The idea for this article (along with the title) is taken directly from the truly wonderful book Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo.
Highly recommended you pick it up; you can find it on his website.
The concept is deceptively simple; there are three levels of poker play. As you might have guessed, they are:
- Your A-Game
- Your B-Game
- Your C-Game
Although every poker player has these three levels of play the details, shape, scope and duration of each level is unique.
What is Your Poker "A" Game?
This is your best game, when you're on top of the world. You feel great, you're playing "perfectly" and you're making money hand-over-fist.
In this level of play you're making no mistakes and are completely aware of everything going on at your table.
Your Poker C Game
This is your worst game. You're making mistakes, bad calls, dumb bluffs and losing money hand-over-fist.
Nothing is working out, you feel horrible and just can't get anything started.
There are multiple reasons why you might play your C game: exhaustion, tilt, being overmatched, bored, distracted, etc.
Whatever the reasons may be, if you're playing your C game you're losing a lot of money.
Your Poker B Game
This is simply everything in between your A and C games. Some areas of your B game may be profitable, some may be expensive.
Except for maybe a few of the world's best players the B game is where you spend the vast majority of your time at the table.
The picture above is an example of the distribution of your levels of play: You have your best game in the middle, and it slowly deteriorates into your worst game at the edge.
The closer you are to the edge, the larger and more common your mistakes become.
How to Increase Your Poker Bottom Line
Even though you want to continually work on and improve your A game, chances are this is not the best place to spend your time.
Let's assume your A game always makes you $5 an hour, your B game always breaks even and your C game always loses you $5 an hour.
To make money in poker in this scenario you have play your A game more than your C game.
Working on your A game is good, and if you bump up your A-game profit to $6 or $7 an hour, you'll make money playing poker - even if you play your C game just as often as your A game.
Playing better poker will make you more money. This is how most people approach poker. Unfortunately, there's a big problem with this approach.
How much can one really improve his or her A game? If you're already not making mistakes and playing great poker, how much better can you get? When you're playing your absolute best game, how much more money could Phil Ivey have made if he was in your seat?
If you're only putting in money ahead and stacking the other players on your table, you can't really do any better than that. No matter how much you work on your A game your opponents only have so much money to donate at any given time.
The best way to make more money at poker, then?
- Work on your C game
How to Eliminate Your Poker C Game
This is where lopping off your C game comes into play. Take the absolute worst part of your C game. For most of us, this is the level of super tilt where we give away full buy-ins like candy.
If you just lop that off, eliminate it, it completely adjusts your whole profit diagram. Look at the picture below:
Every time you lop off the very worst of your C game, what becomes your new C game was previously part of your B game.
Once you do this, your A game remains the same but your B and C games become more profitable (or less costly).
There's far more room to grow, expand and improve on your C game than there is in your A game.
You have relatively little control over how much you can win at a poker table, but you have full control over how much you can lose.
Every time you lop off a section of your C game, you increase your bottom line. Even though the circle for your A game hasn't grown (you haven't improved your A game), the B and C circles have shrunk.
This increases the % of your A game compared to the rest of your game.
5 Poker Leaks You Must Get Rid Of
These are the most common causes of playing your C game:
- Being out-skilled
- Playing scared
By far the most common cause of the C game is tilt, so that's a good place to start.
Realistically though, tilt comes in tons of different forms and degrees and can be caused by almost anything.
The simplest definition is any time your emotions are making you play anything less than your A game, you're on tilt. You don't need to be steaming or frothing at the mouth. If you're at all emotionally distracted, you're losing money.
Because of the elusive nature of it it can also be difficult to stop yourself from playing on some degree of tilt.
The best advice is to listen to the little thoughts in your head. As soon as you hear yourself think, "Wow this is frustrating," or "Jesus, will I ever get a single card higher than a 9?"- even something like "That guy's really damn annoying " - you're on tilt.
Although all levels of tilt detract from your game, some obviously do so more than others. The "light" tilt, such as finding a player annoying, may only be enough to bring you down to your high-B game.
Playing your B game isn't ideal, but it's not going to cost you lots of money. You have no need to leave the table when it happens.
But any time tilt reaches a point where you're clearly playing your C game, you need to get up or log off and leave the game. When you're on full-steam tilt, it's not possible to calm down enough to return to your A game in a matter of minutes.
By leaving the game, you're 100% eliminating this aspect of the C game. If you always leave when you're steaming, you'll completely remove the outer ring from your circle of play.
You've lopped it off and your whole game benefits as a result.
It's just not possible to play your A game when you're exhausted. When you've reached that level of tiredness, you're thinking neither quickly nor clearly - two of the most critical requirements for playing good poker. And it's when you start getting tired - well before you become exhausted - that it's time to leave the game.
Exhaustion is a sneaky devil. You don't notice how tired you're getting until it's too late. If you're seated at the table, it's easy to fall into a rut where you don't move or do anything other than play cards.
You need to get up, take short breaks and walk around. Assess how you're doing mentally off the table so you can go back and make better choices on the table.
When you start to feel tired at all, cash in your chips and go find your pillow. The goal is not to limit the amount of time you spend playing your C game - the goal is to completely remove each ring of the C game from your play.
Pretty self-explanatory. If you're distracted, you're not playing your best poker.
Try to sit facing away from TVs, stop flirting with the cocktail waitress, turn off your MSN. Limit your distractions and focus on poker.
If you're trying to limit distractions, the last thing you want to do is bring some ones of your own with you to the table. If you came to play poker, do exactly that.
4. Being Out-Skilled
If your A game is only as good as your opponent's B game, you're hooped. The quality of your game is best evaluated by comparing your game to that of your opponents.
When you're beat, you're beat. Get up and get out.
5. Running Scared
The final item that causes C-game play is fear. A No-Limit poker player has to be willing to put all of his or her chips across the line at any given moment.
If you're scared of losing what you have in front of you, it's not possible to play a proper game. You need to have the money to lose (have a proper bankroll), and you need to be willing to lose it.
You can't be scared of the money or the other players. People do very strange things when they're under stress or scared. And strange things at the poker table equate to lost money.
Have a bankroll, be confident and strip this ring from your C game entirely.
It's not enough to try to limit or avoid the elements that bring on your C game either. C-game catalysts are like tumors.
You have to completely remove them or they'll grow back into your game, eventually bringing you down. In a nutshell:
- Stay calm
- Stay positive
- Be healthy
- Get sleep
- Stay focused
- Play within your skill level
- Be fearless
The rest will take care of itself.