Pommo #3

Pommo highlights the dangers of playing poker with a chip on your shoulder

Ego can often be a big factor in choosing the right games and ultimately winning money at poker

Over the past few months about 90 percent of my online poker-playing has been heads-up; as such I’ve come to think of myself as something of a heads-up ‘expert’. So I fully expected to go far in the World Heads-Up Championship in Barcelona in May.

It came as a bit of a shock to the system then to be eliminated in the first round. At first I was livid. I’ve never been one to take defeat easily, and the manner of my defeat (I lost half my stack on the first hand) made it even harder to take. I walked around Barcelona for a while contemplating why I was so angry. Eventually it came to me – my ego was hurting. I’ve had a fair amount of success at a young age so it’s fair to say I’ve had a bit of an ego at times. Sometimes it’s aided my play but in Barcelona I decided it was costing me money and opportunities in tournaments.

Big head

Ego can often be a big factor in choosing the right games and ultimately winning money at poker. It’s something I feel qualified to talk about, as for a long time I was a player who let my ego decide when and where I was playing, to my detriment! Of course, it doesn’t hurt to exude a bit of arrogance at the poker table, but like so many things in life, it has to be in moderation. I find it helpful if you sit down at a game thinking you’re the best player there. When I feel like this my confidence is high and I’m in good form. You mustn’t, however, have a lack of respect for the other players; you should still think that you’ll have to play your best poker to win.

Confidence bordering on arrogance can help you, but only as long as you don’t allow it to make you sloppy and complacent. So if I’m saying arrogance will help you win, when does ego become a bad thing? Well, it goes hand in hand with having respect for the other players’ abilities, as well as appreciating that you can’t always win and that sometimes luck just isn’t with you. Some players just can’t accept being beat, and there was a very good example of this on TV recently.

There’s a US show currently airing on some of the poker channels called High Stakes Poker. It features some of the best players in the world playing in a very high stakes cash game. It also features one Phil Hellmuth, who you might already know has a slight ego problem. In one show his ego literally tears him apart, and it should be a lesson for every poker player who watches it. During the session he plays badly and refuses to let players bluff him. The funny thing is, no one tries to bluff him, but every time someone bets into him his ego tells him, ‘Hey, don’t let these players push you around, don’t they know who you are!?’ He gets unlucky in one pot where he holds K-Q on a K-Q-x flop, and is up against Q-Q, but in the same programme Antonio Esfandiari also has some unlucky situations, loses big pots, and just accepts that’s the way it goes.

Now it’s not for me to criticise players who have achieved things far greater than me in the game, but Phil Hellmuth is a prime example of someone who has proved he’s a great player, but nowadays is one huge walking ego. The fact he’s sitting down wearing a Phil Hellmuth cap and jacket may give this away.

Big game

As well as making you play badly at the table, ego can also affect your game selection. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had the choice of two different cash games and ego has forced me to make the wrong choice. My ego has told me to choose the higher stakes game, even though it may be full of good players, when at the same time there’s been a slightly lower game running with much more value and where I could have made more money.

Similarly, Phil Hellmuth is not considered to be a great cash game player, yet ego tells him that if there’s a big game going on, he HAS to be seen to be playing it. It’s a terrible mistake to make, and ultimately an ego will cost you money at the table.

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