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Poker Anticipation

Sometimes it seems like poker is the only thing in the world that can hold your interest. Why (you ask yourself) go to the movies when there’s a game – possibly an excellent one – being spread close by? Who’d take a hike (even on a beautiful day like today) when the prospect looms of taking pocket aces into a six-way field, capped, and catching an ace and a pair on the flop? What in heaven’s name could you possibly want to do more than this?

So it is that you find yourself in a critical state of anticipation, wanting to play, hoping to play (need I say needing to play?), then getting to play, and going to play. You whip yourself into a frenzy of expectation, a delirium of desire. You’re chasing the blessed buzz of poker, and all of existence is bliss.

But you know how it goes: Sometimes you chase the buzz, and sometimes the buzz chases you. The poker session you had so eagerly anticipated devolves into a nightmare of bad bets, bad beats, bad calls, bad luck, and bad play.

Through, of course, no fault of your own. Or so you tell yourself, not acknowledging the mistake that put you in this mess in the first place.

“This is a nightmare,” you croak, as your stacks dwindle and your buzz fades and your world falls apart. “Why didn’t I go to the movies?” you ask rhetorically. But the question is not rhetorical, and the answer is self-evident: You let your judgment be clouded by anticipation. In service to the blessed buzz, you made a whole host of bad choices – including where, when, and what to play – and now you’re paying the price.

We’ve talked about this before: Your decision to play or not to play is orders of magnitude more crucial than the decisions you make when you play. If you want to play poker, fine, play poker. But if you need to play poker, if the cost in boredom or missed buzz is so subjectively high that you can’t bear to pay it, then you’re playing for the wrong reason and you are doomed to disaster every time. To put it more simply if you might play poker, you’re fine, but if you must play poker, you’re screwed.

Pundits talk about discipline in the context of hand selection, game selection, tilt aversion, and so on. But there’s a greater discipline you must invoke: the discipline to just say no to anticipation when anticipation is the only reason you play.

Do you have this discipline? Can you muster this effort? Can you not play poker even when you must play poker? Or are you in thrall to your own atavistic urges? It’s a given that not every day is a good day for poker, and that the decision to go play is not always the right decision to make. Sometimes the game’s not right. Sometimes the stars aren’t right. Sometimes you’re not right. You know these things, yet you practice denial every day. You contrive any excuse to go play, even when going and playing is the absolute wrong thing to do. You give in; it’s a given.

OK, fine. But given that given, how can you ever know for sure if playing today is the right thing to do?

Simple: Know yourself. Peer deep into your state of mind and motivation. Test yourself. Demand that the brain you bring to the table is crisp, sharp, clear, willing, and eager – not just eager for action, but eager to deliver your finest effort to the task at hand. That’s who gets to play. The other chump, the one who’s just there out of boredom or buzz-chasing, he doesn’t even deserve the opportunity to compete. Killer Poker is a task, not a game. If you go in lazy, you’re a dead man walking.

Laziness starts when you don’t say no. If you lack the character, the strength of will, to stay out of a game you’re not ready to beat, how can you hope to have a hope? You can’t, just can’t. (Not unless you catch lucky, and you know how I feel about luck – luck sucks.) Until you have the discipline to ignore anticipation and focus on finding a game you can beat, when you can beat it, and then executing a plan to dominate that game, you’re not really a complete poker player (certainly not a Killer Poker player), and you can’t hope to become one anytime soon. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

I know that poker seems like the center of your universe right now, but it’s not, not really. Shift anticipation. Draw pleasure and satisfaction and, yes, even buzz from your other pursuits. Go for that hike. Think about your poker while you walk if you want, but better yet, be in the moment you find yourself in and take joy in that moment. In this way, you counteract and override the pain you imagine you feel in denying yourself the buzz that is poker.

There’s a saying: “Each of us is responsible for his own good time.” When you yield to anticipation, you abdicate this responsibility. You make poker responsible for your good time and, in consequence, render yourself weak, reactive, frail, and incomplete.

I know you; haven’t we come so far? At your best, you play Killer Poker. You’re tough, dominant, ready. At your worst, you yield to your lesser self and get into the game as the only tolerable alternative to not playing at all. Get over that! Find something else to do with your time, at least from time to time. Until you can, and until you do, you’ll be a slave to anticipation, and anticipation will break you in the end

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