Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


If You’re Not Slowly Getting Better

You have a couple of options

by John Vorhaus |  Published: Jun 07, 2011


John Vorhaus

There’s a saying where I come from (the land of made-up sayings or sayings stolen from forgotten sources): If you’re not slowly getting better, you’re slowly getting worse. This saying is applicable in lots of situations. I’ve seen its importance lately in launching my new novel, The Albuquerque Turkey, where I’ve had to leverage absolutely every available resource — Facebook, Twitter, and even slipping rogue mentions into this column — in order to rise above the clutter of new book releases. But I’m not here to talk about promoting novels, I’m here to talk about poker. And, man, if there was ever a realm where the axiom about slowly getting worse is true, it’s poker.

This is, of course, not news. You need only ask any “old-timer,” and by old-timer I mean someone who was playing in 2003 or earlier, and he’d tell you that the game is much harder to beat than it was. Online or in the real world, tournaments or cash games, today’s poker player knows more, reads more, discusses more, trains more, and, above all, plays more than his counterpart of even only a decade ago. The days are gone when you could get by with a straightforward tight-aggressive style, beating the game on the margin of lesser players’ mistakes. These days (especially in big tournaments), there just aren’t enough lesser players to go around. They were there in record numbers for a while, but they either improved enough to compete or disappeared. In other words, they slowly got better or they slowly went broke. And now, they’re gone. And the Department of Fabricated Statistics estimates that today’s average poker game is 57 percent tougher than it was before the Moneymaker boom.
But as I said, this is not news. The question is, what’re you gonna do about it?

You have a couple of options.

Option No. 1: You can go hard after new knowledge. You can join a training site; lurk on the forums; read every book and magazine article you can lay eyes on; pore over hand histories; master ancillary poker software; keep copious notes; practice exquisite bankroll management; discuss poker to exhaustive lengths with your peers; study episodes of High Stakes Poker like they’re Dead Sea Scrolls; meditate; exercise; go vegan; and eat so many smart foods that your body is literally bursting with flavonoids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. That should make you sharp enough to beat the best.

Assuming that you also …

Always bring your A-game. Never go on tilt. Pay attention to every hand, even the ones you’re not in. Never play when you’re tired, drunk, cranky, distracted, stoned, or sick. Don’t spew your bankroll into leaky bets at craps, blackjack, or roulette. Know when to quit. Know when not to quit. Avoid killer mistakes at crucial times. Don’t get crushed, either financially or emotionally, by variance. Have great reads. Have great skills. Have great math ability. Have great memory. Have great courage. Have … Have … Have … Well, that list certainly goes on and on, doesn’t it?
OK, so if you have massive amounts of dedication, overwhelming and broad-based poker skills, and a perfect poker temperament, you can succeed in today’s increasingly competitive world of professional (or high recreational) poker. But what if you don’t have those things? What if, for example, you simply don’t have the time to stay abreast of every late-breaking trend in poker? Or, what if your ol’ memory ain’t what it used to be, or your stamina, or your fortitude? Is there yet hope for you? Can you still be a poker god?

Sadly, no.

No more than you can be a major-league baseball player or a concert pianist.
Tools alone are not enough. You also need, again, the ability and the drive to beat the best of the best. Absent that total package, you can’t realistically hope to rise to the top of the poker world. Bad news, huh? Yes, bad news, but there’s a saying around here (the land of a million sayings): “It’s not the end of the world, it’s not even the end of the week.” Just because you can’t be a world-class poker player, it doesn’t mean you can’t play poker.

This brings us to option No. 2: Play within yourself. If you know that you’re not going to devote all that time, energy, and effort it takes to become a top-flight poker player … don’t. Enjoy poker on your own terms. Pick games that you can beat (yes, they’re still out there), and play at levels that fit both your comfort level and your bankroll. Read what you read, learn what you learn, and don’t worry that the poker world is leaving you behind. The whole poker world isn’t, just part of it is.
I’ve seen poker players actually feel guilty about not devoting the right kind of time and attention to their poker studies. Instead of making themselves better, they’ve just made themselves miserable. I’d hate to see that happen to you. So, look, if you have the poker fire in your belly and want to go after it hard, by all means, go hard. But if you don’t have that burning passion, don’t sweat it. Poker was a recreation long before it was a profession, and it’s still a recreation for the millions and millions of players you never see on the tournament trail. If you’re measuring yourself against Ivey, Duke, Ferguson, and every young gun who sets the Internet ablaze, maybe you’re using the wrong metric. Measure yourself against the players you play against regularly. Can you beat them? Then, you’re fine.
If you can’t beat them, it’ll cost you some money to play against them, but that’s OK, too, as long as you’re not playing with money that you can’t afford to lose (and that’s called staying within your bankroll). Of course it’s more fun to win at poker than to lose, but remember that you always have the option to just have fun. You have the right to play your game your way, at whatever level of expertise you choose to seek. No one can take that away from you.

Here’s one last saying for you to consider: “Love what you do; if you don’t love it, you won’t do it well.” Now me, I love writing, and I think I do it rather well (as evidenced by my new novel, The … oh, never mind). I like poker. I don’t love it enough to throw away everything else I love in service to it. In that, I think I’m in pretty good company. Golf has its share of duffers. Poker has its … let’s call them … puffers. Puff along, friend. Enjoy your poker. Don’t let the rest of the world drive you crazy, because then you’d be miserable, suffering by comparison.
And then, poker wouldn’t even be fun. ♠

John Vorhaus is the author of the Killer Poker book series and the poker novel Under the Gun. He resides in cyberspace at Photo: Gerard Brewer.