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Good or Great

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jun 25, 2014

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Gavin Griffin“When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.” – Walter Payton

Growing up a Chicago boy in the 80s, you were required to idolize Walter Payton. He was the greatest thing about the Bears at the time and was a joy to watch. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I was listening to a podcast and one of the hosts, Daniel Van Kirk, recited this quote by “Sweetness” that really got me thinking more about him and about greatness.

Not long after, I played in a tournament at the LAPC at Commerce. There was a kid at my table whose name I don’t know. He seemed to be a good player and I’m sure he’s quite successful. You didn’t even need to ask him though because he let everyone know right away that he was too good for this silly $1,500 buy-in tournament. “This thing is going until 4am? Well you guys can just have my chips because it’s not worth my time to be here. Seriously, I’m just going to go all-in blind.” He made sure to tell other people how badly they played their hands and how well he played his. I remember one of them because I was involved and I thought it was hilarious. I raised from under the gun (UTG) with red aces. He flatted next to act and a certain Young Man called along with a couple others. The flop came king-high with 2 spades. The big blind (BB) checked, I checked, and so did the rest of the field. The turn put up a third spade and I checked again. Our villain bet something, everyone folded and I called. The river was a fourth spade, we both checked, and he showed down pocket kings for top set.

He exploded about how unlucky he was and how perfectly he played his hand. He made sure to let us know for the next 10 minutes how he laid a plan to flat call so the active three-bettor behind us would three-bet and then he would get it all-in. He couldn’t stop talking about how unlucky it was that the guy didn’t three-bet behind him because he would have been able to get all the chips in and suck out with K-K versus A-A. Some twisted logic boosted by a tremendous ego.

Attitude like his is at the forefront of some debate in the last couple months about how young poker players and old school guys go about their business. Joe Hachem commented about how to improve the state of the game and he mentioned people like this guy who have to prove to everyone how much they know about poker. I think it’s true, there are plenty of these people in the newer generation of poker players, but I’m sure there were plenty in the older generation as well, we just don’t have access to them because they’re not around anymore. It’s the truly great ones that kept their mouths shut about how good they are (Hellmuth is the exception that proves the rule), entertained their opponents when they were winning or losing, and kept raking in the dough that have stuck around to this day.

One other component of greatness that my opponent that day didn’t seem to grasp and that I see on a regular basis at the casino where I play is a desire to play your best no matter what limit, buy-in, or game you’re playing. All of the greats in every sport that I’ve heard of or read about have this in common: Whether they’re playing for the biggest championship in their respective sport or playing a game of ping pong for no money at all, they compete to the best of their ability, every time. In poker terms, look at it this way. Once you’ve chosen to play a game or a tournament, they’re all the same regardless of buy-in or game size. This is something the villain of the story didn’t get. It’s totally reasonable to look at a structure sheet and decide that a $1,500 buy-in tournament doesn’t make sense to you based on your expected hourly rate, same thing for a $2-$3 or $5-$5 no-limit game. If that’s the case then, don’t play. I heard someone say the other day, “I’m a winning player at $10-$20 but a losing player at $5-$5 because the game is too small.” It’s entirely possible that the game is that much better at $10-$20, but if you’re not taking the game seriously at $5-$5 so much that you become a losing player in what is a much easier to beat game, perhaps you need to reevaluate your approach.

Every time you go out to the casino to play a cash game or a tournament, every time you sit down in front of your computer to play online, you should be prepared to give your best effort 100 percent of the time. When you do sit down to play, let your playing do the talking for you. Remember that it’s your choice whether you strive to be good or great. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG