As mentioned in my last contribution to our online magazine, I’ve been immersed in poker psychology. So with that in mind, here are some more confused ideas. Also, when reading what follows, keep in mind the two baskets, knowledge and execution, that any game can be divided into.
Idea No. 11: On any given day if you don’t do something physical you won’t be “quite there as far as being completely in control of your mind.”
When reading stuff like this, and this does come up over and over again when investigating the psychology of poker literature, does it mean you’ll now play some of your hands differently? And in this case, is this different way of playing inferior to the way you would play than if physical activity was already part of your day? Now some of you will undoubtedly say that getting some exercise should make you more alert at the poker table and this in turn will allow you to focus better and thus make better decisions. But is this really true?
Again, I think advice like this comes out of the sports world where the idea of a warm-up is important since a good pre-game loosening up can help with things like speed, timing, and coordination. But it doesn’t increase your knowledge of the game.
I’m a big fan of college football. When I read about improving players, the one statement that you see over and over again is “The game has slowed down for him.” What this means is that their knowledge of how to play has improved and this is what allows these improving players to execute better.
I think the same applies here. That is, in poker, which is mainly a knowledge game, the more you understand, the more control you’ll have, and this includes control of your mind since decisions that were once difficult to make in time will become much easier. Notice that this is a lot different from doing something physical away from the table.
Idea No. 12: Expect to do poorly when playing poker tournaments on little sleep.
This is certainly true. But the problem here is that you can also expect to do poorly in most tournaments if you get plenty of sleep even if you’re an excellent tournament player. This has something to do with the fact that only a small percentage of those who enter make the money and the fact that the luck factor in poker tournaments is quite large.
Now I don’t recommend that you enter tournaments on a lack of sleep especially if you feel you may be mentally tired as well as physically tired. But for the reasons given above, it’s poor statistics to draw this type of correlation unless you have a lot of data.
Idea No. 13: Fat overweight poker players, even those who are recognized as being excellent players, and who like to sleep at the table, are destined to go broke.
Well, here we go again. The reason players do poorly and in some cases go broke, and this is the main reason, is that they don’t play some of their hands as well as many of their opponents. Yes they may have other leaks (like sports betting), but if they played well, staying in money would not be their problem. What has happened is that it’s unlikely that these formerly top players, who are now broke, keep up with the changes in the game and with new and more advanced strategies. Now it may also be true that fat overweight people are not the type that live disciplined lives where they put aside time to study poker and improve their games. But being fat and overweight, as well as sleeping a little too much, is not what causes you to lose.
Idea No. 14: You must practice playing poker virtually everyday to became very good at it.
Again, this is confusion coming from the sports world. There’s no question that in games which require speed, timing, and coordination, a lot of practice is required and this certainly includes practicing most days. But poker is mainly a knowledge game, and once you have acquired that knowledge, skipping a bunch of days, unlike an athletic sport, should have little effect on your ability to play well. In addition, much of the knowledge that an expert poker player has comes from his work away from the table and not from practicing poker.
Idea No. 15: You need to identify your weaknesses as a poker player and work on correcting them if you expect to become a top player.
This idea is plain silly. The way you improve in poker is through gaining new knowledge, and how do you gain new knowledge through practice? It’s not the same as a tennis player hitting thousands of backhands in an effort to improve his timing, but this idea implies that it is.
Idea No. 16: It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an “elite” poker player.
This one is so silly that I have a complete chapter devoted to it in my book Real Poker Psychology, and it’s another example of confusing a game like poker which is mainly based on knowledge with an athletic sport where speed, timing, and coordination are important. Of course, in the sport, most of the 10,000 hours will be spent on improving execution, and while the knowledge is of course important, that part won’t take anything close to 10,000 hours. And the same is true for poker except that the execution basket will be small compared to the athletic sport.
Idea No. 17: Some poker situations only come up rarely, so you’ll need to play a large number of hands to see every possible scenario that can come up.
This should drive you crazy, especially if you spend a huge number of hours looking at hand histories. Fortunately, to become a top poker player, there are a manageable number of concepts that you need to know and understand, and these concepts will cover almost all the situations that can come up when playing poker. And if a situation does develop that is not covered by the concepts, you should see it so rarely that it should have virtually no impact on your long term results.