Remember, in poker, you’re the variable at the table

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If you’ve played poker long enough, you’ve heard every excuse in the book. Even the best-intentioned of us will find a way to place blame on external factors. Excuses are obvious. What’s not obvious, however, is not putting enough faith in your ability.

I’ve had a number of recent conversations with a friend who has been “running bad.” When we dissect his play, I find he continually repeats one phrase” “It was a standard play.” Sometimes the phrase becomes, “It was the standard play.” The phrase is said not so much with bravado as it is with a matter-of-fact definiteness to it. That is, when evaluating his play, if our friend finds he made the standard play, then in his mind, that’s not the problem and let’s move on.

Not so fast. In many instances, there’s nothing wrong with the standard play, though poker is such a nuanced game that I’m not sure what the “standard play” is in most instances.

But, here’s my real problem with this line of thinking. When making the standard play becomes your mantra, where is your edge? Assume for a second that there’s a standard play for every decision. If everyone made the standard play, then over the long run, theoretically everyone would break even. Your only hope for winning is when opponents make more poor plays than standard plays than you.

My challenge to our friend is “Don’t you aspire to be better than the standard play? Aren’t you sick of coming home from a tournament lamenting the lack of cards?” If you play poker long enough, all the bad beats, lack of cards, cooler hands and whatever else can go wrong will even out. What won’t even out is how well you play and how much value you extract out of winning hands … how much you limit your losses in vulnerable hands. … how well you read your opponents and how well you mix up your game and exploit the weaknesses in opponents.

I could go on, but the point is YOU are the variable. The difference between winning and losing players is how well they recognize this. In every poker session, your edge should be you. This sounds simple, but all too often players let the game dictate their actions rather than influencing the game. There are countless ways to do this and plenty of great resources to help you.

If you’re content to make the standard play, you’ll win some and lose some, but you’ll never come close to maximizing your potential. There are so many things at the table you can’t control; make sure you utilize the most important weapon under your control … you.

— David Apostolico’s new book You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker is available as a Kindle download for $5.99. Contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.