It’s OK to make some mistakes in poker

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I’m writing this on New Year’s Day and while I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, especially when it comes to poker as poker is a game of never-ending learning, I thought I’d offer a framework for improving our games.

The biggest mistake I witness at the table and at times am guilty of myself is being afraid to make a mistake. That’s right. The biggest mistake most players typically make is being afraid to make a mistake.
Poker is a game where you receive instant feedback on decisions. Couple that with those decisions coming in front of nine peers who most likely will continue to play with you and it’s easy to see why people are afraid of making mistake. Don’t be.

Famed investor Peter Drucker has said, “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year; people who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” The point being your rewards are much greater with taking risks and if the odds are the same why not take the risk?

Poker is much the same, though the mistakes will be at a much higher rate. Assume you’ll make two critical mistakes a session whether you play super tight or with some aggression. If you’re playing with aggression, your win rate will allow you to withstand a couple of mistakes. It’s much harder to withstand a big mistake when you’ve been playing super tight.

Here’s something to consider: You will learn a lot more from your risk-taking mistakes than you will from your non-risk-taking mistakes. If the ultimate goal is to keep developing and become a consistent winner, learning is of utmost importance. No matter how good you are, you’ll always make mistakes. Nothing in poker is static. You’ll constantly be playing new players with their arcs. Evolve with them and ideally, stay one step ahead of them. You can only accomplish that by taking calculated risks.

Let’s be clear that when talking about risk, we’re talking about taking calculated risks based on experience you believe increases your overall profit rate. A bluff into a big pot may need to only work one in three times to be successful. Taking risk for the sake of taking risk is just foolish and reckless. You’re better off playing roulette as your odds will be much better, though still a losing proposition.

Knowing the opportune times to take a risk will come with experience. The only way to gain that experience is to start taking some. If you’re having trouble getting over that mental hurdle, remember the biggest mistake you can make is being afraid to make a mistake.

— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable is available on Kindle. Contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.