Part one of three.
Next time you’re at the end of your rope in poker – losing, going on tilt, opponents outplaying you – cut yourself some slack.
You can turn things around and regain your composure, positive attitude, and even your bankroll by following five simple guidelines that spell the acronym S.L.A.C.K. – Skill, Luck, Attitude, Concentration, and Knowledge.
Skill has no synthetic substitutes. Nothing builds your self-esteem and confidence better than being very good at what you do. Skillful players have confidence in their ability to win, that intangible quality that reaps very tangible results and is the basic ingredient in a strong table image.
Everybody suggests studying good strategy books to increase your skills, but I contend that reading adds only to your store of knowledge, the fifth part of the S.L.A.C.K. formula, whereas skill is the competent execution of that knowledge, and comes primarily through practicing solid, focused poker.
In one of my other lives, I was a clarinetist. My tutor advised me to practice a musical score by concentrating on my weak spots rather than going over and over the stanzas I had already mastered. He called it “guided practice.” Worked for me – and it works at the poker table as well.
Entering too many pots? List 10 strong starting hands and play only those at your next session. Trouble reading opponents? Focus on one player, learn his habits, and then make educated guesses about his probable hands for the next hour.
Another practice my tutor suggested was listening to the best clarinetists, their breathing patterns, their modulations. The other night I “listened” to an expert player in my Omaha high-low game. When the flop came with three diamonds, he checked from first position. I also checked my low draw, but the third opponent bet.
The expert raised, representing a made flush. Wisely, I thought, I folded against the check-raise. At the river, my superior opponent showed down trips to win the pot, which I would have won with a wheel had I stayed in the hand.
This story also illustrates another concept in skill building: To get better at what you do, play against increasingly better opponents. I found that when I sat next to a better musician, I played my best clarinet.
When I sit in a game with opponents I respect, I play my best poker. I have to – or they will beat me!
My next column covers two more parts of the S.L.A.C.K. formula: Luck and Attitude.