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When I Was a Donk: Ed Miller

Top Pros Share Their Early Mistakes

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 14, 2011

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Ed MillerEd Miller is a cash game professional and specializes in educating small-stakes players, writing extensively for the $1-$2 and $2-$5 crowd. With degrees in physics and electrical engineering from MIT, Miller has developed the analytical skills needed to approach the intricacies of the game.

However, he wasn’t always a winning player. The 32-year-old experienced the typical growing pains everyone does while learning through trial and error on the felt.

Card Player caught up with the poker author to talk about a fairly normal beginner problem: looking for simple answers.

“I started playing poker in 2001. It was all limit hold’em back then, and after a few months of general “donking” it up, I bought and read a few poker books.

“I went from zero to hero in just 500 pages. I was now a poker genius and had the edge on all those $4-$8 fish. All those suckers playing any two suited cards, all those donks calling down with middle pair, had no shot against me.

“Except that I kept on losing for the next six months. I was flabbergasted. How could I be losing? I’d read books — plural.

“I remember vividly a thread I posted on a poker forum during that time. It was a simple hand, but it captured my problem perfectly. I raised preflop with Q-Q and got called in three places. The flop came king-high. My question was simply: “Now what?”

“Poker was supposed to have neat and tidy answers. I was supposed to be either ahead or not ahead. If I was not ahead, I should fold. If I was ahead, I should bet or raise. And if I was drawing, I should have the right pot odds.

“The thing is, poker isn’t black and white like that. To be good at this game, you have to embrace uncertainty. You have to stick your money in when you aren’t sure. You have to push drawing hands hard sometimes, and you have to make call downs when you’re pretty sure you’re beat. And when you have Q-Q and the flop comes king-high, you have to play it by ear. Sometimes you’re folding, and sometimes you’re putting in a bet or two.

“It was like a light bulb went off in my head one day. I finally understood this important principle, and even though I’d never booked a winning month at $4-$8, I decided to move up immediately to $15-$30. I knew I finally had it. My win that month erased all my previous losses. The next month I won more than $10,000, and I was off.”