I decided to sit down and start a list of the reasons why "I" lose at poker. Over the next several posts, I'll talk briefly about some of those reasons, and why I think they matter in my game. They may not all apply to you, but I'm sure some of them will. Here's my first one:
1. NOT PAYING ATTENTION
Those that know me will all agree that I have ADD. I struggle to pay attention sometimes, and it certainly carries over to the poker table.
But when I talk about "not paying attention," I'm not referring to watching the TV, day dreaming about living Dr. Fro's life, or nodding off to sleep (all of which are important subjects). Rather, I'm referring to not LOOKING at what's going on at the table, whether you're in a hand or not.
When I was a kid, I was terrible about making eye contact. I'm better now, but I still have problems with it at the table. I find it incredibly difficult to look people in the eye in the middle of the hand. It doesn't matter if I have the nuts, or I'm on a stone cold bluff. I just can't do it.
So I look down at the board. I stare at it. Or I glance off to something outside our ring game. It doesn't matter what it is. What matters is that I'm not watching what's going on.
Now this problem of mine is not just happening when I'm in some big pot. It happens all the time. It doesn't matter whether I plan on folding or raising. I constantly look down at the table, and away from the players and their faces.
I miss the classic tells that are there for even the biggest novice to pick up: i.e. complaining about a 3rd spade, shaking head when a 4 card straight appears on board, looking down at chips immediately when the flop is dealt, holding the chips that they plan to bet before the action is to them, etc.
These are all so easy to recognize, and in turn, so easy to miss if you're staring down. In my quest to avoid eye contact (i.e. visual confrontation) I miss that which is in plain sight.
The biggest example of how that stung me happened about 2 years ago in Lake Charles. I flopped a Q high flush, and got into a raising war with some old blue hair at the other end of the table. I was so excited to have this hand, that NOT ONCE did I even look up at him. In fact, I can't even tell you what he looked like. Well we ended up all-in on the flop (after 3 raises), and of course, he had the nut flush.
After the hand was over a guy next to me leaned over and said, "Man you should've watched him during that hand. He was shaking so bad I thought he was going to fall out of his seat." A 2nd player agreed with him.
Ouch. If I had been paying attention, and not staring down (in some feeble attempt to avoid giving off a "tell" about my monster Q high flush) I would've seen this. I would've picked up on the fact that he REALLY liked his hand. I might've just called him down, and saved an enormous amount of money.
About a year ago, a friend of mine who is a very good player pulled me aside and told me that I was losing because I wasn't watching the table. I didn't see that the player I was "giving action to," hadn't played a hand in 2 hours. He told me that one of the biggest ways I could improve my game was to watch what was going on: how someone bets, how much someone bets, how anxious they look, how disinterested they look, how mad they are about losing a hand 5 minutes ago, etc.
You don't have to be an expert in poker tells. You don't have to turn on a mental recorder and memorize every little nuance that happens. Just watch. Just pay attention. It'll help you get a feel for the "rythm" of the game so that you can recognize when something changes (a player suddenly sits up in his chair, a player who normally watches the game, is suddenly totally uninterested in the hand, a player is very reluctant to call your bet).
I really need to work on this. One way to do it is to play shorter sessions (subject of a future post about why I lose at poker). If I play a 3 hour session, I can concentrate on paying attention, and force myself to watch the action. Any longer, and I risk falling back into old habits.
Another way I can help myself is to wear sunglasses. I know it sounds weird, but because I have trouble with eye contact, the glasses give me a feeling of protection. People can't tell who I'm looking at, and more importantly, they can't see my eyes. It allows me to watch the action with more confidence, and not be concerned about any tells I may be giving off. Wearing sunglasses helps me more psychologically than it does cover my eyes. And if something helps you in your own head, do it.
At the end of that day, poker is a game of incomplete information. If you had "complete" information, you would always know what to do, with absolute certainty. But this isn't the case. You don't always know what to do. Therefore any additional information (to aid in your decision making process) can only help you. The more information the better. And if you just pay attention to what's going on around you, you'll see that there is a world of information just waiting to be digested. Sit up. Watch the game. Look at the players. Win some hands.