4 Ways Poker Goes Against Your Instincts

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We talk a lot on this blog about how poker skills can improve your life. It’s true that you improve a lot of your talents when playing poker. You can read people better, keep your head cool under pressure, and develop a keen sense of intuition that most people lack. However, there are a few areas of poker that run opposite to how life works in the real world. Poker won’t make you worse at anything, but there are some natural life instincts and skills that get in the way of your poker game. Knowing what these are will dramatically improve how fast you master the game.

1. Poker Violates Your Natural Learning Process

Since the beginning of time, we have learned how to act and what to do from trial-and-error experience. It was the same for cavemen 10,000 years ago as it is today.

We jump off a ten foot high cliff and it hurts. Lesson: Don’t jump off cliffs that high.

We eat strawberries and feel good. Lesson: Eat strawberries.

We try to eat a pinecone and it taste bad. If we succeed in eating it, we have a bad stomach ache. Lesson: Don’t eat pinecones and don’t force yourself to eat things that taste awful, no matter how hungry you are.

In poker, however, that simple trial-and-error logic will get you crushed at the table. Suppose you have three Aces and two Kings, so you bet your entire stack of chips. Some lucky newbie takes you down with four 2’s. Lesson: Never go all-in when you have the best possible Full House in the game.

Or suppose you have a 4 and a 7 and you fold. The flop then reveals the other three 4’s. You would have won if you stayed in! Lesson: Always keep betting when you have a 4.

Those are the lessons that both your conscious and unconscious mind are taking in when you play poker, if you are not being careful. You often get rewarded for bad play and get punished for good play. This is why poker is one of the few things in life where practice doesn’t make perfect, at least not on its own.

How do you counteract this? Learn the actual statistics of poker and bet according to your odds instead of your past game experiences. You’re doing yourself a great service by reading a blog like this because it’s giving you information that you’d never get on your own. Experience in poker does help, but only when you are learning the theory away from the table along with it. 

2. Motivation Doesn’t Help

In sports, and employment, motivation and passion will help get you to the top. When Rocky faced Clubber Lang in Rocky 3, he was unstoppable because he had the “Eye of the Tiger,” which is full commitment to winning, no matter what.

In poker, being die-hard on winning will only screw you up. In fact, a take it or leave it attitude is much more ideal for any given hand or tournament. Poker is a lot more like negotiation than sports competition. It’s a meeting of the minds where you want to appear in control and powerful, yet not have a strong commitment to winning the game.

You still should intend to win, but you don’t really try very hard. All of your effort goes merely to calming your mind and keeping your focus.

3. The Best Player Doesn’t Always Win

All things being equal, if you pit the Yankees against the Padres in a baseball game, the Yankees will win. The Padres might not even get a base run.

In Poker, since you’re playing with chance, a lot of things can go wrong that will knock a great player out of the game shockingly early. As we’ve said before, one of the biggest frustrations in poker is losing even when you did everything you were supposed to do. This is why you see different winners in the World Series of Poker throughout the years.

The solution to this discrepancy is to look at your earning averages in general instead of in one night. If you are a skilled player, you will, on average, bring money in. You’ll have unlucky nights and that’s something just to accept. 

4. Poker Goes Against Investment Strategy

When you’re investing in the stock market, most of the advised investing techniques have a “buy and hold” mindset. You put a lot of money in, and when things go badly, it often makes sense just to wait it out for another rise. From there you can sell your stocks for profit or keep riding the wave. The money you have in there is still yours so you want to protect it.

In poker, that strategy will get you killed. Once you bet in poker, you have to assume that the money is gone for good and only think about what the next step is in the deal. Concerning yourself with how much you have at stake makes some sense in the stock market, but for poker, it will just lead you to get anxious and play over-aggressively.

Even worse, If after a loss, you think “It’s still my money, I just have to win it back,” you’re now totally in the wrong mindset and will take risks you really shouldn’t be taking.


The solution to this is to always have the attitude that the money in the pot doesn’t belong to anyone; and only concern yourself with what your next move is for a shot at the cumulative pot. You need to be able to walk away with a fold the second that things look very bad for your chances.

The good news is that regular practice and reading of poker theory can strengthen your ability to “switch gears” whenever you arrive at the poker table. These are very learnable skills and repetition will cement them in your mind so you can continuously make money in the game.

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