How well do you know yourself at the poker table?



Ben Franklin once said, “(T)here are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self. Of those three, I think the last one is the most difficult, especially when it comes to poker. Before we examine yourself, let’s try a different angle first to illustrate the problem.

Since it’s often easier to recognize the faults in others rather than ourselves, take a minute now to reflect on the game and attitudes of players you know. How often are they truly honest about their play? Do they often attribute losses to external factors, such as the bad play of others, lack of cards, the dealer, bad beats, etc.? Poker has a million excuses for those looking for one. It’s extremely easy to place blame on everything but your own play.

So many times after a tournament, I hear a player lament the bad luck on the hand that caused his elimination. In many instances, the player may have lost a hand in which he was ahead, but he’s missing the larger point.

How did he get to that point? If he was eliminated, then obviously his opponent had him outchipped. How did he get so low in chips in the first place? I recently was eliminated when I moved all-in with pocket nines and was reluctantly called by the big blind who was holding pocket threes. He spiked the three and I hit the rail. Sure, that stung a bit.

However, the lesson in the tournament for me was a couple of mistakes I had made in the previous hour that took me from well above average to short-stacked. That is what I focused on afterward and made sure to learn from my mistakes. I would love to hear a player tell me about all the mistakes he made along the way that contributed to his downfall rather than focus all of his energy on the one hand that caused his elimination when he was short.

Now, let’s do some self-examination. Be completely honest: How often do you attribute your losses to factors outside of your control? How often do you attribute your losses to your mistakes? Certainly, there will be times when you play well and lose. That’s poker.

Being able to honestly reflect and discern when you’ve made mistakes and how you can learn from them marks the difference between a player who can learn, grow and win from a player who will continue to mire in mediocrity with little arc. Human nature hasn’t changed since Ben Franklin’s time, but our access to information and resources has improved tremendously. If you can be honest in your self-reflection, your game will improve immeasurably.

— David Apostolico is the author of several poker strategy books, including Tournament Poker and the Art of War. You can contact him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine