Poker Thoughts: The Gambling Spirit

The pros and cons of bringing a 'gambling spirit' to the poker table.

One of the biggest challenges for me in my poker career has been learning to overcome the excitement I feel at the poker table.  The prospect of winning large sums of money is one of the things that makes poker great, however, that excitement can also hold you back.  It’s important to learn to channel it in the right ways so that you can reap the benefits and eliminate the more harmful aspects.

The Benefits of Being A Gambler At The Poker Table

In poker, fear is your worst enemy.  If you’re afraid of losing money, that money is already lost.  And since losing money is what a gambler does, it’s only natural that having a gambling spirit will give you an edge in this matter.

Like any form of gambling, the unfortunate thing about playing poker is that in order to win you have to be willing to lose.  Having that gambling spirit, that ability to take painful losses and jump right back into action, is essential to poker success.  Although poker is a game of skill, as we all know, that skill-edge takes a very large sample size to manifest.  Playing perfect poker does not guarantee short term success, so every single one of us has to deal with almost constant disappointment in our poker careers.  If you don’t have the ability to come back after devastating losses, you will not have success in this game.

The Burden of Being A Gambler At The Poker Table

Emotions.

Just as Jon Snow had to ‘kill the boy’ inside of himself to become a great commander, so too will you have to eliminate certain parts of your inner-gambler in order to succeed at poker.

When I say that emotions are a burden, I’m not talking about getting excited after a big win or frustrated after a big loss.  What I’m really talking about is the excitement that you’ll feel as a gambler when you get a big hand.  If you’re playing roulette and the little white ball lands on your number, obviously your natural reaction is to get excited, high-five your friends, order the next round of drinks, etc.

In poker, you’ll get the same feeling when you wake-up with pocket aces or flop a set, but the obvious difference is you have to contain it.  And I’m not simply talking about keeping a ‘poker face’—you have to contain it on the inside as well.  That celebratory feeling can cloud your thinking.  Instead of thinking about what your opponent might be holding, how to extract max value from them, etc, you’re simply thinking ‘oh my god I have a set! Fuck yeah!’.  I can’t tell you how many times early in my poker days I missed max value because I was so excited about my hand that I couldn’t see the obvious path to taking all of my opponent’s chips.  It’s a frustrating thing to realize immediately after the hand that a slight difference in the way you played it could have gotten you their whole stack.

The Big Picture

If you’re a gambler, emotions will not only affect you at the table, but perhaps most importantly, they’ll affect your decision making about when to play and when not to play.  This was the most challenging aspect for me to overcome.  The gambler always wants to play- they always want that rush of excitement.  But the poker player should choose their spots wisely.  The poker player should only play when they’re mentally sharp and focused.  It might sound simple, but I knew this fact for years before I even thought about adhering to it.

So, in summary, you can keep the gambler around to help you stay fearless and aggressive, just let the poker player decide when to play.

 

Why stay on the rail? Play free poker yourself!

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