Why Poker Students Master the Game

Anyone who has watched the WPT will be familiar with Mike Sexton’s line “poker takes moments to learn, but a lifetime to master”. There are many new poker players who fail to grasp the last part of this great quote.

I was reminded of this recently when playing poker with a friend, who has been playing poker for less than 2 years. We played heads-up at PokerStars, and I beat him up pretty badly. He didn’t say “well done, you outplayed me”, rather “you got lucky!” This friend says the same thing on anything I beat him at. You could say he’s a bad loser!

I know the result of one heads-up session doesn’t mean I’m necessarily the better poker player. It’s the long game that counts, right? But I know for a fact I’m a better poker player than my friend. I’ve been playing poker much longer, have considerably more playing experience, and have a firmer grasp on poker strategy. This was apparent in some of the things he said during our heads-up battle, questioning my calls, and generally failing to recognize the beginner mistakes he was continually making.

It got to the point where I told him “you’ll never be a really good poker player – because you already think you are”. I think he was quite insulted by my comment, but it’s the truth. The reason – he is a poker fan, not a poker student. He watches poker on TV, talks about poker, and shares his bad beat stories with me. But he never ever questions his ability or asks what I think he could do to improve his game. Because he thinks he’s really good already (he isn’t), he’ll never improve without critical self-analysis. Put simply, he’ll reach a plateau – and his progress will be slow.

I’m not a great poker player, and know people who are far better than I’ll ever be. I also know of people who have overtaken me in terms of ability. I’ve played poker with the some of the same people for a number of years now. I can see great progress in some of them, and others have stagnated. The poker players who have improved are those who have recognized that they are not yet the greatest poker player to walk the earth, and have actively sought to improve their poker game.

Speaking of the world’s greatest poker players; let’s use Phil Hellmuth as an example. Everyone in the poker world knows about Phil and his huge ego. He is undoubtedly a great poker player, but is his uncontrollable ego damaging his current poker game, and his future success? Well, Daniel Negreanu of Team PokerStars, one of the biggest poker sites, seems to think so:

“Ivey, Durr [sic], and Patrik just play at another level. In order to compete with them you have to work very hard, play lots of hours, and study your weaknesses. I’m willing to admit they are far better than I am at no limit cash games, but I think Hellmuth actually believes he is the “best no limit hold’em player in the world by far. He’s either lying to the public when he makes those statements, or, he genuinely believes that. Either way, he’s either lying or completely delusional”.

This reminds me of my friend, who doesn’t study the game, yet thinks he’s great already. If you’re like my friend of share traits similar to Hellmuth (may god help you!), then let this be a lesson to you.

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