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The Surest Way to Win at Poker
by Timmor L. White

Years ago, I went through a period of time when I played poker regularly at a local cardroom. While there, I became aware of one particular guy who played at the same cardroom. They called him Lopez. Lopez was the only player who always seemed to win. Some days, I would grind out a small profit, but Lopez would really rake it in.

I noticed something about Lopez. Every time I looked at him, he was already looking at me. It was uncanny and a bit unnerving. Whenever I glanced his way, his eyeballs were staring back at me. At first, I didnít think much of this, but after a while, I became intrigued. I made a study of Lopez. I wanted to know what made this guy a good poker player, what caused him to win so consistently. Then I figured it out. He was always looking outward.

The surest way to win at poker is: LOOK OUTWARD. This is always the case, whether you play online or in-person, high stakes or low stakes, hold'em or any other game. What I mean by looking outward is that you focus on the people and events around you. You attune your consciousness to that which is happening outside yourself. You set aside your own thoughts and feelings, and you aim your attention at the external world. Simply put, you quit thinking about yourself.

I have noticed a correlation. Invariably, those players who consistently win at poker are those who watch others like hawks. They are the players who are always looking around the table, studying everyone, paying attention to everything.

That does not describe the average poker player. Ninety-nine percent of people who play are always thinking about themselves. They are pondering their cards, their money, their position in the hand. They are thinking about their choices and their dilemmas. They have a thousand contemplations, and every one concerns themselves. How should I play these cards? What are my pot odds? Am I playing well? Am I likely to win at this table? What kind of cards am I getting? How did I lose that last hand? How can I play better? How is my money holding up? Should I cash out? Should I set a limit? How do I appear to the other players? These are the thoughts that fill the mind of the average poker player. Itís all me, me, me.

The average player thinks about things from his own perspective. He will base his decisions on the strength of his hand, his pot odds, his supply of chips, how much he has won or lost and the advice he read in that poker book last night. Again, itís all me, me, me.

That is not a winning approach to the game. Even the most well-reasoned thinking along those lines is destined to fail. You may be thinking smartly and accurately, but if your thinking is directed inward, it is no good. If you are thinking only about yourself and your situation, you will come up short.

Forget about yourself. You do not exist. Focus on the other players in the game. Look around the table. Pay attention to everyone. Notice everything. Observe the behavior of every player at your table. Be aware of every action (and inaction) occurring at every moment. Even when you are not in a hand, watch anyway. Always. Constantly. Intently.

You do not need to consciously interpret what you are seeing. You do not need to figure out what any of it means. Just watch. Your subconscious mind will know how to interpret what you see. Even if you think this is not helping, do it anyway. You are going to be sitting there spending time, right? You may as well be paying attention. There will be plenty of time later to contemplate how you performed and what sort of player you are. For now, think only of the other players. Put yourself out there with them. Be them. Think their thoughts. Their thoughts matter; your thoughts do not. What they are thinking is valuable to you; what you are thinking is old news.

Donít pore over your cards. Donít study your chips. Donít regurgitate all the poker advice youíve gotten over the years. Get all that garbage out of your mind. Donít play the cards; play the players!

Doing this does not require that you change your style of social interaction at the table. Be as talkative or as quiet as you like, but all the while, be paying attention. This is the surest way to win at poker.

You may need discipline to pay attention, but I assure you, if you make it a habit, it will pay off big. Gradually, your game will improve. In time, you will be playing better and pocketing more cash. Whatís funny is, you may not even know why. You may not detect any difference in your playing style. Your success may be a mystery to you. Thatís how looking outward works.

Very few people, it seems, will reveal this concept of looking outward. Occasionally, a poker book will suggest that you "observe other players at your table." But that is not enough. I am telling you to lose yourself and devote your full consciousness to the other players. Give them your unwavering focus the entire time. Nothing less.

Jamie Gold won the main event at the 2006 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. And he didnít just win the event, he destroyed his opponents all the way through the entire two-week ordeal. Seldom has any one player so dominated a poker tournament, as Jamie Gold did during the 2006 World Championship.

Immediately after his victory, he was asked how he did it. What was his secret? What was the biggest factor in his amazing performance? Here is his answer: "Iím playing against the other players, while they are trying to play their cards. I sit down at every table with the same strategy. I want to find out how theyíre playing, and then I want to figure out how to beat them, whereas theyíre just trying to figure out how to get the best cards and get their money in there. So, sooner or later, I seem to be able to trick them into giving me all their money."

What do you hear in Jamie's answer? Iíll tell you what I hear: He was looking outward! He was paying attention to the other players, while they were thinking about themselves. Simple. Yet nothing could be more powerful than this strategy. Jamie did a lot of talking during the tournament. Everyone remarked how much he interacted with other players at the table. But all the while he was talking, he was intently watching. Talking was his style; looking outward was his strategy.

I realize this advice runs counter to conventional wisdom. Popular books and seminars preach that the way to improve your life is to get in touch with your inner self. They say you should discover who you are and then work on your deep problems. Thatís fine. Inner work has its place. But it is no good at all when you are seated at a poker table. There is a place for resolving inner conflicts, but a poker game is not it. Inner reflection is exactly the wrong thing to be doing while playing poker. You should be doing the opposite. You should be looking outward.

Self-improvement workshops teach you to look inward, claiming that self-reflection leads to peace of mind. That may be true, but you should practice your self-improvement techniques during downtime, not when you are facing adversaries at a poker table. Competition is the wrong time to focus on yourself. Competition is the time to acquire knowledge of your opponents, and the way to do that is to look outside yourself. These days, with everyone preaching the value of looking inward, I want to offer a little balance. Allow me to strike a bell for the wisdom of looking outward.

Lopez understood an important fact as he sat in that cardroom with me years ago. He realized that the secret to his success lay in his ability to tap into others. Lopez was a wise man. By the way, I later learned that Lopez moved to Los Angeles and made enough money playing poker to send his son to Stanford.

Always pay keen and constant attention to others. Look outward. I realize that thinking about yourself is more habitual. It is the easy thing, the typical thing everyone does. Thinking about others is rare among people. But so is success. You might find it hard to aim for success, but as Tom Hanks said in the movie A League of Their Own: "Itís supposed to be hard. If it wasnít hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."


Timmor L. White is the founder and president of Online Poker Systems. He is active in the study and reporting of online-poker playing strategies. He has also developed a system to Cheat at Online Poker.


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