Problems Handling Winning

Tom Dwan
You get three wishes. Choose carefully.

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.

Phil Hellmuth
Me? I can handle winning just fine.

There are three key points here.

1. Winning      won't make you as happy as you think it will. One reason is a topic we      discussed in two earlier columns on the value of money, What's Money      Worth? and What's Money Worth? Part 2.

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.

Andy Black
The post-rush letdown: it's real.

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hope this helps you handle winning ... try to enjoy it.

Author Bio:

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:


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Arty Smokes 2011-06-07 18:26:39

I'd love to know how Jamie Gold and Chris Moneymaker have felt in the years after winning their massive WSOP prizes. All that money must have felt wonderful, but they both have had to face so much hatred and criticism from (jealous?) players that have never won anything. I think Jamie has the last laugh on any of his detractors. Heck, if you give me 12 million, you can call me a donkey every day for the rest of my life if it makes you feel better. Whether Gold is a great player, a lucky player, or a terrible player, that win made him virtually immortal. Provided he hasn't spent it all, he can live comfortably for the rest of his life. It's kind of ironic that he went in gambling and came out contented. Are gamblers ever content?

TonyM 2010-03-16 14:49:06

Laci have you tried match dot com?

Laci 2010-02-17 02:24:22

When I saw this term /miswanting/ I thought of something else. As in my case, it is not the money that I really want, I want just love and true freedom and so I know that poker is not leading to the real hapiness I am so much longing for. I guess it's time for me to think about priorities once again...

Bob 2009-08-15 21:25:00

I can relate to this article, and have learned the hard way when to put the "brakes" on and return to tighter play.

I have seen too many loose agressive fish at early tables in tourneys clean out several players only to lose all their gains by repeating the same behavior, a lot of those players won't be around at the bubble.

B. 2009-04-03 20:43:00

i'm currently running well, though i do feel i have been rewarded for some strong poker rather than getting lucky. the problem that has hit me is deciding if i need to change gears and play higher stakes and try and maximise profits in bigger games, or stay where i am, and not risk the 'comfort' which comes with winning at my regular games. i am just not sure if i will have the same perspective when the game has more attached to it, despite the fact i am gradually becoming more comfortable with the concept that the stake amount is irrelevant if i am playing good, smart poker. for now i am comfortable staying put, but when IS the right time to push up?

Arthur S. Reber 2009-04-02 00:20:00


Good point. This a topic I hope to have something (sensible?) to say on in the future.


Andy Brown 2009-03-30 15:33:00

Perhaps another related topic is 'fear of losing' is a bigger driver the 'will/need to win'. This certainly so in my case and not just in poker. I succeed in most things I try because I cannot stand to fail, not because I need to win................


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