The Long Run
Sept 19, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

Who is gonna make it?
We'll find out in the long run...

- "The Long Run," by The Eagles

I'll be honest with you - I don't like the Eagles. But I think it's important to start an article on a topic this important with something catchy, something that people remember. So there is today's poker wisdom courtesy of Don Henley and the other members of the band: learn to focus on the long run, because that's really all that poker is.

It's important to gain the ability to put whatever happens behind you because poker is a two-headed beast, a game of skill where people repeatedly get lucky. Chris Ferguson once said that on any given hand poker can be 99% luck, but that over time it's 99% skill. It's easy to read that and agree with it and even believe in it, but when you keep getting the short end of your showdowns it's very easy to only see the misfortunes. So how do you avoid this kind of thinking, which will only get in the way of playing your best game?

First, define what the long term and the short term are. Here are two simple definitions:

The long term: All the hands you will ever play in your lifetime.
The short term: Anything shorter than the long term.

Next, understand that in the short term, anything can happen. In relation to this, it's important to note that the short term can mean one session, one month, one year, or even longer periods of time. So, you can sometimes see a player hit four-of-a-kind 3 times in 20 minutes. Or you can sometimes go 6 months without booking a winning session. Variance is alternately your best friend and an evil attack dog out to take all your money, and you can't fight it. You can only accept it.

Too often, though, people don't accept variance. Against all the advice not to, they try to fight it. When they don't win they sink even lower than they were to begin with, sometimes questioning whether they should even be playing poker. It's easy to understand this because nobody wants to be a loser. Add to this the truth that Stu Ungar once pointed out - that the only scoreboard in poker is money - and you've got a perfect combination for making people do things that run directly contrary to their best interests, things like loosening their game too much or trying to get even after a long, bad session.

It's great to want to win, but you have to temper your desire with an understanding that sometimes you will lose. That's just the nature of the game. Another thing to remember is that some of the times that you lose will be in the most horribly, gut-wrenchingly improbable ways to lose imaginable. It's very important to come to these realizations because without them it's too easy to get caught thinking about the score right now, and not what the score's going to be later in the game. When you keep the long run in mind, you remember another basic truth: people come from behind all the time.

If you feel like you're not winning as much as you should, be sure that you're playing your best game possible. From a purely strategy-based standpoint, every online player should use Poker Tracker (or a similar product) to analyze their game for leaks. From a more psychological perspective, you should make sure you're not playing too much and harming your game by doing so. When you've plugged all the holes and you find your seaworthy vessel is still being sunk by the storms of variance, reexamine the definition of the short term - anything less than the long term. That means that you might take three months worth of these sorts of session before you see any meaningful reversal of fortune. If, after reviewing your game and reaffirming your commitment to understanding the nature of variance, you still feel like you're getting shafted, I can offer one final piece of advice: sometimes even the best preparation for success is not immediately rewarded. Stick with your pursuit and it'll be even sweeter when you finally reach your goals.

If you need further assistance conquering variance, there are several books that can help. For help understanding more about how psychology affects the game of poker you can pick up Dr. Alan Schoonmaker's book The Psychology of Poker. There are also several books taking Eastern approaches to the nature of poker, including Larry Phillips' Tao of Poker and Zen and the Art of Poker. Also of note are Barry Greenstein's Ace On The River, and Charlie Shoten's No-Limit Life.

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