Why You May Not Be As Good A Player As You Think You Are, And What You Can Do Today To Become Better One, Part 1.by: Lou Krieger©
World renowned player, author of over 500 publications, several poker books and co-author of "Poker for Dummies", Lou Krieger wrote this article. We publish it with the permission of the Royal Vegas Poker room where Lou works as a host.
Ask any poker player if they consider themselves to be good at the game, and to a man - or to a woman; after all, they're not exempt from poker ego either - they'll assure you that their skills range anywhere from good to great. I don't know about you, but when I hear "good to great" spouting from the lips of just about every player I run across, I'm assuming that nearly everyone at the poker table considers himself or herself to be "...better than average."
But that can't be. Average, by definition, places one squarely in the midst of the pack, and if everyone were a "good" player, the definition of average would simply be a bit higher on some overall scale of poker skills than most of us would be prone to place it. It's an interesting phenomenon, and one you won't run across in many other endeavors, particularly in competitions where the skills are visible and on display for all to see.
Try this if you don't believe me. Pick a tough lineup of poker players. Tournament champs, cash game players, it doesn't matter. Then ask any local amateur player - perhaps he's a guy who plays small limit games at his golf club or once a week in the back room of the Elk's Lodge - how he'd fare against a tough lineup like that. "I can hold my own," or something similar, is probably what you'll hear in response. But if you'd ask that same guy about his expectations playing one-on-one against a professional basketball player, or what his chances would be in a round of golf against any touring professional, or how many rounds he'd last with a professional boxer, he'll probably offer a slim-to-none assessment.
Even if you picked a game like chess, where no particular physical skills are required, you'd probably get a similar response. So why the disparity where poker is concerned? Maybe part of the reason has to do with poker's macho nature. After all, most poker players are guys, and we're supposed to be good at the game; it's one of the ways we define ourselves. But it doesn't hold true with chess. We've never talked ourselves into believing we are superstar chess players, and haven't vested the same chunk of ego into that game. It is demeaning, we believe, to lose at poker. But if we were going mano-a-mano against Kasparov, or anyone even close to his skill level, we'd realize that we had no chance at all, and so there'd be no shame at all in admitting it.
But that's only part of the story. The other part comes from the iceberg analogy. You know, only one-eighth of an iceberg is above the surface; the remainder is below the water line. Poker is like that too. When we watch good players, whether in a tournament or a cash game, we only see a small portion of their skills at work. Good plays and bonehead blunders alike are frequently obscured from view because we seldom see our hero's cards, or those of his opponent. Moreover, many of the money winning and money-saving skills demonstrated by superior players are neither as dramatic as a Kobe Bryant slam-dunk, nor akin to a daring sacrifice that results in a checkmate from a chess maestro. In chess, even if we can't always assess the viability of a move while it's occurring, we have the blessing of hindsight. Every move is recorded for posterity and can be analyzed for years to come. So that grandmaster's ploy, which may have looked like the kind of blunder only a patzer would make, might really be an innovation of major proportions. But in poker we usually don't see what's going on, and there's generally no historical record to draw on.
But what if you could watch a terrific poker player at work; what would you hope to see? In one situation he might fold a hand like A-J under the gun. Two rounds later he might raise with the same hand in the same position. What's going on here; is just guessing? Maybe. But maybe there's more to his apparent whimsical decision-making than meets the eye. After all, the mix of players at the table might have changed. And even if the names and faces remain the same, poker is always in flux. There's a lot going on at the table that we can never see, even if we had access to the cards being played - and most of the time that's a mystery to us too. This is poker's "it depends" quotient - the seven-eights of the game that is difficult to discern from watching, simply because much of it is obscured from our view. Even when it's not, the view from the table - from the battle's front lines - is usually different than it appears from the rail.
So our amateur watches the pros and doesn't see much difference from what he witnesses in his home game. Oh sure, the stakes may be higher, and he might notice that the games are both tighter and more aggressive than his Tuesday night game back home, but there are still pairs and straights and flushes, draws that never materialize, and bluffs that work and those that don't. And because so much is hidden from view, our hometown hero has a hard time seeing the relative differences in skill level, and as a consequence frequently sees himself on a par with the best players in the world. Something like that's just not going to happen when he's watching Kobe Bryant take off from the foul line and dunk the basketball, because our hero knows he needs a trampoline and a stepladder just to reach the rim.
To be continued in Part 2 - see Septembet 2006 news.
About Lou Krieger
Lou Krieger learned poker at the tender age of seven, while standing at his father's side during the weekly Thursday night games held at the Krieger kitchen table in the blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood where they resided. Always adept at sports and games, Lou's natural abilities enabled him to keep his head above water during the high school and college poker games he frequently played in. But it wasn't until his first visit to Las Vegas that Lou took poker seriously.In the early '90s Lou Krieger began writing a column called On Strategy for Card Player. Aimed squarely at hold'em players, the column is chock full of advice for beginners, low-limit, and even experienced mid-limit hold'em players. When not writing about poker, Lou (who resides in Long Beach) can be found playing $15-$30 or $20-$40 Texas hold'em in the card casinos of Southern California.
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