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Attitude vs. Aptitude and Luck
Power Poker Psychology
by James A McKenna, Ph. D.

If you have played any poker in any casino, you’ve heard the worn-out lament, “I’d rather be lucky than good at...” Compare this to the other extreme. Nearing the end of the movie, Rounders, Matt Damon says, “People insist on calling it luck.”

As if it were all skill and no luck. In my opinion, both extremes are wrong. I’ve concluded that from my thirty-plus years of gaming it’s neither luck nor skill. It’s both and then some.

There are actually three ingredients to success in living life as well as in gambling. It’s true that some games (like Blackjack) may take more skill than luck. Other games like craps may require more luck that skill. Other games, like poker, can demand skill, luck, and attitude. But luck and skill without the right attitude will seldom fly in any gaming contest.

Essential Qualities
Three essential qualities emerge to combine the best of playing attitudes and aptitudes:

1. First of all, you must like yourself and know how to take care of yourself during good times as well as bad times. This means that as a responsible player you have internalized a supportive belief system. An internal supportive belief system (about self and others) is one that will sustain players in good times and bad ones. Rather than being self-defeating, successful players are their own best friends. This is especially true under stress.

2. You must come prepared with the necessary information and skills. Responsible players make sure that they have the skills and information required to do their best. This includes the wisdom to act on your knowledge and to obtain the knowledge that you lack. Skills apply in figuring out what hands others have, and in knowing how best to play marginal hands. Good hands sometimes play themselves. Often, the skill in living our lives is about knowing how far is far enough. Good players develop the skill to quit, and to take risks when the odds are worth it.

3. Finally, you must have permission to apply what talents you’ve developed and to succeed. Many good players know how to take care of themselves. They also have obtained the requisite information they need to get the job done. However, they may still lack the necessary permission to be successful and the willingness to risk. The freedom to act on the knowledge and experience you possess is just as important as knowing what to do. How often have you said, “I knew that! I wish I had listened to myself.” Some people play until they are broke and fail to leave when they are well ahead.

The ingredients for success in casinos will also point to success in other facets of your life. Simply put, we all must do things with self-confidence and not rely on others to validate who we are and what we do. Too many players go to the casino to get that validation from others and measure their success or failure by how much they have won or lost. You can always tell these gamblers — but, you can’t tell them much.

Winning is hard work. Success comes with learning the basics and then getting the on-the-job experience to develop skills.

Besides having positive aptitudes, being successful comes from having personal permission to succeed. You may have the skills along with luck, and still lack the attitude that you are really deserving of success. This self-defeating attitude can be heard everywhere, for example: “I’ve got $100 to lose and then I’m out of here!” Correct?

Losing attitudes abound, such as blaming everyone except one’s self, being too aggressive, or too conservative, and many more. I’ve concluded that the formula for success (as I’ve stated in my book, Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology) is “Success in gaming is 25% luck, 5% skill, and 70% attitude.”

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