The seven deadly sins

People tilt because of emotions, and some of the seven deadly sins come into play here. In fact they all do, to greater and lesser ex‐ tents – the least important being lust which can for all practical pur‐ poses be excluded unless a pretty lady is watching and it compels you to make an “impressive” play to show her your skills. Similarly gluttony doesn’t play much of a part in a poker player’s downfall either under normal circumstances.

Anger is an interesting emotion in that unlike all the others it has a good chance of actually helping a player if it is directed at your op‐ ponents. If you win it’s against a player you hate, and if you lose it’s against a player you hate, so this will focus your efforts in a big way to make you do everything you can to win.

Pride and vanity come into play also and are related to the idea of honesty which, as discussed already, is very important. If a player is not honest with themselves they give in to vanity and pride and think themselves better than they really are. This can lead them to sit in games they shouldn’t be playing. These are games where a player of the imagined skill level might be expected to earn more money, but – in actuality – our misguided hero will be expected to lose.

Envy can also lead a player to play stakes higher than they should to mimic and try to obtain what other players have. On the other hand it could serve as a driving force to make a player improve. Perhaps this could work, but even Star Wars made the point that if the pow‐ ers acquired by converting to the Dark Side are strong, they are not worth giving in to. So use negative emotions at your own risk.

Sloth is a serious problem for poker players too. Laziness will slow a player’s learning greatly (as well as their win rate). Learning slowly takes a little hard work, and learning fast takes a lot of hard work. If a person puts in no hard work at all they will experience no learning. Again, learning is the key to success in poker so you have to be vig‐ orous and energetic in its pursuit.

The other problem with laziness is that it will very directly make you win less money at the table. In almost all jobs people get lazy and even if their boss catches them the consequences might just be some sharp words. However, in a way, poker has less luck involved than other professions – the cards do not lie and it is just simple math that rewards good play and punishes bad play over time. If you are lazy a little bit you will be punished a little over time, and if you are lazy a lot you will be punished a lot. The choice is yours.

The worst problem at the table is greed. Most people want money, and a lot of money as fast as they can get it. But that’s not the way things work in poker – acting on your emotions and desires won’t help. Just because at a given moment you are impatient to get more money or get it faster than you normally do, this doesn’t mean you can act on this and get it. Greed needs to be pushed aside and ig‐ nored when playing poker.

For many people poker is simply a job. But unlike other jobs the pay isn’t steady. In other jobs a person knows that for an hour worked, he will gain an expected amount in his paycheck. Poker is different and people can go on losing streaks for long periods of time. This person might then think “well this sucks, I’m not playing poker for my health – I want my money now”. This is greed since they want money immediately. But that’s not the way poker works because that emotion will make them play worse and lose money. This is a good opportunity to gain an edge over your opponents because most people are very seriously affected by a long term downswing, so if you can be not affected much that will be a huge difference and thus a huge edge over your opponents.

Similarly, after a player has lost a good deal of money in a session sometimes he becomes focused on winning it back rather than play‐ ing good poker. When this happens a player becomes concentrated on winning a big pot and as a result plays bad poker. This is a critical mistake and will cause you to lose a lot of money.

For example, let’s say you have Q‐J, raise pre‐flop and get called. Then you flop top pair and bet the flop and get called and then an inconsequential card comes on the turn. Now normally you’d check here to keep the pot medium sized with a modest hand such as top pair, medium kicker. But because you’re down a buy‐in and you want to win it back you bet the turn. If betting the turn here was cor‐ rect, you would do it all the time. But it isn’t because your hand isn’t good enough to go all‐in with and if your opponent raises you must fold and he won’t call with a worse hand. Instead of winning your money back, you will lose more.

When you are only focused on winning big pots you neglect small pots. In short‐handed play marginal situations arise frequently in small pots. It is a costly error to forfeit all the small pots because you are only concerned with winning a big pot. Most of the time big pots are just the result of luck, like pocket aces running into pocket kings. These kinds of hands will even out in the long run, so your advan‐ tage is outplaying your opponents in the smaller pots, which will add up quickly. Also playing every hand and all the small pots well is crucial to frustrating the opposition. If your opponents have an easy time in the small pots they will feel relaxed and be playing well when the big pots arise. However, if you are really outplaying them and making them feel bad in every single hand they will become frustrated and play the big pots poorly. This last point is critical.

There are a few other traits that don’t fit into the seven deadly sins that are worth discussing. Curiosity is present at the table a lot if you are playing good poker and trying to figure out what your op‐ ponents have. But when you reach the river and your opponent bets and you are curious what he has but you are pretty sure he has you beat that first reason should be ignored. Another problem that can arise is boredom. Boredom will lead to a lack of focus and a lack of thinking that will make you play worse. It could also lead to forcing the action to make things more exciting

The last of the problems that will be discussed here is desperation, or a lack of confidence. Maybe there has been a bad run of cards and for a while you simply cannot win. In psychology this is called “learned hopelessness” and it leads to people doing really stupid things even when history has taught them they cannot win. How‐ ever in poker we know that unreliable feedback can sometimes teach you to do the wrong things. On long downswings, you should not give in to desperation or stop making plays that are normally good plays because in a recent unlucky streak they have appeared to be bad.

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