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The Most Neglected Skill

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Feb 22, 2012


Matt LessingerDr. Alan Schoonmaker just finished an excellent series of articles discussing the skills brick-and-mortar (B&M) players need, but that online players often neglect when they switch to B&M play. He listed four skills, all related to information-gathering and retention. While I agreed that they were all very important, I felt he left out the single most important skill: patience.

When I asked Alan about it, he said that he omitted patience because he didn’t think that it was technically a skill. I respectfully disagreed. According to Webster’s dictionary, one definition of a “skill” is a “developed or acquired ability.” Since many poker players have had to learn patience over time, I feel that it belongs at the top of Alan’s list.

I was definitely one of those players. In my younger days, I sometimes wasted money betting on craps and horse racing, two forms of gambling which offer instant gratification and require no patience at all. Once I began taking poker seriously, I realized that I couldn’t be successful unless I developed patience. So out of necessity, that is exactly what I did, and that’s what many online players need to do now if they want any chance of succeeding at B&M poker. And they need to exercise it not only when they’re playing, but also beforehand.

It’s easy to lose sight of how online poker offers instant gratification before you even start playing. You can log on in a matter of seconds and usually get into a game right away. If your preferred games are full, the wait is usually brief, and you can always do other things on your computer while you wait. Or, if you’re smart, you’ll open the games that you’ll be joining, so that you can watch your opponents and learn about them. Either way, you can make good use of your time.

In a B&M cardroom, it’s less likely that a seat will be available right away. You will usually have to spend much more time on a waiting list, and you often can’t sweat the table you’ll be joining. As a result, I see a lot of players (typically younger, former online players) pacing around the rail like bulls in a china shop, unable to sit still, checking the board over and over to see where their name is. When they finally get to the table, they’ve usually lost all semblance of patience (if they had any to begin with) and will get involved in the action right away, whether or not their cards merit it.

Somehow, they need to make better use of their waiting time. In general, they need to come to the cardroom with the expectation that they will have time to kill before getting a chance to play. Whether they bring something to read, or are able to do some form of meditation or relaxation technique, they must have some way to pass the time without losing focus. Otherwise, they will be entering a B&M game – a situation where they are already at a disadvantage against experienced B&M players – with an even greater disadvantage due to their pre-game impatience.

Then there is the question of whether many online players ever had patience in the first place. I have a friend who generally played four tables at once. He was essentially a breakeven player, who had the know-how to be a consistent winner, but admitted that his biggest leak was that he got bored easily and played too many hands. He recognized his biggest problem, which should have put him halfway towards a solution. But instead of directly addressing his leak, he basically found a workaround. When he felt that he was getting impatient and playing too many hands, he opened up two more tables. And if he found himself still impatient, he would open up two more!

When he told me that, it literally made me cringe. He was not treating his real problem; he was simply finding a way to avoid it. I’m quite sure that his EV went down when he added tables. Whether or not it went down by more than if he had stayed with four tables and played too many hands, it’s tough to say. But either one was a – EV situation, so in order to give himself the best chance for success, he should have learned how to be more patient. Apparently, he just didn’t have the motivation to do that.

I’m guessing many online players were the same way, and that might explain why some of them were multitabling obscene numbers of games. They claimed to be doing it because each extra table added to their profits, but in many cases I have my doubts. Maybe their need for action was just too great to sit around idle for any amount of time. With many online players, I don’t know if they ever actually developed patience, or just found ways to survive without it.

Now, many of those former multitablers are playing at a single B&M table, and I often see them making plays purely out of impatience. Here’s just one example: In a recent $2-$3-$5 no-limit game, the action was heads-up between a self-proclaimed former online pro and an extremely loose player who was basically the “live one” at our table. The final board was A-8-6-4-2 with no possible flush. The online pro check-called the flop, check-raised the turn, and made about a half-pot river bet. When the live one called, the pro announced, “Yeah, you’ve got me. Show me your ace.” When the live one turned over A-5 offsuit, the pro said, “Yeah, I figured you had something like that,” and mucked without showing.

I believed the pro when he said that he knew roughly what his opponent held. Online, his play may or may not have worked. But live, against this particular opponent, it hardly stood a chance. So did he misjudge his opponent? It’s possible, but I think it’s more likely that he was just tired of playing so few hands and doing so little with them. As someone who was used to playing more tables, our game must have seemed boring to him, and thus he ended up forcing the action. But if he wants to succeed at B&M poker, that’s something he must deal with.

All it took to beat the live one was straightforward, solid play. Instead he chose to get fancy. He might claim that his check-raise bluff was a move worth trying. I would argue that it was just made from impatience. Clearly a lone B&M game was not enough to keep his interest. If it’s not enough to keep yours, then you must do whatever it takes to acquire some patience, a skill too many online players chose to neglect. Otherwise, you might have to consider the possibility that B&M poker is simply not for you.

You might be asking yourself, “OK, I get it, but how exactly do I develop patience?” Unfortunately, I don’t know any easy answer. The best I can do is to describe how mine developed over time, and how certain friends acquired some. That’s what I’ll do next time. See you then.

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find Matt’s other articles at