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Revenge in Poker

Target arrowWhile one of your poker skills is to identify the strong from the weak players at the table, targeting opponents can have a dark side, too.

If you are paying enough attention, you will be able to tell the sharks at the table. The donkeys and fish make questionable decisions on a regularly basis. It is what defines them. Poker 101 says that you want to get involved with the players who will make mistakes and avoid the solid ones unless you are strong.

This is a positive targeting strategy. However, another form of targeting can be disastrous.

It is inevitable that you will be outplayed by a better player or simply be beaten by a long shot river card. Some will react negatively to the bad beat and others, with a different egoic mind set, will react more negatively to being beaten by better skill. Regardless of which category you may fall into, the emotional element of any loss can lead to thoughts of revenge.

Have you ever played a hand and either skillfully taken a pot down or inflicted a bad beat on an opponent? Sure you have. Have you seen what that same player does next? It is not uncommon that they look to mix it up with you again, often aggressively. They don’t just want to build their stack back up they want their chips back and you have them. Suddenly, you are facing some wild plays in head-to-head action.

Spotlighting a specific player at the table like this is a symptom of tilt. Playing poker becomes more about resolving your damaged ego (after all, it is unfair that you lost to a 2 outer on the river) than making a correct decision. Your ego thirsts for retribution. Sometimes, it will get it, but further losses are a more likely end.

Why is revenge a terrible strategy? Here are four reasons:

1) You stop trying to read your opponent

Who cares what your opponent might have? Your unsuited K 5 is enough ammunition to try and blow them off any pot, even if they their starting hand range is super tight. Reverting to Level 1 thinking (e.g., what cards do I have?) and ignoring Level 2 thinking (e.g., what might my opponent have?) is an invitation for a chipocolypse.

2) You get involved in hands you normally would not

Our villain just 3-bet someone pre-flop? 10 7 suited is good enough to call. After all, you don’t want to waste any time getting your chips back.

3) You over-aggress

In situations where you might just call, you raise. When you get raised, you look to re-raise with a marginal holding. All of this is to make the point that you are someone to be reckoned with and your opponent just messed with the wrong player. This makes your ego feel good. Until you get forced all-in, call, and see you are crushed. How does that feel?

4) You become vulnerable to other players

Perhaps the most important reason to avoid fixation on one particular player like this is because their are many other players at the table. They are not only there to take your money but they have just witnessed your tilt. Like a panther in the brush, you better believe they are salivating at the chance for you to overplay a hand.

Spotlighting players in this way is easy to feel. When most of your mental energy is focused on one player and you are, like a heat-seeking missile, steaming with frustration you are locked on in a very bad way.

We have previously discussed strategies to avoid and respond to tilt on OddsNPots. Being self-aware of how you feel and then doing  something about it (which could be doing nothing and maintaining a tight aggressive style like usual) is most of the battle. Don’t let your ego trick you into a vendetta. The good players want you to do this. They will turn your revenge into more chips in their stack.

Ignoring the compulsions of your ego is one of the most important skills in poker. When you fixate in this way, it is only a matter of time before your hard earned money disappears.

Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about his work and the inner game of performing at www.KellyDoell.com

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  • Ivan Y

    Good article Kelly. I like how you acknowledge the problems that arise when seeking ‘revenge’ on your opponents.

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