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Playing Not to Lose – Scared Money

It might appear ridiculous to believe anyone enters and any type of game playing to lose. Aside from gambling controversies where people throw games or shave points on purpose, the integrity of a game is generally kept intact by the desires of each participant to play to win.

However, have you ever played not to lose? scared-money-don-t-make-money

Tournaments are a source of bizarre types of play. Condition change by the minute and the primary goal of most players is to make the money. Golf is similar whereby each tournament has a cut that eliminates dozens of poor playing competitors after the second round. In poker, a tournament player questions how much risk he is willing to take on as the bubble approaches. He may play so cautiously that he can be exploited.

Relatively speaking, cash games operate with different conditions. Instead of getting eliminated from winning a slice of a prize pool, you attempt to accumulate a big stack. If you don’t, you can choose to re-buy. This does not mean that conditions do not change. The tightness of the table affects how you play certain hands. Where you sit relative to a solid player will also influence how you play. These are situational elements of the game of which, in poker, there are many.

There is one phenomena that transcends the conditions affecting any play. In tournaments, it may rear its head differently but it is certainly formidable in cash play.

They say that dogs and bees can smell fear. Solid poker players are not that much different. They have a nose for weakness within a hand and have the ability to know the difference between acting weak and actually being weak. As a whole, they will also be able to tell where the scared money is.

Being scared money is a very uneasy state of play. If you have played the game for any length of time, you have likely experienced it. There are a few reasons why someone sits at a table playing not to lose.

For example, they may identity that the players at their table are much stronger than they are and feel out matched. In turn, they become predictable and only throw money with the nuts or near nuts. It does not take long for the table to pick up on this.

Secondly, a scared player may have taken a series of big losses. In essence, they have become gun shy and, while still at the table, are worried that they will take another big hit.

Perhaps the largest contributing factor to scared money is an improper bankroll. In fact, this can influence both of the scenarios above. If you jump from 1/2 NL to 2/5 NL for no reason except for curiosity, a light bankroll will mean one bad hand can cripple you. That thought alone will make someone play ultra cautiously.

The common advice is to never play above your bankroll. In order to be fully in the present moment from hand to hand and not be riddled with anxiety over losing the next pot, you must have a solid foundation. That’s your bankroll. It allows you to bring your best game and, in many ways, think each move you make clearly.

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

    The ‘scared money’ mentality comes into play when you are playing above your stakes. I remember taking shots at the bigger games, and playing much ‘tighter’ and making less moves. It was not optimal.

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