Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You Gotta Have Heart

The 10th and final decree in the 10 Commandments of Poker is: Thou Shall Be Fearless/Have Heart. Heart is also the third (and perhaps most important) of the three Emotional Edges in this Bug's List.

But what the hell does it mean to "have heart" when you play? Great question. I believe it has a lot of different meanings that overlap and compliment each other, as well as overlapping and complimenting other Edges. Specifically, playing with heart means:
  • Play Fearless. "If you want to live, you have to be willing to die" in both cash game sessions and tourneys. In a sense, this is an extension of bankroll management, but it's more than that. You can't play scared or be unwilling to pull the trigger. If you are, then you don't belong in that game.
  • Trust. You have to trust yourself, your reads, your strategy. This means you have to come prepared to play at the table, and then go through with that game plan. This is poker, so the cards don't always cooperate, but they 100% will let you down if you let yourself down.
  • Act! If the correct action (i.e., most EV) is to bet/fold, then do so. If the correct action is to 3bet a bully, then do so. If the correct action is to fold, then what are you waiting for? Muck that hand. This is all related to Trust, above. In an early incarnation of the 10 C's (that was focused on Limit Poker), the Guru included one that said simply "Bet the River," which meant that you have to maximize value when the opportunity presents itself. You cannot hesitate.
  • Have a Killer Instinct. Again, this one is related to Act, above. You have to be willing to check raise your own mother if it maximizes your expected value. The time for niceties is off the table; on the table is akin to being on a field of battle. Don't ever let up-- because your opponents aren't going to.
  • Never Whine. You voluntarily elected to play a game that is rife with short-term variance. Whining just proves that you had no business being in that game in the first place. A great quote from the otherwise non-great film GI Jane was taken from DH Lawrence's poem on self-pity: I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself. Be the bird. Don't tell bad beat stories. Ever.
  • Be an Ambassador to the Game. Don't lecture. Don't berate. Don't gloat. Don't be an asshole. Instead, be the player that the others at your table don't mind losing their money to.
  • Never Give Up. We've all heard the legendary Jack "Treetop" Strauss story of a chip and chair. It happens more than you think. Hell, Greg Merson was on the brink of elimination in this past WSOP ME halfway through the event, but came back to win it all. Too many players take a beat, throw up their arms, and then say, "F it, I'm shipping it all in..." when they don't have to. Rage against the dying of the light.
  • Play Patiently. This is an adjunct to the whole Discipline Edge, but it also belongs here. Poker is a game of the long run. Pick your battles; don't force the action; don't try to swim upstream against a strong downstream current. The cards will come back your way, but sometimes you simply have to wait for them. Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Yes, I know. These bullet points all sound like bullshit pop psychology words. Trust yourself. Act! Be one with the game. Blah, blah, blah, right? Wrong. At the heart of poker is, well, having heart. It's a game that you voluntarily elected to play. So why aren't you' playing it to the best of your abilities? Why aren't you accepting of the the bad along with the good of the game equally? A huge part of this game is, quite simply, in your head. It's about your mental attitude. Studies have shown that people can tell themselves to be happy-- and then are happier in the long run. Why not apply this to your time at the poker table? Don't worry; be happy... and have heart. Your pocketbook will thank you.

All-in for now...


  1. "be the player that the others at your table don't mind losing their money to."

    I have a friend (great poker player) who, when he wins a pot, often says I got lucky. He may have been ahead the whole time, he may have been on a bluff or whatever, but he often says that.

  2. Great post! Thanks for the motivation coach! :-)



  3. MOJO, I do that too!

    Be friendly, crack some jokes on yourself, and always say "nice hand" it is hard to get away from those hands.

    I just got lucky!