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Winning is a Verb
Gambling Psychology
by James A. McKenna, Ph.D

There are players, who watch things happen, players who make things happen, and those who end up broke, asking, “What happened?” When players make things happen they are probably winning, or at least investing wisely and having fun. When players passively let things happen (e.g., calling anything, not raising or folding), they are likely in one of two modes: Losing or Breaking Even. For some, breaking even is winning enough. For others, breaking even means risking funds that are needed to pay bills. Players who neither win nor lose are non-winners, “almost” players who won’t quite reach their goals. They are more prone to let things happen. Even though players break even, it’s better than chasing impossible hands. Players who make things happen will chase the cards based on odds, rather than chasing their luck!

“Making” vs. “Letting” Things Happen
Passive gaming usually involves playing on hunches and feelings. In short, not thinking. While it’s true that people can be lucky and do win on hunches, too many passive players consistently let impulse rule their responses. Losing is the eventual outcome. Such losing players seldom take responsibility for how they play. While ill fate happens to everyone at some point, winners will seek solutions and learn something from their mistakes. Winners take those losses in daily stride and act on them. On the other hand, losers prefer to blame everything but themselves. A loser is not actively building hands or playing the odds. A loser passively lets hands happen. Just as some people wait for success to come to them, passive players whine about how bad the cards are but won’t leave the table and say “no” to losing.

The Activity of Winning
Winning is not a passive outcome. It involves building hands based on odds and how “alive” the cards are. It means folding or raising to influence the actions of other players. Passively calling and failing to make a hand will often result in the complaint; “You took my card.” Or, “If it weren’t for...” The activity of winning includes raising to get players out before they can “take” your card.

Winning involves betting on the pot odds. Making a bet depends not only on how many ways a potential hand can improve, but also on how much the bet will return if the hand wins. A player with an action plan may say, “I would have stayed with my pair of tens if two or three other people stayed.” This means that the player is thinking. A winner will be playing odds and not playing impulses. If several people are staying, the pot will return better odds and may be worth a chase.

Winners play with money they can afford to invest. Yet, one will see irresponsible players betting poor odds at almost every Poker and Blackjack table, risking money they can’t afford to lose! In the spirit of competition, the ability to keep one’s own mistakes to a minimum while influencing others to make more mistakes is the action plan of a winner. Winners don’t just know when to hold’em and fold’em. Rather, they play with many “outs,” including knowing when to run, walk, skip, jump, float, bolt, or just wait for the next hand!

This story was first published in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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