his range. I like my hand going to the flop.
The flop comes 6-6-9.
I open the round for a bet of $150. The other player tanks for a while before finally calling. I now am sure that the guy has pocket tens. The guy's not an actor, so he doesn't Hollywood a tight with pocket nines, and he folds A-K. The only hand I can put him on is TT. I'm now 100% sure that's what he has.
The turn comes a ten.
I see it fall and know that I just got sucked out on. At this point a great poker player would completely shut down, and dump his hand. I look at the $600 in the pot and convince myself that I might be wrong, so I should make one more bet to be sure. I bet $200 and he raises me to $600.
Yes, he has turned a two-outer and sucked out; there is no other option here.
This is where I make my largest mistake in recent memory (well at least in poker). I tank for a long time and decide to call.
I can't tell you why I called, as there is no justifiable reason. I somehow decided that I had the best hand - I can't begin to explain why.
I knew I had a two-outer, and called $400 on a hope of getting lucky. $400 on 4%, $100 per point doesn't really seem like a good deal in retrospect.
The pot is now around $1,800. I have $700 left in my stack. I've committed myself to this pot - once I make the choice to call on the turn, I have to call regardless of the river.
If I was able to dupe myself into thinking I should call on the turn, obviously the river won't change my mind. I'm desperate now, and have entered the world of compounding mistakes.
I can't even remember exactly what the river was ... it was a blank. We'll say it was a four. Either way, I gave the man the rest of my chips and watched him turn over pocket tens for a $3,400 pot. He got lucky and deserved to win a $900 pot; the rest was my pure stupidity.
This is one of the plays I'm least proud of in my life as a poker player. I hope it will remain that way, since it would be ridiculous to make such a huge mistake again.
Getting to the point in poker to be able to make strong true reads on opponents is great, but if you're not able to follow through on your reads, they're worthless.
More blogs by Sean Lind: