Successful poker players always list discipline as a key attribute to their success. In fact, if you read any auto biography of a successful person you will almost certainly find the word discipline somewhere in the text. But what does this word discipline really mean when it comes to poker?
To understand what discipline means it is generally easier to define what it is to be undisciplined and to discuss why players might become undiscipline. To be undiscipline is to knowingly engage in a strategy that is not optimal. The obvious question that arises is: why would you ever engage in a strategy that is not optimal? If we were not human we might conceivably play in a disciplined manner all the time. However, because we are human it is easy to become flustered, upset or even angry when things are going against us. When we are winning, there is a tendency to become over confident and blase. When we have played a long session it is easy to become careless or even reckless as fatigue sets in. The key to becoming a really good poker player is to minimize the number of times that you engage in non-optimal strategies. Because we are human it is impossible to play the optimal strategy every time. Our emotions get in the way. The really good players play their optimal strategy the vast majority of the time. Do not let your current state of mind dictate your play. Interestingly, irrespective of the state of mind you are in; each state leads to the identical mistake. Namely, players play more starting hands and stay in longer with marginal hands that they otherwise would if they were in a perfect state of mind.
Playing consistently when we are losing:
I have found that the most common trap that players fall into is they start playing badly when they are losing. Players start playing more hands and stay in a little longer with marginal hands to try to recoup their losses. Often players don't understand why they are losing in a particular session. I am talking about really good players here as well. Here is an often over looked fact. You can be playing perfectly for extended periods and still be losing due to the variance. For example, one standard deviation for limit Holdem is approximately 12 big bets per hour. You could lose 24 big bets in one hour and still be an expert player playing optimal strategy. On a $10/$20 game this would correspond to $560. Once you understand that your losses are purely due to the variance it is easier to put them behind you and focus on playing you're A game. This is especially true if you also understand that playing you're A game will recoup your losses faster than playing a substandard game.
Playing consistently when you are winning:
So you have been killing the table for the last your. You are dealt 10 J offsuit from an early position in limit Hold'em and before you can correct yourself you have come out raising. We have all done this type of thing, thinking we are invincible. Overconfidence leads to the same mistake as when we are losing. We play too many hands! Understand that the reason you were winning in the first place was most likely due to tight aggressive poker. Why would you change this philosophy that has lead to proven success over many hours of play?
Playing well when you are tired:
So it is getting close to the end of the night and you have been folding hand after hand. You think to yourself – are their any picture cards at all in this deck? Suddenly, you get dealt KJ offsuit and it looks like a monster compared to the rubbish you have been dealt for the past hour. A good player bets from early position and you call this bet. You hit a king on the flop and go all the way to showdown to find you were beaten by KQ. On reflection, you think to yourself – what else could they have had? Ne would not have called pre-flop with anything worse. Sound familiar? They key to avoiding this scenario is to think of poker as one long continuous game. The game does not end at the end of this current session. It picks up again next time you play. So what if you are in a bad fame of mind at the moment. Why try to force a hand and lose additional bets that have to be picked up sometime in the future. If you really can't concentrate then go home!
So the key is to become emotionless. Clearly, this is not possible because we are human. So try to limit the number of times you deviate from the optimal strategy. The closer you can get to the optimal strategy the higher your profits will be.