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The single most important thing in poker.

Most rookie poker players have this idea of a perfect player, somebody who knows what to do in every given situation, a super-poker-geek who is familiar with everything the game could possibly throw at him, and they think, all this guy ever does, is relieve fish of their stacks.

I think I don’t even need to iterate how wrong this concept is. I. myself tended to regard poker legends like Doyle Brunson, Mike Caro, Scotty Nguyen and the likes of them, super-human beings in the past, but that was before I knew a 2,4 offsuit wasn’t worth seeing the flop on.

None of the above-mentioned players are super-human. They’re more than that. They’re exceptionally good poker players.

A good poker player is by no means one that never makes a mistake. Good players make mistakes too, and sometimes they experience nerve-wrecking bad beats too. The difference between a good player and an average to weak one, is the way they relate to these bad beats. While the fish always seeks a different explanation as to why he got gutted the second straight time on pocket aces, accusing everything from player collusion to defective software (in the case of online poker) a good player will know that bad beats are simply part of the game, no matter how extended they are and no matter how artificially-induced they may seem. This is poker, and bad beats are just as much part of the package as everything else is.

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A good player will view such losing streaks as a lesson. While bad players will most probably go on a tilt after an exceptionally sour bad-luck streak, a good poker player knows when to quit. Lady luck simply cannot be forced to do things your way. She’s never bent to the will of any meager poker player and thus she most probably won’t bend to you either. An important poker lesson that pros keep preaching is that you should minimize the time you spend playing under a bad luck streak for multiple reasons. Not only because of the ‘bad luck factor’ itself but also because trouble usually draws in more trouble. The other players around the table will sense the fact that luck is not with you, and they’ll start treating you differently too. You’ll become the bleeding fish of the table and being in that position is - believe me - not something that’s going to favor your play.

A good player will minimize the time he’s exposed and maximize the time he spends ‘on fire’. This is a relatively simple concept, no doubt about it BUT: and this is where the single most important thing in poker comes in: SELF CONTROL.

What’s the use of knowing all the theory by heart, if one utterly fails to apply it in practice? Doyle Brunson once said something like: knowing what to do is about 10% of the game, knowing how and when to do it is the remaining 90%... (not an exact quote but I’m pretty sure I read something like that from him somewhere…)

What most players do is research and establish what to do in a certain situation. The problem is that they then fail to actually do the things they know they should do when the situation calls for it. (Been there and done that myself, so I know what I’m talking about)

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If you know you shouldn’t go on a tilt, but you feel like it’s coming on, take measures to avoid being trapped by it. But DO it…seriously….

Another example of the problem would be the bluffing part of the game. Sometimes you’re pretty sure what the opponent has in a heads up, and you know you have a weaker hand. Having already stuffed the pot silly, you realize your only possible way out of the situation I to pull out a bluff. You’ll often get into a situation like that, and so will good poker players. (trust me, they’re not dealt premium hands all the time either) The difference between you and a good poker player will be this: he’ll win over 50% of the time he pulls the same stunt, while you’ll win well under 50% of the time…

The thing is, he knows when and how to make the move. He has this - call it 6th sense - about what his opponent has on his mind. This is the very thing that makes up 90% of the game. The fact that sometimes you get lucky and flop a premium hand doesn’t make you a good player. Heck, any fool can win on a monster hand. The difference is made by subtle situations like the one presented above.

Hopefully, from now on, you’ll be thinking in different terms about the person you consider a ‘good poker player’

- by Jim Jackson

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