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Mind Over Poker

A Lesson From Others

by David Apostolico |  Published: Oct 01, 2010


“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” — Carl Jung

I recently came across the above quote from Carl Jung, and, of course, it got me thinking about my poker game. I contemplated what used to irritate me and what still does, and what it all means. I thought I’d share my findings in this column.

One of my biggest pet peeves used to be the lengthy amount of time that others often take when weighing a decision. I’m very impatient by nature, and it used to drive me nuts to wait for an opposing player to make a decision about whether to call, fold, or raise. Then a few weeks ago, I was playing in a private game in which we got into a discussion about the amount of time that people take to contemplate their decisions. Another player said that I was one of the worst offenders. My immediate reaction was to take offense.

Then, I remembered the above quote — and it got me thinking. I can always recognize when players are posturing rather than contemplating. That is, they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and they know they are going to fold, but they put on a show first. Or, they have a monster and want to act like they really have a tough decision to make. While I find this irritating, I also find it telling. I am also fairly adept at deciphering when someone is facing a genuinely tough decision.

While I take pride in not giving off tells, I do often take my time when contemplating decisions. I try to mix it up by also taking some time when I don’t have a tough decision. However, how much am I giving away? And what does it say when I instantly call? I may be giving off more information than I bargained for. As a result, I am trying to streamline my decision-making process. I avoid the instant reactions and take a few deliberate seconds for most moves. I’ve tried to greatly increase my decision time for the tough decisions, except for when I’m facing an all-in bet heads up and don’t have to worry about giving away information.

I always try to be brutally honest about my own play through rigorous self-reflection and analysis. I also try to spend equal time analyzing my opponents. I have even tried to find faults in my opponents that I may share. However, I think there is a big blank spot when it comes to irritating things. None of us like to think of ourselves as irritating. So, when we notice something irritating in others, we pretend that we don’t engage in the same behavior. Since we should always be looking for ways to improve, I am going to take more notice when a player does something irritating, to see if I ever engage in the same behavior.

I’m sure that we’ve all witnessed a friend complain about something in someone else, and we’ve thought to ourselves, “What are you complaining about? You do the same thing.” Now, I’m going to think about how often someone has whispered that about me and my poker game. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of several poker-strategy books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War, and Compete, Play, Win: Finding Your Best Competitive Self. You can contact him at