Discipline, the god of poker

by PokerAnon ~ May 2nd, 2011. Filed under: Bankroll, Gambling, Philosophy and approach, Poker psychology.

What’s the biggest single factor that separates the winning poker players from the losers?

I postulate that the key difference is discipline. Not knowledge, not understanding odds, not experience, not personality; discipline. Some knowledge and experience are mandatory to be sure but the one key difference between a winning player and a losing player is discipline.

I’m not talking about what turns a Tom Dwan into the poker player durrr. I’m talking about what makes a small percentage of winning players come out ahead in the long run over their opponents. I’m talking about how one player can play 30,000 hands of poker and be making money while most of his opponents have lost money and many of them have redeposited in order to continue playing.

Discipline manifests itself in many ways. Discipline means:

  • Folding, when you know that your pocket cards are garbage
  • Folding, when you are confident that your opponent has a better hand
  • Checking, when you don’t think a bluff will work and your hand isn’t strong enough to call a raise
  • Betting, when you think that you have the best hand

Those are just a few simple hand by hand versions of discipline. The list could go on and on, but essentially, always think to the best of your abilities, and then have the discipline to stick to your decision.

Over a longer term discipline also means:

  • Proving your ability at the lowest levels before moving up
  • Playing within your bankroll restrictions
  • Reviewing your past play to look for weaknesses in your game, both old leaks as well as new ones that may be developing
  • Maintaining your emotional balance and cognitive abilities while you play, and being able to stop when you feel that you’re not at your best
  • Maintaining your hand by hand discipline as in the earlier list

Discipline reinforces patience. Without discipline our patience disintegrates. Without patience we degenerate into gamblers. It’s far too easy to call just because your opponent is an idiot, but do that too often and you’d better have a huge bankroll to cover you. It’s also easy to tell yourself that you’re better than the rest of your table, but if you can’t beat 0.01/0.02 you are simply going to lose money faster at 0.05/0.10 tables. We’ve all had AA all in preflop and lost to KK or 97, but that’s why we have a bankroll with at least 20 (cash game) or 30 (sit and go) buyins so that there is no risk of ruin when we get sucked out on once or twice or even ten times in a row. The element of chance in poker means that we are supposed to lose hands to weaker players and that we will continue to lose to hands that we have dominated 20 – 30% of the time. That’s what the odds tell us. And those odds are what keep the bad players coming back; that combined with selective memory. Discipline is necessary to stay the course until variance starts to swing back our way again.

You’ve got to have patience, bankroll, and skill, but most of all you have to have discipline to be one of those players who cash out more than they deposit.

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