You need to be truly analytical at the poker table



I had an 11-hour session recently where I started out stuck and spent the rest of the session trying to claw my way back into the black. When I got close to even, I decided to play one last hand if I was dealt anything close to acceptable starting cards.

As it turns out, I played middle suited cards, rivered a flush and walked away with $203 more than I had that morning. I spent the next 20 minutes congratulating myself on my smart decision to play the final hand, and, of course, on winning. Anyone see a problem here?

I hope you do. Just about everything that happened after I decided to play that last hand was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And I’m more than a little ashamed. I expect more from myself.

You need to be analytical. You should get into the habit of reviewing your play during the game. There will be a lot of key hands during each session that need to be looked at and dissected. Was it luck? Was it well played? Was it a combination of skill and luck? Should you have played it differently?

There will be a little time to review after each hand, but you should make a note of the important ones and spend more time analyzing them after the session.

Here’s the hard part: making objective assessments. You think it’s easy? Not according to just about any psychologist on the planet. We have a natural tendency to think only the best of ourselves and that’s what keeps us from getting to the top of our game.

For a detailed overview of why this happens, check out Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets. She explains how “self-serving bias” causes us to think all of our wins come from superb playing and our losses are bad luck.

But that’s not reality and we need to learn to be honest with ourselves. That’s the type of introspection that we need to practice if we want to improve.

So what did I do that was so wrong? Here’s my analysis while I was driving home after the session:

• Deciding to play almost any two cards on my last hand is not good poker strategy. Why lower my standards just because it was my last hand?
• My opponent had kings and raised preflop. Knowing his style of play, I should’ve realized I had little chance of winning.
• I congratulated myself? Really? Congratulations should be reserved for skillful play, not for sucking out on your opponent.

Be analytical. Start analyzing your hands during and after your next session and make sure you’re not guilty of self-serving bias.

— Willy Neuman is a prop player at Ft. McDowell Casino in Arizona in the winter, but plays at Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Ill., most of the year. Email him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine