Strength is Learned, Not Earned

Today, I officially started my preparations for the 2016 World Series of Poker. While I was looking over rates and creating the plan for my time in Las Vegas, it occurred to me that this year is significantly different than in years past. In previous years, I’ve gone to the WSOP not having set a bar of success for myself. My main goal was to “make good choices and have fun.” But this is the first year I’m actually setting goals to succeed.

This is a strange thing to admit. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting this situation. Don’t get me wrong––I’ve always set up a game plan for each tournament I’ve played. I’ve tried to put myself in situations that lined me up for success. But something feels different this year. I feel like I have to have a deep run this year. Anything less would be failure. There’s nothing wrong with losing, but frankly, I’ve already done enough of it. In the past, I have always been content with whatever the outcome was. This year can no longer be learning experience. I can no longer be content with making the wrong decisions. I’ve now found who I am as a poker player. This is the year I return to winning poker.

One of the least talked about topics in poker is losing. I believe we should talk about it, and more specifically, how important losses can be in growing success. Sure, everyone talks about their wins and how they got them. There are thousands of poker books that teach the road to success and give you pointers on winning poker. The one thing that’s always missing from those stories, however, is how much the writers had to lose before they got to where they are today. Everyone has a “bad beat story”––but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I truly believe the greatest bluff ever executed is the one every poker author tries to sell: “I can make you a better poker player!” Truthfully, no one can make you a better poker player. You and you alone can do this.

Sure, there is a road to succeeding in poker. Read all the materials you can get your hands on. Your education is quite possibly the most important tool you have, but know that the information is useless if you have no concept on how to use it. Being able to absorb information and separate the useful from the fluff is just as important and making that hard lay down. If you don’t have a backlog of poker knowledge, you may not be aware that you are behind in a hand and run right into a buzz saw.

The amazing thing about poker is that no hand will ever be the same. The same concept applies to poker players. Each player will have their own personality and their own way of thinking. Why would you want to be just like someone else? Yes, the poker pros are awesome and have made millions, but none of what they have done came without loss. They’ve all put countless hours of work in. The pros are dedicated students of the game. When I watch people watching poker on TV, I’m amazed to see how idolized and revered these people have become. Yes, these people are the best of the best, but the best of the best lose too.

Daniel Negreanu currently holds the position as the highest earning tournament poker player ever. Yet he’s never won the WSOP Main Event. Phil Ivey is arguably the best all-around poker player in the world. Still, he has never won the WSOP Main Event either. Why do we never hear about the failures of these players? Why do we never read about the losses they’ve suffered to get where they are today? Truth is, they don’t want you to know about them. But it’s important to know that these are the moments that created who they are. These are the moments that teach you the most about yourself as a poker player. There is a huge amount of courage needed to succeed in the poker world. Always ask yourself, “Can you succeed and continue through the losses? Did you learn from the moment?”

I take personal pride in learning from my losses and I think it’s important to share the lessons I’ve learned. I find it hard to give credit to someone who can’t accept the losses as important information. Can you look back and be content in your moves? Can you accept that everything you did was correct? Did you get all your chips in the pot knowing you made the right move? Did you make all the right reads? These are questions you have to ask yourself. The only way to grow as a player is making mistakes and learning from them. Luck is a defining outcome in the world of poker. Some people’s success is strictly based on it. But can you be content knowing that you got lucky on the river, or are you more satisfied knowing you made the right move?

I have made many mistakes in my poker career. I spent five years playing poker as a full-time job. Most people invest thousands of dollars into their education; it’s safe to admit that based on the money I’ve spent, I should have a PhD in Poker Education. I have learned my weak points. I have discovered my strong points. It’s through these lessons that I have found out who I am as a poker player.

Daniel Negreanu was knocked out of last year’s WSOP Main Event in 11th place. As he walked away from the table, he was caught for an interview. He was quoted as saying, “Whether I win at poker, or I lose at poker, I know who I am deep down.” This is possibly the most important thing I’ve heard from a professional poker player. Know who you are in this game. Always remember where you came from. Always know where you’re going.

At some point you will have that moment––that instant when you realize you’ve finally figured it all out. There is no perfect poker player, but there are many educated players who have put everything they have into this game. Players who have lost, learned, and developed. Players who started at the same spot you did. Every poker player’s road to greatness is different. I can’t say that I know it all. I won’t say that I’m the best. But I will say that I’ve had my moment. This year is going to be a strong year for me. Greatness is just a pulled pot away.


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