Brought to you by Americas Cardroom

Ego and Poker

Posted by BlackRain79

ego and poker

I know that one of the biggest problems that I have struggled with at the tables over the years is being too competitive or maybe too egotistical. Ya I have a big ego I said it. Every time I sit down at a poker table I think know that I am the best player at that table. I don't sit in games where I am not 100% sure of this. I expect to win every single time. Yes, every time. Call me delusional, it's ok, it wouldn't be the first time.

I have had this feeling ever since I was a kid. I simply can't stand to lose at anything. It didn't matter what it was, video games, board games or sports. I have always been a really sore loser. I don't mean that I complained and threw a tantrum every time I lost at something. Perhaps a few mice, hockey sticks and cookbooks have gone astray or into walls over the years when playing poker. But really, when I lose at something it is more that I feel like my soul has been crushed. It can take me hours or days sometimes to get over it.

This is not all bad though. Well it kind of sucks when you are playing monopoly with the family at Thanksgiving. But for many top level athletes and poker players this is actually a very useful personality trait. Since they hate that feeling of losing so bad it often propels them to work even harder to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I Have to Lose Sometimes...WTF?

But the problem of course is that poker is different than most other games and sports. As I talked about last time, poker is a game where bad beats and coolers (i.e., things that you can't control) are simply going to happen and they will obviously impact your short term results. And there is no end to them, ever. Even the best player in the world could lose to the worst player in the world on any given day with a bad run of cards. But of course we know that he will not lose over the long term.

While losses are a given in any other sport or game as well I think poker has more of a short term luck factor which makes it even harder for a highly competitive person to deal with. If you take the game of chess for instance which is based almost 100% on skill, a high level grandmaster is hardly ever going to lose a match. There is literally no way that you can get lucky versus him. Now that is an extreme example but I am still not aware of any chess grandmaster who has ever gone undefeated in his career. They all lose eventually.

At least they can blame it on themselves though. In poker this is often not the case. I personally can't accept this fact (that I just have to lose sometimes) and probably never will. But I think I can still be aware of it even though I don't accept it. There are some steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of this over competitiveness while playing at least.

Don't Put a Face to Your Opponents

I think one of the biggest things for me has been learning to not put a face to my opponents. I try to think of them as one big donk. The individuals are all just one part of the same monster that I need to beat. So I turn all avatars off, I never use chat and I try to play a lot of tables at once so I don't see the same person too often. Zoom poker actually aids in this greatly since you rarely get involved with the same people that often.

But still, I know that this attachment to individual players has been one of my biggest problems (and I suspect that it is for many others as well) over the years. Especially when the same player has stacked you a few times in a row with something ridiculous a lot of people will snap and focus all of their concentration on this one guy in a desperate attempt to get their money back, but more importantly, to save their ego. And to that end, they usually start playing very wildly and badly towards this person. The key of course is to actually put other people on tilt towards you. I will have much more to say about this in a future article.

But back to the topic at hand, you really should try to think about the game in the same manner as the casinos think about all the tourists that frequent a place like Las Vegas each year and dump millions to them. It's all math. They don't put a particular face to any bet. It's simply X amount of people walk into the casino each year and wager Y amount of money on average in a game like roulette. The mathematical edge on the roulette wheel for the casino is some number above 50%. They will win over time, the simple math dictates this. They don't care about tourist Joe who came in there and picked the right color 5 times in a row and walked away with a fistful of their money. Because there are a million Joes. They will all collectively lose to the casino eventually.

And so it is the same in poker. One of the things that I find most interesting is when people complain about someone who "hit and ran" them. Now I know that this often happens with HU players which is a very high variance and emotional game. But I still chuckle when I see hugely profitable high stakes regs complaining about this all the time on forums and how it is such bad manners etc.

They are putting a face to the player. "That donk bad beat me!" I need to get him back! Why? Another donk will eventually sit down and dump it all back to you and more. Or maybe that donk will bad beat you too and it will be the next one who gives it all back. The point is, you know the money is coming back to you eventually. Why get so worked about an individual match? Casinos don't get all bent out of shape like this. Neither should you.

Don't Bring Your Ego to the Tables

Now I am not advocating some sort of Buddhist philosophy here. But I am in a sense. You need to learn to let go more at the tables. As a result of not putting a face to our opponents we can learn to say "gg sir" and move on. If somebody is consistently beating you at the tables it really is ok to just get up and leave. Whether you move to another table or just quit for the day is up to you. And yes, you can do this even if it is a complete donk! If you know that you are steaming and playing badly versus him, you actually become the donk.

Something that I regularly do is leave the table if I have an aggressive 3bettor on my direct left. A lot of people will advocate going to war with him and showing him whose boss with a bunch of light 4bets and such but why? He is probably a halfway decent player if he knows how to use aggression like this. And we know that it is difficult to make money off halfway decent players. They shouldn't be the reason that you are at the table. Fish should be the reason that you are at the table. Number two, and perhaps more importantly, you won't be able to overcome the positional advantage that he has on you. Given two players of equal skill levels the one with position will always have a big edge.

So hopefully a few of these tips will resonate with some of you guys at the tables. Remember to not get too wrapped up about beating individual players but rather think of them as one collective whole. If you leave a table because you are steamed at someone or they are 3betting the shit out of you all you are really doing is making a strategic adjustment versus the mass of players that you are playing against. People who think only "pussies" get up and leave don't understand the game correctly and it usually shows in their results.

As for accepting losing, meh, can't help you there. I am terrible at it. My tips though:

  • Try not to break anything too expensive.
  • Don't play next to windows. Can be too tempting to toss the computer out of it!
  • Only play poker with cheap mice and cheap keyboards if you have a tendency to caveman smash.
  • If you know that you are tilting badly...for the love of God just quit!

Next time I am going to talk about quitting and stop losses in more detail.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Tilt at the Micro Stakes

Posted by BlackRain79

tilt at the micro stakes

The 8 million pound elephant in the room when it comes to poker, and especially with less experienced players at the micros, is tilt. It's something that everybody talks about and suffers the effects of to some degree, but hardly anybody really knows how to go about dealing with it in a truly effective way. I have worked with over 50 people now in the year and a bit since I started coaching. I get every student of mine to fill out a short questionnaire before we get started and one of the questions that I ask is "list your weaknesses as a poker player." After briefly skimming over the answers to that specific question from all past students I would estimate that about 90% of them listed tilt as a weakness. And not just any weakness. Almost invariably they listed it first before anything else!

Now I am not a psychologist. I can teach the technical side of the game and when I work with people "what to do with AK in this spot" type discussions comprise the vast majority of our time. I wrote a 251 page book on the micros but there is a reason that only 6 pages at the very end actually focus specifically on how to combat tilt. I haven't made a single DragTheBar video focused solely on this subject and have scarcely discussed it in detail on my blog.

Tilt is just such a difficult subject to approach. And that is reflected in the amount of literature, training videos, and forum talk on it. So it's not just me. But managing tilt is at least have the battle in this game! In fact it is closer to 100% for many people especially at the micros. So I am going to try and talk about it in a bit more detail over the next little while starting with this article.

Everybody Tilts and Everybody Runs Worse Than Everybody Else

The truth is that nobody is tilt-free in poker. As long you are human you are going to tilt. So the main issue here is controlling the extent to which you tilt. And that is where there is a wide gap between the winners, breakeven players and losers in this game. I have tilted off god knows how many thousands of dollars in my poker career. I would like to have that money back but my emotions at the time chose to give it away instead. Poker is a game that will drive anybody mad at certain times. Just give it some more time if you haven't seen it yet or even if you think you have. Here is an example of a very experienced, solid winning player going through a 3 month soulcrushing downswing right now at NL50 and NL25. Fun stuff!

I get emails all the time from people complaining about all the bad beats and coolers that they get and that if it would just stop they could finally become the winning player that they know they are. They tell me that they must be the unluckiest person in the history of the game. And they ask me if I have ever heard of a run of cards this bad before. No, in the 6 million+ hands that I have played it has all been roses and daisies! I have received so many of these types of emails now that I actually just created a canned reply, "bad beats happen, coolers happen, the best players rise above them blah blah blah" so I don't end up wasting so much time responding to them anymore.

I am always reminded of one of my favorite poker quotes of all time from an extremely old post by "Irieguy" on 2+2.

"Everybody will eventually run worse than they thought was possible. The difference between a winner and a loser is that the latter thinks they do not deserve it."

For the vast majority of newer players who think they run bad one or both of the following two statements is very likely to be true:

  • You haven't run nearly as bad as you think
  • Even if you have, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Predict the Future

The thing is, you just have to accept variance at some point. When you start taking this game seriously you need to look at it as if you signed a contract. You are in it for the long haul. And the long haul in theory is whatever amount of time you continue to play this game for. For many that will be years, decades or even a lifetime. The long term is actually over at that point, not before it.

If you play a reasonable amount of volume you know full well that you are going to get horrifically bad beat and coolered every single day. Back when I used to grind like a maniac I would actually prepare myself mentally for sessions by simply quantifying this. I would assure myself that today I will run KK into AA 3 or 4 times. I will get stacked by two outers a similar amount of times and fish will nail their flush or straight draws on me at least half a dozen times. Also I will stupidly pay off a nit or two which actually tilts me more than anything!

All of these things are going to happen. Predict the future. You will be right! So why get mad about it when it happens? You knew it was going to happen right?

All Sounds Easy in Theory

Yup, sure does. It is easy in theory but nobody executes it perfectly in real time. I can say all these things to myself before my session begins and even foresee it all. Nostradamusaments. But I still tilt to some degree and throw away some money nearly every time that I play. It is just not possible to not get mad at least a little bit. But I would say that I have had my tilt under control for the most part for quite some time now. When I tilt, it is more like mini tilt. A bad call here or there. I might play a few more hands than I should, 3bet a little bit more, make a silly 4bet bluff from time to time and double barrel in some bad spots.

In essence I make small mistakes here and there but am able to prevent myself from making the crippling mistakes that hold so many back. Barreling off stacks on wild bluffs is not something that I do. Making desperate hero calls in big pots with marginal hands is really rare. Open shoving, nope. Jumping stakes, definitely no.

Quitting for the day, shutting the computer off and going to do something completely different when I know that I am just banging my head against a wall...yes, most of the time. But I am pretty stubborn as well so sometimes I will just power through 10k hands playing my C+ game trying to break it as well. Usually to no avail but the key thing is that my D, E or F games never see the light of day no matter how tilted I am. I am always at least marginally +EV.

Some Keys to Reducing the Impact of Tilt

Confidence in Your Abilities

Firstly, I know that I am a winning player because I have clear evidence of my success. And let me preface that some more. I know that I am a winning player in the games that I play in which are the micros NL2-NL50, nothing else. I have overwhelming evidence based on millions of hands to support this. So no matter how bad it goes in the short term, I know that I will show a profit in the long run. This creates confidence, the most powerful force on earth in my opinion, no matter what the endeavor.

What if you don't know if you are a winning player though? What if you just started a few months or even a year ago, are a fairly low volume player and your results are no better than breakeven or worse? Well this is a problem of course, a big one in fact. I think this is something that only you can know based off of your experience playing the game. Do you honestly feel like you are a winner in that game? And don't bullshit yourself by chalking it all up to bad beats. Are you actually a winner in that game? Unfortunately the only way to find out for sure is to put in the hands. I would suggest 100k at a bare minimum. They don't all have to be at the same limit though.

Trust the Process

Secondly, and as a result of the previous point, I trust the process. I know that the fundamentals that I have developed over the years and the tweaks that I continue to make to my game both at the tables and away from them simply work. When a fish sucks out on me I think about how I made money on that play even though I lost in this specific case. I know that mathematically he is giving me money if we run this exact same scenario 10, 50 or 100 times. And the great thing about the long term in poker is that you get to do exactly that! And maybe not against that specific player but against the collective multitude of bad players, you will. I will have a lot more to say about this next time when I discuss not putting a face to your opponents.

Math (even though I am not very good at it) is a beautiful thing. I remember sitting through philosophy lectures in college and the prof would be rattling on about how 2+2 always equals 4 in any conceivable universe. It is an a priori truth. That is, it is true regardless of any physical factors. And so it is the same with math as it relates to poker. If the guy got it in bad versus you and happened to win this time so what? No amount of voodoo or wishful thinking can change the fact that he is simply giving you money over the long run. That is the reality of the situation.


A lot of people say that having a big bankroll is key to fighting tilt as well. I am not sure that it matters as much as it used to though. I think proper bankroll management is kind of a given these days. I think at the micros downswings by winning players (6max or FR) above 30 buyins are pretty rare. Most people who play for a living or are serious side income grinders all have more than this and get pumped up by rakeback anyways so it is not that big of an issue. If you have been living under a rock or think that 5 buyins represents a solid bankroll strategy then this will apply to you though.

Rigged? Lifestyle Choices and State of Mind?

Obviously everything that I have discussed above assumes that you are past rigtard theories. Also, I don't really want to discuss lifestyle choices and state of mind when playing either because I have also discussed all of that before. Online poker is not rigged and you should never play drunk, tired, angry etc. Eating right and regular exercise will also go a long way. I think most professionals and serious side income grinders know this kind of stuff these days. You can't just show up and expect to crush anymore. If you want to have success and make good money at online poker then you have to have a solid commitment to it both away from and at the tables.

Next time I am going to discuss some of the key factors that can lead to tilt such as personal entitlement and ego especially as it relates to your opponents. But for now I just wanted to lay the groundwork for how we should approach tilt in general. First, recognize that it is a problem that everybody faces and a massive one at that. You are not alone. Second, having confidence in your own abilities and trusting the long term process that poker is will be paramount in any tilt reduction strategy.

Over to You

What kinds of strategies do you use to keep yourself in a positive state of mind and reduce your tilt? How big of a factor do you think tilt plays in your game?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

The Beast

Posted by QTip

I'm a part of America's Cardroom's promotion called The Beast. They have point system designed and it's something of a progressive rakerace. A couple weeks ago I accepted the invitation to participate.

It has been a while since I've went into grind mode...a good two years or so I guess. In the last few days I've put in about 100k hands battling it out against Matt Amen. It's been a lot of fun so far. But more than that, I've learned - and relearned - a few things. I'll most likely create a video or two on what I've learned throughout the experience. But until then, you can catch me at

See you all in the forums.

Filed under: Uncategorized 9 Comments