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Irrationality in Poker

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Irrationality in Poker

We as humans act irrationally all the time in our lives. Our emotions often get the best of us when we prepare ourselves properly, when we are the most skilled in our profession, and even when we think we are going to act in an objective manner. This happens to poker players so often that I decided to address it here for the community as I have noticed with my own students that we as players MUST work on ourselves just as hard as we work on our technical games.

I'm going to address this topic with a few bullet points and I encourage you guys to add on to this topic yourselves, agree, disagree and really consider what I am saying because if we don't act as objectively as possible as players, then we are prone to completely eradicating all of our work we have put in off the table by letting our emotions and irrational thoughts destroy our win rates.

"It's not fair"

Is it fair that you put in 3x the work your opponent puts in, but he seems to run better than you? Is it fair that you keep getting it in as a 3/1 favorite, but that same opponent keeps sucking out on you? What is fair and unfair is all based on the perception of each person. In poker, we aren't entitled to any pot at any point. You and your opponent have the right to put your money all in and just because you get it in with more equity doesn't mean you deserve the pot any more than him.

Should you win more often than this hypothetical opponent when getting it in with more equity more often? Hell yes, but it doesn't mean you deserve the pot more than him. These thoughts are quite irrational and lead to poor play due to emotional triggers brought upon by these very thoughts. Instead of saying "It's unfair" we must start to implement thoughts such as "It's okay because I am making money here in theory" or "I need bad players to enter pots to win long term at this game". Players from my experience that start to let thoughts such as the negative ones described suffer from even more irrational thoughts such as "The game is rigged" or "I think I'm just meant to lose". These aren't rational thoughts and they are the death of many poker players.

No, it won't feel fair or just when you go through a downswing where you are making tons of +EV plays, but YOU ARE MAKING +EV PLAYS! That's all that matters. Think about that guy who is in a huge upswing and is just getting smacked by the deck over and over. Is he getting his money in good often? He may be, but what if we looked deeper into his play and saw he was making a ton of -EV plays? It might make him 2nd guess his results, but then again for a lot of players it may not and that's what leads me into my 2nd point.

"It's not my fault"

I've seen players get up from live tables when specific dealers sit down because they truly think that dealer is "bad luck" or "has it out for them". These players have experienced likely bad luck with these dealers and think that as soon as they sit down that bad luck returns. What if these players were just playing poorly when they lost? Nooooo right? Yes. Most players have irrational thoughts that take over any logic present in their minds when it comes to assigning blame and credit.

Ever noticed how most of the time when players win they don't claim luck, but rather try to justify their play by any means necessary? Ever notice how when they lose they blame the other player, the dealer, the site, and anyone that isn't themselves? These two phenomenons happen so often that you would think more players would notice them and take note, but it doesn't seem to happen. Very often, especially in live poker a player will blame the "fish" at the table for his recent short term lack of luck and many players at the table will conform and agree with that. They don't take the time to think that maybe, just maybe, the player that lost maybe didn't take the most optimal line.

It's very important to own up to our play and take as much responsibility as possible for not only our winning sessions, but our losing ones as well. Before you start thinking in what is very often a very irrational manner take an extra minute and objectively go through the hand/session. Be honest with yourself and be rational because if you aren't you're only costing yourself money and it won't be anyone else's fault.

"I can't win, so I should just give up"

Dwelling on outcomes is toxic to the process of improving as a player both technically and mentally. We become so tied up with the results of our sessions that we forget about the process on hand that is always ongoing. We must remain rational, objective and resit the irrational thoughts that lead us to wasting time pondering what happened or what could have been. We must look at these obstacles as opportunities to learn and improve ourselves, especially in a mental sense because if we don't then the only player we are hurting is ourselves.

The outcomes in a way don't matter and I know a lot of you are going to say "that's bullshit", but if you think about it the process is what really matters. Ever heard of the saying "It's not about the destination it's about the journey."? It's similar to that in a sense that if we continue to do what is necessary in the process of becoming a better player both mentally and technically, then in all likelihood the outcomes will take care of themselves. Can we learn from our outcomes? OF COURSE and that's where the process comes into play!

Whether you have thought that a session was unfair, not your fault or that you should give up playing all together just remember to keep in mind that these thoughts are often very irrational. Stay objective and continue on with the process. If you can learn to do this you will thrive as a player both on and off the table.

-Nick

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