hen people start agreeing with me, I always feel I must be wrong.”
Oscar Wilde must have had poker in mind when he wrote that. You only have to play on the Internet for a short while to hear the hordes of unlucky experts bemoan their misfortune at having to play with idiots who don’t know a good hand from a bad one. “How can you call a raise with that rubbish?” they will ask. “It was obvious I had aces or kings!” If I am being abused verbally by other players about how badly I am playing, I always feel this is a good sign. These “experts” confuse their understanding of the mechanics of the game with the skill required to win consistently. The very idea that everyone knows what is correct is evidently wrong when applied to poker. To win consistently, you need to be able to outmaneuver your opponents, to mislead them, to take the best of it whenever you put your money in. Accepted wisdom is a fallacy in poker, less plausible than a gracious Phil Hellmuth. One needs to face the opposite direction to the accepted wisdom in order to beat the best players. Predictability is a fatal condition for a poker player.
There is a silent conspiracy in the world of poker. The underlying idea behind this conspiracy is simple. It goes as follows: “Poker is a game of luck, and when my luck is in, I will win. There is only one right way to play the game, and I already know how to do it.”
An attitude like this is enough to consign the majority of players to the “losers” category, and this is reinforced in the chat of many online players. Misery loves company. Somehow, the reinforcement helps maintain this head-in-the-sand approach, and one is stuck with a losing system. The first step toward a solution is recognizing that you don’t know how to win, or how to win enough in common with the majority of the other players. The trouble is that we prefer to be in agreement with others. That’s human nature. In poker, the concept of being in agreement with the majority has the drawback of being guaranteed to fail. Whom will you be able to beat if everyone knows what you are doing? If everyone knows what is correct, they will know how you are playing. What will your edge be?
I once heard a professional backgammon player explain it well. He finished off a game against an expert opponent by using a complex, sophisticated strategy, and one of the kibitzers behind him exclaimed, “Very well done!” The professional’s response to this was, “How the hell would you know?”
Generally, only an expert appreciates the expert play of another. If the level of skill displayed by top poker players was apparent to everyone, it would immediately be devalued. The fact that most successful strategy is counterintuitive allows the experts to retain their advantage over the recreational players. What is strange to observe is not only the way people will blame their luck, the dealer, or the random number generator for their failures, but how they blame the bad players they are playing against. They call them bad because they play in a more aggressive, wilder way. They know they are bad because they contradict accepted poker wisdom, and if only they weren’t there, the self-appointed experts would be winning their rightful share!
It is hard to imagine that intelligent adults could use the reasoning most poker players apply, especially since poker has an easy way of keeping score. Poker is a meritocracy. If you lose all the time, it is unlikely to be just bad luck. Coping with the fluctuations of poker is difficult, and even good players can lose all their money. But part of being a winner at situs poker is being able to manage that fluctuation and to understand the nature of the beast you are dealing with. Often, the poker skills required in addition to playing ability are overlooked by good players. But the one thing you can be sure of is that the knowledge and skill required for being a successful player is not part of any mythical accepted wisdom. You will need to discover the methods for yourself. If you are a stubborn, bloody-minded, opinionated type (as I am), you will have a head start at being at odds with other people and you will at least be facing the right direction.
Call me a cynic, but my experience tells me that there are a very small number of successful poker players who know what they are doing, and a much larger number of losing ones who don’t.
So, when people start agreeing with me, I get worried.