You may have read numerous articles or books about discipline and how you need that control to keep from losing. You have heard about odds and the importance of playing hands where you have an advantage. Studying people and their motivations will help you design plays and see through bluffs.
The one thing you never study, however, is winning. If you listen to the sports analysts, they all talk about teams who have experienced the playoffs, who know how to win. Winning is not just something that happens to great players, it is a mind set developed over the years that assumes winning is not only possible but probable and anything less just takes time to overcome.
Many of the low and middle-limit players walk into a game hoping to win, wanting to win, thinking they should win for whatever reason, but they don’t assume they are going to win. This is not an ego assumption — "No matter how badly I play, I will win because I am the best." This assumption is based upon several factors which you will learn if you read on.
The first and most obvious element of winning is preparation. That includes all the background preparation such as studying odds, learning plays, having sufficient bankroll, selecting the proper game, etc. It also includes the more subtle preparations such as ample sleep, being mentally ready to count pots, sitting alertly, knowing which hands you will play and why, etc.
You must approach each game prepared whether you can face an eight-hour day five days a week or you only play once a week. If you sit down angry, frustrated, lonely, or in any way not ready to do battle, you are doing yourself an injustice and possibly eroding your confidence in the long run.
The next step is to size up the table. Winning at poker is not just how you play your game but your interaction with the whole table. To accomplish that objective, you must understand each player.
When you have a tentative read on the table, look around for the best seat. Not every table has just one good seat, some have two. Be ready to offer your seat in exchange for the better seat when that player has a hand squelched. Suggest that maybe the seat was unlucky and he could try your seat for a while.
A good tactician always inspects the terrain before preparing for battle, giving his opponent access to his fortress along preset paths. Learn how to alter strategy to counter poor seat placement.
No one knows how he or she will react under fire the first time. Some people freeze and others remain calm. The first time decides who is a natural and who is not. But naturals are not the only ones who can become winners. Each of us has a fighting force within us. Some people are natural fighters.
You can see these people buying in with their last dollars. I’m not talking about addicts but genuine fighters who refuse to admit defeat. Others have weak fighting forces. These people play well for a while and then go on tilt at the first bad beat. Some are so weak they won’t bet or raise unless they have the nut hand. When the force is weak, a combination of practice and encouragement is necessary to strengthen resolve.
A player must get used to winning in order to build up confidence. Pick six kids and beat them at poker, play a computer game that you can beat, but do whatever you can to win consistently for a period of time. Then enter a real game.
When you are ahead, quit. Try that for a few days and then try to win two hands before quitting. Always, always win that first hand because it will toughen you up, teach you patience, show you to risk large portions of your buy-in only when you have a proportionate chance to win.