Check the facts, develop mental toughness

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Variance is a big part of poker. Luck plays a huge part in the form of bad beats, opponents’ mistakes that work out for them, the capriciousness of the cards that run against the odds in a cruel way. I could go on and on. If you’re going to play this game, you have to develop the mental toughness to withstand those streaks. Poker is not for the thin-skinned.

However, at some point the variance evens out. Fortunately, in poker, there’s an easy way to keep score: You’re a winning player or a losing player. We all have bad sessions or runs that last days, weeks and months. While we should be constantly evaluating our play, there’s no need to panic after a few bad sessions if you honestly and objectively think your play has been sound.

The moment of truth becomes more revealing over time. If month after month you’re not getting the results you expect, then it’s safe to say the problem with your play goes a lot deeper than variance.

Bill Parcells, the former Super Bowl-winning coach, summed up the variance and bouncing ball breaks succinctly: “You are what your records says you are.”

That statement is equally applicable to poker. Over the long term, skill wins. So, take time to check the record and the facts that support it. Keep an accurate log of your play and own your record. Don’t make excuses. If you aren’t winning but you remain committed to winning, then take actions to turn around that record.

Assess your play and perhaps your game selection. The first thing I’d suggest is stepping down a level or two. Next, be more surgical in your assessment. Don’t just keep rough statistics about overall play. Measure the types of hands you’re losing and what’s causing that. Measure how you could have gotten more out of winning hands. Take notes, talk to other players, read books and experiment with different approaches.

Before all of that, you need to have an honest assessment of yourself. Remember, you are what your records say you are. If you’re a losing player, don’t go into denial. Results over time are based on micro decisions that add up over time. We tend to only focus on the big pots or hands, but every decision you make contributes to your results, and poker is game of ongoing constant decisions every hand.

Yes, a bad beat may eliminate you just short of the money. But if you were short-stacked at the time, examine how you could have had a larger stack so your tournament life wouldn’t have been at risk in the first place. Check the facts and turn around your record.

— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.