Things I’ve Learnt Playing Poker (Part 1)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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Few are the things in life that do not connect to other aspects, sometimes completely unrelated. When I worked at McDonald’s I always considered the experience as something that wouldn’t mean anything and, to be honest, it very rarely does. But I do find myself using some of it, particularly the “Time to lean, time to clean” mentality. There was never a time during my shift where I could just chill and do nothing; there was always something that needed to be done. I have carried that mentality through the eight years since I’ve quit and it has served me well.

A couple of years ago I was deep into online Hold ‘Em poker. Not deep deep… I wasn’t playing for thousands of euros or anything like that but it was still something I got really into. I tend to dive head first into new things because I enjoy learning about something as much as doing it, if not more sometimes. I don’t play anymore because I don’t have the money to sustain it and take the risks that need to be taken, but the lessons I learnt from playing poker still live with me in my professional life.

I would like to share those lessons with you, today.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor, and read this.

#1: BE PATIENT, BUT STRIKE HARD

There are quite a few poker player personalities out there (from tight and passive, to loose and aggressive), and defining these personalities and figuring out which player type is ultimately the best is a matter of great debate. From personal experience and from what I’ve read, the line between too safe and too risky lies somewhere in the tight-aggressive marriage of personalities and that is the kind of player I always tried to be. Did I always succeed? Not at all. But I strived for that perfect middle ground, and I still do.

The tight player is extremely patient. There are very few risks taken by this personality. Everything, or as much as possible, is calculated, controlled, measured. I do not just measure twice before cutting; I measure 20 times, and verify findings with research. Patience is a virtue, they say, and nowhere is this more evident and tested than in online poker. It takes great resolve to sit through tens of hands and fold every time because you’re not getting favorable odds on your bets. Meanwhile the other players are risking everything because they’ve got suited cards in the hole without knowing that only improves your chances by 2.5%.

The aggressive part of the equation is not what many think. Being aggressive is not about playing loosely, but playing your cards with confidence. The aggressive player controls the game in a way that it tilts in his favor. Following leads nowhere; it’s the leaders who win, both in poker and in life. When you’ve got a hand, you play that hand with everything you’ve got. Will it always be a winning hand? Of course not, but you give it the best you can, and then you play the odds.

#2: YOU ARE NEVER “IN TOO DEEP”

The human brain is a marvelous thing and yet, time and time again, both in poker and in life, we are tricked into believing things that are not actually real. One of the greatest pitfalls while playing poker is believing you are “in too deep” or “too invested” to back out of a hand. 

This happens when you’re playing a hand aggressively, a hand you believe you are winning, and things take a turn to the worse. Let’s say you’ve got an Ace of Hearts, and an Ace of Diamonds in the hole. Amazing. Easiest cards to be aggressive with if you know what you’re doing. So you raise hard and another player limps in. “Great,” you think to yourself. “Time to make some money.” But the flop shows three Spades. What do you do now? Most players will keep pushing. “There’s no way he has two spades… I have pocket Aces!” So you bet, he raises, and you call. Now you’re in deep. Turn is another Spade. Why not? Now all he needs is one Spade and he’s got you beat. Hell, he could have a two-pair and he’d still have you beat. You just can’t bring yourself to fold your hand because you’re too heavily invested now.

It’s all or nothing.

Except… it isn’t really. Your mind is just playing tricks on you. If you quit now you live to see another hand. Sure, you’re giving up on the money you’ve bet so far, but at least you’re not betting the rest of your money.

This has served me well over the years as an entrepreneur. Many projects seem great at the beginning, then you start digging, start working, spend some money, and suddenly it just isn’t feasible anymore. Many will tell you “But you’ve put so much money into it, you’re going to pull out, now?!” The answer to that, if you’ve done your due diligence and figured out there is just no way you can save it, is “Yes. What do you expect me to do? Put more money into it and then quit 6 months down the line?”

Sometimes you just have to let a dead hand go.

#3: DON’T GO ON TILT

Life has a way of messing with you. Cards even more so. Sometimes you just lose. There just isn’t anything you can do about it; that’s simply how it is. When I started paying poker I would lose my mind over every little thing. Flush draw? Get mad. Two pair against my high pair? Get mad. Every hand I lost would leave me angry at how “lucky” the other players were, and how “unlucky” I was. Every hand I lost was a “bad beat”.

Do you know what happens after getting beaten three or four times in a row like that?

You go on tilt.

Urban Dictionary (and this is probably the only time you’ll see me reference UD for a definition) describes “on tilt” as:

To gamble recklessly and aggressively after a bad or improbable beat or series of bad or improbable beats. Usually results in losing all of your money and then some. Good gamblers avoid this at all costs, even if it means going home earlier than expected.

All that hard work, amassing a bankroll slowly and patiently, only to blow it all on a couple of stupid decisions while your brain isn’t working properly.

Never go on tilt. When life throws you a curve ball you <insert motivational baseball phrase here>. There’s rarely, if ever, a good reason for losing your head over a series of bad beats. In poker, you lose your money. In life, you can lose your money, your job, ruin relationships… don’t do it.

TO BE CONTINUED…

This one’s getting too long for one post so we’ll pick this up again tomorrow, where we’ll talk about variance and risk. Until then, good luck and have fun!


Amante Reale

I'm a freelance writer specializing in tech, gadgets, security, cryptography and cryptocurrency. Warning: I am armed with very strong opinions and I'm not afraid to use them. Hire me!