Ego and Poker - How the Pros Think

Ego and Poker
I know that one of the biggest problems that I have struggled with at the tables over the years is being too competitive or maybe too egotistical. Ya I have a big ego I said it. Every time I sit down at a poker table I think know that I am the best player at that table. I don't sit in games where I am not 100% sure of this. I expect to win every single time. Yes, every time. Call me delusional, it's ok, it wouldn't be the first time.

I have had this feeling ever since I was a kid. I simply can't stand to lose at anything. It didn't matter what it was, video games, board games or sports. I have always been a really sore loser. I don't mean that I complained and threw a tantrum every time I lost at something.

Perhaps a few mice, hockey sticks and cookbooks have gone astray or into walls over the years when playing poker. But really, when I lose at something it is more that I feel like my soul has been crushed. It can take me hours or days sometimes to get over it.

This is not all bad though. Well it kind of sucks when you are playing monopoly with the family at Thanksgiving. But for many top level athletes and poker players this is actually a very useful personality trait. Since they hate that feeling of losing so bad it often propels them to work even harder to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I Have to Lose Sometimes...WTF?

But the problem of course is that poker is different than most other games and sports. As I talked about last time, poker is a game where bad beats and coolers (i.e., things that you can't control) are simply going to happen and they will obviously impact your short term results. And there is no end to them, ever. Even the best player in the world could lose to the worst player in the world on any given day with a bad run of cards. But of course we know that he will not lose over the long term.

While losses are a given in any other sport or game as well I think poker has more of a short term luck factor which makes it even harder for a highly competitive person to deal with. If you take the game of chess for instance which is based almost 100% on skill, a high level grandmaster is hardly ever going to lose a match. There is literally no way that you can get lucky versus him. Now that is an extreme example but I am still not aware of any chess grandmaster who has ever gone undefeated in his career. They all lose eventually.

At least they can blame it on themselves though. In poker this is often not the case. I personally can't accept this fact (that I just have to lose sometimes) and probably never will. But I think I can still be aware of it even though I don't accept it. There are some steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of this over competitiveness while playing at least.

Don't Put a Face to Your Opponents

I think one of the biggest things for me has been learning to not put a face to my opponents. I try to think of them as one big donk. The individuals are all just one part of the same monster that I need to beat. So I turn all avatars off, I never use chat and I try to play a lot of tables at once so I don't see the same person too often. Zoom poker actually aids in this greatly since you rarely get involved with the same people that often.

But still, I know that this attachment to individual players has been one of my biggest problems (and I suspect that it is for many others as well) over the years. Especially when the same player has stacked you a few times in a row with something ridiculous a lot of people will snap and focus all of their concentration on this one guy in a desperate attempt to get their money back, but more importantly, to save their ego.

And to that end, they usually start playing very wildly and badly towards this person. The key of course is to actually put other people on tilt towards you. I will have much more to say about this in a future article.

But back to the topic at hand, you really should try to think about the game in the same manner as the casinos think about all the tourists that frequent a place like Las Vegas each year and dump millions to them. It's all math. They don't put a particular face to any bet. It's simply X amount of people walk into the casino each year and wager Y amount of money on average in a game like roulette.

The mathematical edge on the roulette wheel for the casino is some number above 50%. They will win over time, the simple math dictates this. They don't care about tourist Joe who came in there and picked the right color 5 times in a row and walked away with a fistful of their money. Because there are a million Joes. They will all collectively lose to the casino eventually.

And so it is the same in poker. One of the things that I find most interesting is when people complain about someone who "hit and ran" them. Now I know that this often happens with HU players which is a very high variance and emotional game. But I still chuckle when I see hugely profitable high stakes regs complaining about this all the time on forums and how it is such bad manners etc.

They are putting a face to the player. "That donk bad beat me!" I need to get him back! Why? Another donk will eventually sit down and dump it all back to you and more. Or maybe that donk will bad beat you too and it will be the next one who gives it all back. The point is, you know the money is coming back to you eventually. Why get so worked about an individual match? Casinos don't get all bent out of shape like this. Neither should you.

Don't Bring Your Ego to the Poker Tables

Now I am not advocating some sort of Buddhist philosophy here. But I am in a sense. You need to learn to let go more at the tables. As a result of not putting a face to our opponents we can learn to say "gg sir" and move on. If somebody is consistently beating you at the tables it really is ok to just get up and leave. Whether you move to another table or just quit for the day is up to you. And yes, you can do this even if it is a complete donk! If you know that you are steaming and playing badly versus him, you actually become the donk.

Something that I regularly do is leave the table if I have an aggressive 3bettor on my direct left. A lot of people will advocate going to war with him and showing him whose boss with a bunch of light 4bets and such but why? He is probably a halfway decent player if he knows how to use aggression like this. And we know that it is difficult to make money off halfway decent players.

They shouldn't be the reason that you are at the table. Fish should be the reason that you are at the table. Number two, and perhaps more importantly, you won't be able to overcome the positional advantage that he has on you. Given two players of equal skill levels the one with position will always have a big edge.

So hopefully a few of these tips will resonate with some of you guys at the tables. Remember to not get too wrapped up about beating individual players but rather think of them as one collective whole. If you leave a table because you are steamed at someone or they are 3betting the shit out of you all you are really doing is making a strategic adjustment versus the mass of players that you are playing against. People who think only "pussies" get up and leave don't understand the game correctly and it usually shows in their results.

As for accepting losing, meh, can't help you there. I am terrible at it.

My tips though:
  • Try not to break anything too expensive.
  • Don't play next to windows. Can be too tempting to toss the computer out of it! 
  • Only play poker with cheap mice and cheap keyboards if you have a tendency to caveman smash.
  • If you know that you are tilting badly...for the love of God just quit! 
If you want to know my step by step strategy for crushing small and mid stakes poker games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Next time I am going to talk about quitting and stop losses in more detail. If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

poker ego


  1. Looks like you are inspired to write man, that is good!

  2. Ya I had kind of neglected blogging for awhile so I wanted to get started with it again. And I do enjoy writing for sure.

  3. I rarely ever go on tilt. I use similiar technique's and just laugh when i get coolered. Poker should be fun, right?

  4. You do it well man, should write another book.

  5. Thanks, you know I said I would never do that again. But it's possible that that might happen one day :p


  6. Great article Nathan. Love the casino analogy. I can see me thinking of that over and over at the tables.

    Keep the blogs coming.


  7. Thanks Declan! And will do.

  8. Wow - this hit me right where it hurt. I still have the name of the guy who plays any 2 and takes down my 5Xbb bet with KK and he's playing A6o or 98o. I know his name and not only do I want my money I want to stack him on a consistent basis. I'm using the KP approach now and hitting the AI button now. Works.......sometimes.

    1. Haha, if he is really bad by all means follow him around but don't play over aggro against him just to get your money back. Just play him like normal. Given enough time all the fish give the money back, gl!

  9. you have a good tips

  10. My time playing poker has shortened somewhat because of work. But for the times I do play your work on the training videos and your blog posts overall have made me money. I have read and watched your material over the years and it applies to other things in life too. Thank you for your work.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words weiyen. I am glad that I could help! I agree about many of the lessons that poker teaches us applying to other areas of life as well.