Luck and Poker

by trikkur

The following article was found on the 2+2 forums. The original post by ThaHero is titled Pooh-Bah Post: Luck and Poker and can be found here.

I realize it’s somewhat long, and if you decide not to read that’s fine. I hope it helps someone. Just writing it really helped me.

I know I’m not the most regular of posters here, and not very popular or respected either, but I still feel the need to write a Pooh-Bah post. Partly because I love poker, partly because I love to write, and partly because I love to help others.

My poker “career” has been a tumultuous one. I’ve been broke a few times, had lots of money a few times, and floated in mediocrity for most of the time.

I always thought I had terrible luck. One time, after going broke, I went to NVG and BBV and read about other’s successes. I searched the board and read the Well’s of other posters to see their stories. I turned to my twin brother, after losing my last few dollars, and said, “I’d rather be lucky than smart.”

At the time, I meant it. It’s where my mind was at during that time. I didn’t realize what luck really meant. Over the past few months I’ve really tried to reflect on my poker playing. I’ve examined situations, trying to get to the heart of the game. What makes a great player? Are they really just more lucky than the rest of us? Certainly many posters here believe so. I decided to look up the definition of luck:

1 a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual
2 : favoring chance;

The ForceA “force?” What’s that? I love Star Wars and all, but I don’t believe there’s any mystical force hovering over my head when I go all-in preflop with KK and see my opponent turn over AA, or vice versa. Now, events and circumstances is more concrete.

What are events and circumstances in poker? A hand is dealt(event). You are UTG with 72o(circumstance). Of course you fold. That event and circumstance operated against you. Another hand. You get AA in the big blind. MP raises, Button goes all in. Of course you call. That event and circumstance operated for you. But does this mean you are lucky or unlucky? Let’s delve further…

I’ve heard a lot of quotes about luck in my lifetime. I never really paid attention to them until now. Here are a few good ones that I think we should keep in mind when going through a downswing, or even an upswing, and we think luck has something to do with it:

“Luck is the by-product of busting your fanny.” – Don Sutton

“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.” – Harry Golden

“Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it, and I’m afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work — and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.” – Lucille Ball

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity“

I’m unsure who said the last one, but I’ve heard it plenty throughout my screenwriting journeys. Did you notice a pattern? The common denominator in all those quotes, for the most part, is hard work.

I remember joining these forums, reading TOP, SSHE, HOH, and thinking I was entitled to winning at poker. I bought PT with poker winnings, PAHUD, etc. The highest I made it before crashing was 100NL and 200NL with brief shots at 400NL and 600NL. I had hit a wall. It put me on tilt really.


I didn’t know it at the time. I truly thought I was UNLUCKY. Brian Townsend was LUCKY. CTS was LUCKY. Bruiser was LUCKY. I WASN’T.

A while later, a little reflection, and now I see things much clearer. I see why I didn’t beat those games.

I never posted hands here. I rarely replied to hand posts. I rarely reviewed hands in PokerTracker. I would look at my basic stats for the day, my winnings(or losses), check out a few bad beats, and be done. I would read a book once and think I understood everything in it. I went back and read Brian Townsend’s Well. He said this:

“I have spent a lot of time playing poker in the past year. I completely immersed myself in poker. I have read every poker book, spent countless hours browsing and reading forums, spent even more hours analyzing my play and my opponents plays. And then beyond this I have played endless hours. I really enjoy playing and I think if you don’t you will never reach your fullest potential. You really have to love to play the game.“

Did I love playing poker? Of course! Did I “immerse” myself in it? Not quite. Did I read every poker book? Certainly not, and the ones I did I only read once. Did I spend countless hours on 2+2 or other forums? Nope, unless it was reading OOT or BBV4L or some inconsequential forum. I didn’t do much analyzing of my play, and certainly didn’t look at what my opponents did. I didn’t even put in “endless” hours when I did play. I played more than most people I knew, but not endlessly. I’d make enough to buy some shoes or a video game, dick around in the Stud games a bit, and stop playing for the week or month.

Luck had nothing to do with it. It was my unwillingness to work hard. I understand not everyone has the ability to immerse themselves in poker. This forum has a wide variety of posters. Many have families, jobs, etc. I had a few obligations, mainly school, but I certainly had plenty free time, mostly spent watching TV.

I had the circumstances to be a great player if I wanted. I had the opportunity. Did I prepare? Nope. Another quote:

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.“

I had set myself up for my own failure! I didn’t even know it. I would blame a poor run of cards on going broke, when in actuality it was a lack of preparation coupled with poor bankroll management.

This is dragging on so I’m going to conclude with this. Prepare for every opportunity. If you want to be great at poker, you have to do this. Understand the game so you don’t put yourself in tough spots (circumstances). Get in +EV situations (circumstances) and get your money in (event). Work on table selection (preparation) and get on tables with plenty fish (opportunity).

Every +EV situation is an opportunity. You can’t identify them unless you prepare. Sure, you will lose. That’s where the last definition of luck comes in. There is a 5% chance your opponent will hit his out on the river. One day, that card WILL hit. And AGAIN. And AGAIN. Don’t fight this. It isn’t back luck. It’s just chance. You’ve already done all you can- you worked hard. If you work hard at poker, you WILL WIN. It’s a game of skill. Stop counting real money over the short term and instead count Sklansky Bucks and G Bucks over the long term. On the other side of that 5% chance is a 95% chance. Make sure the majority of your bets are on the good side of chance.

I’m not telling you to remove luck from your vocabulary. Keep it there. Simply change the definition. Make it mean something else.

From now on, I have good luck, because I vow to work hard. At poker, and more importantly, at everything else in my life.

Good Luck.

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