Line between hero and zero not so fine

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The most exhilarating feeling is when you take down a monster pot, especially when opponents don’t see it coming. You feel like a hero, not a zero, you’re on top of the world, you’re bulletproof, nothing can stop you, “just bring it on!”

On the other hand, when you fail to make your draw, someone sucks out on you, or when someone simply outplays you, it’s common to lose your stack, your seat in a tournament, or worse than that, you lose your confidence and poise. They say it’s how you handle adversity that sets apart the balanced, confident player from the schizophrenic player who seems to bleed on their sleeve over each defeat or setback. Nothing feels worse than being a zero. Having lost your stack in a cash game, being bounced from a tournament without reaching a money seat, or just being humiliated with an ill-conceived bluff, a horrendous call, or when you have been exposed incorrectly slow-playing a monstrous hand, thus enticing someone to actually run your big hand down for the right price. Again we should ask: hero or zero? I think zero!

How about when you are at the tables and just suffered a terrible bad beat, or worse yet, a beat from an inferior hand (played by an inferior opponent), who catches a “miracle” river card to complete a gutshot wheel (straight), while playing you heads-up against your flopped set of aces, do you act like a hero or zero? Do you lash out at their play? Do you berate them as play continues and the rest of the table laughs inside as they watch your antics? Or do you accept the fact that your opponent paid his/her way to the river, and is entitled to catch his/her share of cards? It’s still poker, and sometimes they’ll get there, so don’t you really want them in the pots you are contesting?

I posed this same question (hero or zero?) on several website forums and I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts from a Luxor regular who has won multiple online tournaments:

“OK, it’s hard to think of heroes in poker. We are all there for one thing: to get each other’s chips. To me a hero is someone that will risk his/her own well being to help someone else, or at least to stand up for a belief. In poker, we are not doing either of those things; we are there for personal reward. But there are players that I do look up to in the game. Players that I would like to try and emulate. In a way, you can say they are my poker heroes.

To me it does not matter what level they are playing at. These are the players that you can just sense that they are serious about the game. They say very little at the table but they are always polite. They never criticize anyone’s play and fit into a table in a way to enhance a good mood, while they play in a manner that would suggest just the opposite. They are out for every last chip they can get, and when they leave the table you will never know by the look on their face if they have won big or lost big. To me these would be my poker heroes because they promote the game of poker.

“Zeroes, these are much easier to spot,” he said. “They are boisterous; know-it-alls that are only losing because “their opponents,” do not know how to play. They think they can run over a table by playing very aggressively, but then when they get beat are mad because their opponent did not fold. They sometimes are drunk with mouths that came out of the sewer. These players are zeros to me because they can very easily chase the fish from the pond.”

I would add just one more bit of observation. You don’t have to do anything spectacular at the tables to be a hero, you just have to avoid being a zero.

— Al Spath is the former Dean of PokerSchoolOnline, author of Poker Journal, and a private online and live poker coach (at Delaware Park Casino, Atlantic City and Las Vegas). He can be reached for private poker mentoring at pokerinstructors.com or alspath@alspath.com.