I have the great opportunity to share with you a killer article from BlackRain79.com called “If I Had to Start Poker Again (5 Pieces of Advice)”.
I've wanted to do this podcast topic for months now, and when BlackRain79's article came through (poker pro Nathan Williams), it was my opportunity!
He gave me permission and here it is!
Listen to the podcast as you follow along below:
This article was originally published in December 2021 on www.BlackRain79.com, and it was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.
If I Had to Start Poker Again (5 Pieces of Advice)
If I could start poker all over again, I’d repeat all the mistakes, but I’d do it much sooner.
The fact is, the best experience comes from mistakes, and sadly, usually from our own. It would be much better if we could learn from other people’s mistakes.
With that in mind, here are the top 5 pieces of advice I would have given to my younger self at the beginning of my poker journey.
1. You Don’t Have It All Figured Out
This is something I advise aspiring poker players to repeat to themselves, regardless of where they are at their poker journey, but especially at the beginning.
Poker is deceptively simple, and it doesn’t take long to transition from a totally clueless fish to a decent winner, especially at the lower stakes.
But there is something deeply pernicious about this seeming effortlessness when you first start out playing poker. It’s especially dangerous if you happen to run well in the beginning.
It’s easy to assume you have some innate talent, a card sense, or whatever you want to call it, when in reality you just didn’t get tested by negative variance, or you didn’t go toe-to-toe against actually skilled competition.
Odds are, you aren’t quite able to differentiate between your skill edge and positive variance, and are too quick to ascribe positive results to your superior skills, and negative results to other players just getting lucky against you.
In other words, you don’t even know what you don’t know, and this makes further improvement virtually impossible.
You don’t even feel like you need improving, because you’re crushing the game beyond belief, after all.
You think it’s just a matter of time before you’re playing high stakes and retiring early with your poker winnings.
Until your first serious downswing, that is.
But since you’ve been killing it for a while, you don’t think much of it, because you know variance is a thing, and you think it’s just temporary.
So you wait for the next upswing (and you believe you’re owed one), but it never seems to happen.
You start to get frustrated, jump up the stakes, play outside your bankroll, chase your losses and so on. Yet, it never occurs to you that you might be, in fact, getting outplayed.
You already know everything there is to know, you’ve watched a bunch of youtube videos, read a ton of articles, maybe even a book or two.
You’re way better than the rest of the degenerate gamblers you’re playing against, so why the hell aren’t you making bank?
The short answer is: you’re not as good as you think you are. You might have read a couple of articles here and there, but guess what?
So did everyone else.
And this may also be a shocker, but people aren’t too keen on giving their money away, even when playing cards.
Poker is incredibly competitive, and to truly get ahead, knowing the fundamental winning strategy is only the beginning of the journey, not the end.
So never be quick to assume you have it all figured out, because chances are, you don’t.
2. You Probably Won’t Get Rich Playing Poker
The prospect of becoming a full time poker pro may seem very enticing to a lot of people.
Being your own boss, setting your own hours, and being able to travel the world seems as close to a perfect job there is.
Not to mention you get to do something you actually enjoy doing instead of wilting away at some soulless corporate job.
It’s definitely the case that being a professional poker player offers a level of freedom that’s just not feasible for most other day jobs. But that’s not to say that it’s without its challenges.
In fact, it’s actually way harder to make a comfortable living playing cards than in your average 9-5, and most do not get rich either as Nathan discussed in this recent video:
That’s because you only have yourself to rely on, and you don’t have any immediate pressure of getting fired if you don’t show up to work.
There are no predesigned systems that compel you to show up at the office, day in and day out. There’s also no guarantee of a paycheck at the end of the month.
How much you earn depends entirely on the amount of effort you put in, and even then, you’re still not guaranteed to win, because variance plays a significant role in determining your short term results.
This means that there will be periods where you will actually lose money, even if you do everything right.
Imagine toiling away in the office for 8 hours every day, and then showing up at the end of the month to have your boss say to you that you owe him a thousand bucks for the pleasure of sitting in a cubicle.
You wouldn’t be too thrilled about it, to say the least.
Playing poker is kind of the same way, so developing a thick skin is just one of the many prerequisites to actually succeed in it over the long term.
Not only do you need a monk-like patience, you also need some sort of a safety net for the times you won’t earn any money, or worse yet, lose some.
So if you’re already living paycheck to paycheck, you might want to reconsider going pro.
Now, I don’t want to go too deep here about what it actually takes to be a full time poker pro, as this article is becoming too doom-and-gloom as it is.
The struggles of playing poker professionally could easily fill up an article of its own (or a full book, for that matter).
Suffice it to say that playing cards professionally just isn’t a viable option for the vast majority of people, let alone getting rich from it.
This doesn’t mean you can’t actually make good money playing poker, or even turn it into a profitable side hustle.
But most people would still be better off keeping their day job. If getting filthy rich is your primary concern, though, there are far easier, and less stressful ways to go about it.
3. It’s OK to Make Mistakes (Sometimes) When Playing Poker
One of my biggest mental game issues was (and still is) getting frustrated with my own mistakes.
While the never-ending coolers and suckouts are annoying as hell, they’re an integral part of poker, and at the end of the day, there’s not much you can really do about it but take it in stride.
You can’t really control what cards are dealt to you, so it doesn’t make sense to get angry about it. It’s like getting angry because the rain is falling. What’s the point?
Avoiding making mistakes, however, is something that actually is within your control (at least theoretically).
So if you have some perfectionist tendencies, it’s quite natural to get upset about it, especially when the mistakes seem so glaringly obvious in hindsight.
You have a feeling you should have known better by now.
For example, maybe you made a bad call versus a big river bet, when you should have known better. Of course the tight player is never bluffing!
You also might get the feeling that every mistake you make is another step backward that puts you further away from your poker goals.
It destroys your win rate, and your confidence along with it, because every mistake negates all the good plays you’ve made before, and it takes you longer to just get back to where you were.
Poker is a never ending swing of ups and downs, and when the mistakes keep compiling, the downs seem to go on forever.
It makes you feel like you’re spinning in circles, without making any meaningful progress.
If all this hits too close to home, here’s the silver lining: if you’ve ever felt like this about your game, it’s actually a good thing.
Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. If you never make any mistakes, it doesn’t make you a genius.
It just means you’re not learning and you’re never trying anything new, and that is a mistake in and of itself.
If you’re aware of your mistakes, it means you’re expanding your circle of competence. You’re moving beyond what you already know, and are becoming aware of where your knowledge might be lacking.
If you don’t even know you’re making mistakes, you can’t expect to correct them, by definition. A mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.
You might want to consider adopting a Stoic philosophy towards poker, in fact, as I wrote about recently. This has helped me tremendously.
4. Progress is More Important Than Money (Especially in the Beginning)
If you’re anything like me, you were probably attracted to poker for the prospect of making an easy buck.
Sure, you might enjoy the game well enough, but you’d probably enjoy doing other things a lot more, like playing video games, watching a football game and so on.
The problem is, those other activities don’t offer any monetary incentive to do them. So with poker you get the best of both worlds. You get to do something you enjoy AND make money while doing it.
At least that’s how I figured it’s going to play out. So I started putting in an insane amount of volume while mass-multi-tabling online.
I figured I’m beating my current limit, so all I need to do is put in enough volume, build my bankroll, climb up the stakes, rinse and repeat.
Aside from the fact that I thought I had it all figured out, this line of thinking proved to be insanely naïve in retrospect.
Climbing the stakes is not only difficult in and of itself, as you’ll encounter more difficult opposition, but building a bankroll to do so is not a linear process, either.
It’s more of a one step forward and two steps back kind of process. So I kept on focusing on putting in the hours of playtime, while completely disregarding the studying.
After all, I’m beating my current limit, so what’s there to learn, anyway?
Then I’d climb the stakes, only to lose my hard-earned bankroll and having to go to lower limits and grind it out again.
Rinse and repeat.
It took me a couple of orbits like these to realize that:
a) I’m not as great a poker player as I thought and
b) I was overly focused on the end goal (i.e. earning a certain amount of money)
Therefore, I completely disregarded what I actually need to do to get there (i.e. study to fix my leaks and improve my game).
So if you feel like you’re spinning in circles without actually going anywhere, you might be aiming at the wrong goal.
Winning money playing poker is great, but it comes as a byproduct of improving your game.
Working on becoming the kind of person that can actually make money playing cards is far more rewarding than the money itself.
5. Just Have Fun, Even When You’re Losing
Anyone who has played poker for some time knows it can be an unbelievably punishing game. The bad beats never end, the deck goes cold for days and weeks, and your flush draws never seem to complete.
It can be emotionally and mentally challenging even at the best of times, and it’s no wonder very few people can actually win big over the long run.
But at the end of the day, it’s not all about the money. Like I said, there are far easier and less stressful ways to make money than playing cards.
The fact that we’re so overly focused on the end result, i.e. making money is what makes poker more stressful than it should be.
This is why you should in fact never be results orientated in poker, it will just cause misery.
On the contrary, there’s nothing wrong with playing poker just for fun.
In fact, that’s why most people start playing the game in the first place. People do things for a number of different reasons, money being just one of them.
Some people like the social aspect of poker, others play it because it’s intellectually challenging. Others just like the thrill of gambling. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these per se.
Whatever your motivation for playing poker might be, the point is this: enjoy what you’re doing.
Even on those awful losing days where nothing seems to be working for you. Have fun doing it or don’t do it at all.
There’s really no point in staying at the tables if it’s just causing you frustration and heartache.
Winning or losing, playing poker is supposed to be fun. If it’s causing strains or it interferes in some negative way with your personal life, it’s not worth it.
The very fact you’re actually able to play poker in the first place should make you feel incredibly grateful.
It means you have enough disposable income and free time to do something you enjoy doing AND even make money from time to time. When you look at the big picture, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
It sounds weird framing it this way, but yes, feel grateful the next time a fish sucks out on you, because a) you have a fish on your table and b) you’re able to afford losing money playing cards.
So smile and have fun. If you can’t do that, go do something else. The games will always be there tomorrow.
Sky's #1 Piece of Advice: Take Action With What You Learn
Action is the greatest teacher.
If I could go back and tell myself one piece of advice, it would be to practice every little thing you learn before you attempt to learn more.
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