You’ve probably heard of 12-step programs for addiction. These are the backbone of such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous. I’m not sure I understand why they work, not being an addict of any kind myself, but I do know they are successful – having seen many addicts weaned off of their addiction by going through these programs.
Without being too glib or disrespectful of these useful and successful 12-step programs, I’d like to use them as a springboard for an easy-to-follow list of steps you can take to improve your poker game.
This may seem obvious, but the first step in getting better at poker is to recognize, accept, and then ignore that over which you have no control. With the exception of skilled card mechanics and other cheats, you have no way of controlling the distribution of cards – it is out of your control. Accept that fact and move on. That which you can control will take up all of your energy.2
The laws of probability and chance are immutable. It is only within the context of these finite laws that you can exercise control. At the same time, however, your opponents may not be clear thinking and rational enough to acknowledge this. So you may wish to exploit their superstitions and illogical views by acting as if you are very lucky.3
You can control your emotions, your image, your play and your thinking. Vow to play your best game at all times.4
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and let your competitive efforts trump your ethics and morality. But you must resist those urges – focusing your attention on how you can improve within the ethical boundaries of play. To paraphrase an ancient rabbi,
“What does it profit us if we win a huge stack but lose our soul.”5
An honest self-appraisal is a necessary and difficult step in improving. Too often, in the dim light of what we wish to be true, we color what is true. To be successful you need to shine the bright light of objectivity on yourself and take note of what you see.6
This means not just buying books on strategy; not just reading these books; but learning and mastering the material. Poor play is the product of two confluent problems – ignorance and the inability to apply what you have learned. You must first acquire the former.7
Knowledge is a necessary but insufficient tool for improving your play. You must also develop the emotional and mental strength to do what you have learned is the correct action. What good does it do to learn that you need to fold Q7 when the bet has been raised and reraised if you call because you’re feeling lucky?8
A list functions as an amplifier of the mistakes you make but don’t often admit to making. By writing them down you starkly acknowledge at least to yourself what you are doing wrong. And then, as a document, it can repeatedly remind you of your shortcomings and what you need to do to correct them.9
You make these amends intentionally and keep track of their completion as you systematically and thoroughly address your shortcomings. In this way you will know when you have properly dealt with your deficiencies. Otherwise, you may be tempted to bypass the more difficult problems in your game.10
In this way you will have an up-to-date account of your progress at remediation.11
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Just learning and applying what you’ve learned isn’t sufficient to fully develop your best game. Mastery requires regular and consistent application. That only comes with the ability to turn into habit and routine that which you’ve learned.12
Ask any surgeon how he mastered his technique and he will tell you that it was by teaching another how to perform it. The same is true in poker. Build on what you’ve learned by teaching others. This can take many forms. One of the most popular is the discussion group Two Plus Two, where players discuss their thinking on the game, sharing information with those interested in learning.
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