In general, I prefer online poker to live. It’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s easier to manage tournament variance when you can play 100 tournaments a week, and, above all else, I can play in my underpants.
In addition, I do not have to smell my opponents, listen to their bullshit, or pretend to be interested in all their bad beat stories.
I hate bad beat stories, and as a good friend of mine once said to me “the length of a bad beat story is in direct correlation to how badly the person played the hand”.
What irks me more than just the concept of a player moaning about getting beat is when they are lying about the details of the hand to make the beat sound worse than it was, or to put responsibility on the Fates of Poker rather than examine their own play.
I know I sound like a mega-wuss when I suggest I hate poker players who are liars; after all, poker is a game of deceit and mis-representation. Nobody could win at poker if they always politely announced to the table when they were checking the nuts, or clearly explained that they were bluffing on the river.
What I mean is that I have no time for players who lie to themselves, and there is a massive difference between pretence and mis-direction against your opponents during a hand and lying to yourself about what happened after the hand.
One of my favourite things about live poker, that the online game cannot offer, is the social time in the tournament breaks. When I play online, I use the five minute breaks to have a lonely wee, or make some solitary toast, or do stretches, alone in the garden.
In a live game, I beeline for the smoking area (where all the cool kids hang out) and make some new friends. I don’t want to hear bad beat stories, but I do like to know where people come from, what they like to do and how they came to be playing there on that day.
When I played live a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting to a friend I haven’t seen for a while in the smoking area, and I could overhear a young lad who had been eliminated from my table just before the break recounting the elimination hand to his group of friends.
What actually happened in the hand was that he had limped UTG with AA. There was a middle position limper (I binned some rags and began rolling a fag) and the hijack raised to 5bb.
The young lad with AA called the bet and the limper came along.
The flop was K,10,8 (can’t recall the suits, but not vital I don’t think). Young Lad checked, and MP bet out for around half pot. The hijacker rolled his eyes and quickly passed, and Young Lad raised allin for around 5xpot almost instantaneously.
MP was clearly an experienced player, and he looked surprised at the bet, which he only just covered. He studied his hand, he studied the board, shook his head and said “Okay. I call. If you have a set, you’re good” and flipped K10 for two pair.
Young Lad let a couple of expletives loose and angrily showed his AA. The turn was an 8, and then the river a K. Young Lad said “shit call pre-flop , mate” and left the table.
When I heard him recounting the tale to his mates, it went something like this.
“I raised pre and there were two limpers. The flop’s K88 and I jam my whole stack, like, twice the pot, and he snaps me with K10. Like K10 is ever good there, right? Turn’s a 10. River’s a King. I had Aces up and I still lost. Fucking luckboxes. Luckboxes everywhere.”
I had an overwhelming urge to march over to him, grab him by his ear in true Maiden Aunt style and tell him to stop being a naughty boy. “Tell the truth, lad, or I’ll get me a Switch and make your ass sorry.” Instead I just gave him a mildly withering stare and hoped that he’d re-enter and I’d get to play against him later.
He caught me staring at him, and he looked directly back and nodded in recognition. He knew I’d been at the table, he knew I’d heard his bullshit story to his mates, but he showed no sign of being caught out by someone as a liar. He really believed his own story; he was lying to himself.
I used to do this too.
If I had the best preflop hand, and I got beat, I would manage to convince myself that it was a bad beat, irrespective of how the hand played out. If I lost a 100bb pot with AA, then it was always the poker gods conspiring against me, it was quite simply never down to my own shocking play.
It was painful and humbling to examine the truth and come to the conclusion that I played the hand badly, wrongly and foolishly.
No-one likes to admit they’re a twat, do they?
The psychology of self-deception is an interesting academic area; that we lie to ourselves every day about all manner of things is inarguable, and some might say, necessary.
When it comes to poker, self-deception is limiting, frustrating and eventually, expensive. It serves no purpose except to keep us in trap where we feel safe; a self-perpetuated Stockholm syndrome, protecting us from the reality that there are better players than us, that we make mistakes, that if we don’t work on our game regularly we will never improve.
The key to escaping the self-deception trap in poker is to force ourselves to confront the ugly truths head on. Was the other guy really so “extremely bad”? Or is our perception of the extreme a falsehood presented to ourselves, by ourselves in a subconscious attempt to protect our egos from our own harshest critic, which is, of course, ourselves.
It took me a long time to even begin to do this, and I still believe the best way to help yourself out of the poker self-deception trap is to analyse your own hands after a session.
Most poker sites have a hand reply function, or you can upload hands from PStars to Boom! and then watch them all, or (easiest option) you can invest in a HUD and watch every single hand from your whole session.
There was a point in my poker game where I felt like I was getting a lot of harsh beats at crucial times. Deep in tournaments, I’d be shoving in my 10-20BB stack with a premium hand, getting called by less, and losing.
I told myself I could not have done differently. Of course you 3bet shove 18bb with KK, and it is unlucky when the big stack calls you off with 89s and gets there.
Until I started studying every hand of the tournament, I never really questioned why I was so often in the spot of being the short stack at the table. I never seemed to have a decent stack in the late stages, I was always hanging about waiting for a premium hand and then getting it all in.
As I watched more and more tournament replays, I realised the problem lay not with my short-stack shoves, it lay with my play in the middle of tournaments; I was too often letting a medium/large stack bleed out.
It hurt my feelings a lot to realise that it was my own fault that I was not having great results, but the pain subsided, cured by using my new honest appraisal to study and address the leak in my game.
That’s not my only leak, there are loads I could tell you about, and probably lots that I haven’t recognised… yet.
Initially, I struggled to accept that a good chunk of my poker loss was unquestionably my own fault, and that I was not a good player; the truth really does hurt. Some days, it still hurts me, but I continue to confront it.
Am I just a maniac masochist then, who recognised the truth that I’m not a good player and still keeps on playing?
No, because as part of the same process, I also learned the truth that I’m better than some players. I recognised what stakes I should be playing at to come up against a majority of opponents that I can beat.
It hurt my ego to realise I don’t have the game to play in $100 online tournaments and I need to keep my arse in the micros, but it seriously improved my win rate.
If you’re playing poker for ego, keep lying to yourself. If you’re playing poker to win, then fine, lie to everyone else, but for the love of profit, be honest with yourself.
Here’s a short but interesting video introduction to the psychological concept of self-deception.