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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Grinding Online - Patience

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There is a famous story about the legendary conqueror Genghis Khan.  He was riding in the mountains one summer day, hunting with his falcon, and became parched by the heat of a blazing hot sun.  For a long time, he was unable to find any water, but finally, he came upon the tiniest of streams trickling over a rock.  He took a cup out of his hunting bag, and drop-by-drop, the water filled the vessel.  When it was, at last, full, he raised it to his lips, ready to quench his thirst.  At just that moment, however, his falcon flew straight at him, knocking the cup from his hands, and spilling the precious liquid all over the stones. 

The great warrior repeated the process, and once again, just as he was about to drink, the bird dashed the cup to the ground.  Now Khan was furious, and he said to the bird, “Do not interfere again, or it will be the worse for you”.  This time, as he filled the cup with one hand, his other hand gripped his razor-sharp sword.  As he raised the filled goblet a third time, the bird plummeted towards the cup, and with a slash of its talons, knocked it away yet again.  Just as he did this, Khan swung his sword and sliced the falcon in two, killing it instantly.  At this point, the water had stopped falling from the rocks above, and Khan climbed up to take water from the stream’s source.  It was only then that he saw the dead poisonous snake coiled in the pool, and realized that, if he had drunk the water, he too would be dead, and that the falcon he had so brutally murdered had saved his life.

How does this story relate to poker?  So many times, it feels as if you are making headway at creating a serious bankroll, step-by-step, dollar-by-dollar, only to have one brutal miracle card caught by an opponent wipe out your entire buy-in.  Or, in a tournament, you chip up gradually, building up a stack that can go deep, only to have the maniac with the big stack bust your pocket aces with 3-2 offsuit.  What do you do in this situation?  Do you immediately try and take out your sword and recklessly attack the next table or tournament you play?  Do you respond with rage, throwing your computer against the wall, or spewing a stream of vile chat at the person who took you down?  I would suggest that how you respond when the cup of water you have worked so hard to gather is spilled all over the rocks is the key to your ultimate success as a poker player.

Having the patience to sit through junk hand after junk hand, and not be so anxious to get involved in the action that you compromise your standard of play is the mark of a mature, and probably successful, poker player.  It is important to remember that each and every hand is a unique probability event.  Just because you’ve gotten nothing but 9-2 offsuit for the last hour, it doesn’t mean that you are “due” to have a big pocket pair on the next hand.  Just because you haven’t hit a set with any of your pocket pairs for the last two weeks, it doesn’t mean that the next one is bound to hit.  In fact, you still have only a 12% chance of flopping the set the next time around.  The great poker players never look at a small sample of hands, or even an entire session, but instead consider that a lifetime is just one long poker game, and there will be wild ups and downs, as well as long stretches where not much seems to happen.  The key is to maintain patience and equanimity, to be able to approach each hand with what the Zen masters call “beginner’s mind”, as if you have never seen it before, while at the same time using a lifetime of knowledge to analyze the hand as it unfolds.

Players who can maintain this state of watchfulness find winning plays by taking advantage of situations as they arise.  They are more aware of when they are clearly beaten and fold their hands, rather than hoping and praying that, after all the horrible things have happened to them, THIS time the poker gods will be kind to them.  They are more attuned to when their opponents are weak, and find the right times to push someone else off of a hand, even when they don’t have anything themselves.

How can you develop the patience to become one of these players?  The first step is in acknowledging that you are not there yet, in being brutally honest with yourself each time you become reactive at the table, and throw money away based on what you hope will happen rather than on what is actually happening in that hand.  When you see that this is the case, consciously begin to take deep breaths, and slowly count to 100.  Hit the “sit out next hand” button, and take a few minutes to get up, get some water or some fresh air, and realize that your impatience is working against your goals as a poker player.  When you are able to return to the table without being emotionally stuck in the events that have transpired, then do so.  If you are in a tournament and you didn’t bust out, resist the temptation to think that you can’t afford to sit out any hands while you settle back into patience.  The fact is that you NEED to sit out a few, because if you don’t, the likelihood is that, in your emotionally charged state, the rest of your chips will swiftly follow the ones you just lost.

Developing the patience to approach each hand with no judgment, no expectations and the desire simply to play your best at every moment is an invaluable skill that you need to cultivate to be a top player.  When you can consistently approach the table in this frame of mind, your cup will always be filled with cool, clear water, and you bankroll will be similarly full.

See you at the tables!

*Read Clearspine's Blog*

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