Every professional poker player knows that their biggest challenges are not the cards they’re holding or the other players on the table. It’s far from it. Their real demons are the ones that come from within.
In other words, what stands between you and financial or professional success are the flaws in your technical, and possibly your mental, game. And these flaws are costing you money and keeping you from taking your skill to the next level.
Since poker is a highly complex game, and every poker player has their own individual strengths and weakness, I’ll focus on the six most common flaws that poke holes in your game and drain your resources, motivation, and self-esteem. Keep reading below to find out what may be holding you back.
1 – Tilt
At the very top of the list of demons that haunt players are concepts like tilt. In its most basic definition, tilt is when you let your emotions take over while your logical thinking and all your experience jump out the window.
This is a common leak and most players, even the successful ones, have experienced it at some low point in their career or another. And while some people often associate tilt with anger, this dangerous flaw can manifest itself in various ways. You could be sad, or scared, or distracted.
The common thread here is you’re not on top of your game. Emotions are running high and your mind is temporarily unavailable. These are the moments when you lost big hands and inflict long-lasting damage to your professional career. You go from playing your A-game to plodding through a C-game or worse in a short time.
How to Fix It
Tilt sneaks up on you and before you know it, it’s already calling the shots and urging you to chase improbable draws and accept challenges when the odds are stacked up against you.
So, the first thing you should do when you notice the signs is stop playing. Take a break and go out for a walk or even call it a night and cut your losses. This will save you a lot of money in the long run and prevent tilt from taking root in your A-game and infecting it like a virus.
Away from the tables, you can benefit from yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques to help you become a more composed person. Gardening and fishing are famous for teaching you to be patient and live in the moment without letting expectations drive you to the edge.
2 – Losing Focus
You have probably seen this happen many times. You’re in the middle of the game and another player takes out their phone and starts tweeting. Or even makes a call.
It’s distracting. Not just to the other players, but to the player with the phone. Instead of studying the other competitors and looking for weaknesses and physical tells, they’re watching a YouTube video right in the middle of a poker game.
If you’re playing poker online, then you’re aware of the number of distractions vying for your attention. Chatting is by far the number one distraction that most players engage in. You might be playing on multiple tables and still have your Skype open while getting alerts from your Whatsapp group chat.
How to Fix It
When it comes to poker, multitasking is a recipe for disaster. A player who’s serious about their game and treats it as a profession needs to have all their focus on the table and the opponents.
So, start by closing all the chats, apps, and browser tabs, and focus on the game. When it’s poker time, make sure there’s nothing around you to get your attention. It might help to switch off your phone or at least put it on silent.
3 – Showing Weakness
In the wild, predators smell fear. It’s an actual thing, not a myth. At the tables, poker sharks smell fear, too. They don’t have a superpower or anything. It comes with spending a few thousand hours playing and observing players.
Weakness in poker manifests itself in many ways. You often fold when faced with an aggressive raise or a three-bet. You check the river after a three-barrel bluff. Or you stray off your patented style and start playing faster or slower than usual. You let your opponent get under your skin and you show it.
How to Fix It
First off, you need to put on your poker face before you sit at the tables. If your eyes betray you, wear dark sunglasses. And if your face reads like an open book, practice your emotionless look in front of a mirror.
If your weakness has more to do with your technique than your tells, then you need to study the game and learn how to project strength. C-betting is a winning strategy and so is moderate bluffing. Fear and poker don’t mix. So, leave your fear at the door.
4 – Underestimating Tells
It’s one thing to learn to hide your emotional turmoil, but it’s another thing to understand using tells to your advantage. That’s usually a breakthrough in your game, when you learn to exploit the fish at the table.
Poker experts have always maintained that what you’re holding should be the least of your worries. That’s because exploiting a weak player rarely has anything to do with the power of your hand.
And that’s what sets apart the winning 5% of poker players from the rest of the herd. If you want to win at the tables, you’ll need to watch the opponents for physical tells.
- Freezing after betting
- Cracked voice
- Hiding their face
- Shifty eyes
- Checking hole cards
How to Fix It
Keep your eyes on your opponents at all times. You’ll learn more from watching them play, process their hands, and make decisions. This helps you spot their flaws and use them to your advantage.
Even if you’re playing online as opposed to live poker, data is your best friend. Use statistics and game analysis to uncover the weak players. The tells here are more about strategy and technique than about physical signs. But they’re still effective weapons you need to add to your armory.
5 – Lack of Discipline
Some poker players, especially beginners, don’t know when to end a session. This is especially true if they’ve been on a hot streak all night and they just keep going.
Your body and mind have a limit. You can’t stay focused for long hours. After a while, you need to take a break, stretch your legs, and recharge.
If you keep going, you risk exhaustion and depleted energy. That’s when your mind threatens to shut down like a phone running out of juice, and your decisions become erratic.
How to Fix It
Treat your poker career as you would any other demanding profession. Understand your physical and mental limits, note them, and learn to work with them.
Some players quit a session after winning a number of buy-ins. Others leave the table after a few big losses. And some have a fixed number of hours or tables that they play which they try not to exceed.
6 – Obsessing Over Results
Your poker journey is a long one and it’s full of perils. One of those perils is the lack of tangible results to show for all the long hours of grinding. You work hard, you study, you analyze, you give it your all. Yet, you don’t have a single tournament title under your belt.
This is all part of the game. Cold streaks and the steep learning curve are part of poker.
Another sign of this leak has to do with poor bankroll management. You play high stakes well beyond your bankroll and your expertise levels. You run through a few busts per session without considering that you might be up against sharks at the table.
How to Fix It
To beat variance, you should focus on your play volume rather than on your bankroll. You need to focus on the process itself, not the results. If you feel your game strategy is lacking, take the time to join forums and post questions and hands to analyze.
It also pays to learn good bankroll management. The money you play with isn’t money you’re afraid to lose. It’s not your grocery money or even your tuition fees. Always play the stakes you can afford.
Whether you play live at the casino or you prefer online poker, the rules of the profession are invariably the same. Fitness, both mental and physical, is the key to a long poker career. But so is your strategy.
Once you’ve mastered the concepts of table image, position, stack size, and implied odds, it’s time to pay attention to the mistakes you make at the tables and how much money they cost you.
After you plug those leaks, only then will you be on your way to being a well-rounded player who can handle a few bumps on the road to poker stardom.