Reading opponents among the greatest skills of poker players

While I was reading an article from the Boston Globe titled “Lessons Learned in a Pool Hall” by Carlo Rotella, the last line in particular stood out to me.
Rotella writes: “If you pay attention, you can learn something of value from whatever and whoever you find in front of you.” His words inspired me to write about the lessons I learned at the poker table over the years.
The first thing I learned is all players are in control of their destiny; a bad run cannot be blamed solely on bad beats. If you are managing your bankroll properly, a string of bad beats will not affect your bankroll because you are playing within your limits and making adjustments as necessary.
If you have a bad session, you may need to drop down in limit until you make it up before moving back up. The decision is all yours. That is one of the beauties of poker – you are in charge, but it is also one of its pitfalls. If you make mistakes in money management and get completely broke, you have only yourself to blame for playing above your means and jeopardizing your whole bankroll.
This leads me to my second point. I learned the hardest thing in gambling is dealing with your own demons. We all have a dark side that affects our play, and controlling those demons is such an important part of gambling.
I have seen sports betting and other forms of gambling take a toll on many poker players’ lives throughout the years. These players get tired of grinding at poker and give in to the urge to do something more exciting. They seek the adrenaline rush games of chance such as craps and blackjack give them. If poker was that easy, there would be many more successful poker players.
One of the greatest skills a poker player can possess is the ability to read opponents. An extreme example of this happened in a home game I was running. I had two players who kept needling each other. Both were drinking.
All of a sudden it got out of hand, and one of the players named Wayne reached across the table and slapped the other player called Doc. He got up without a word and left to go home, or so I thought. As I was addressing the issue with Wayne, there was a knock at the door, and to my surprise Doc was standing there. He walked back to his seat and said, “Let’s play poker.”
I went to get a towel to wipe the blood from his face, and as I walked back to the table, I noticed he had a gun under the table with the hammer back aimed at Wayne’s stomach. I was in shock. I walked over to Wayne and whispered to him, “Wayne, you better go. Doc has a gun under the table pointed at your stomach.” Wayne said, “I’m not leaving. If he was going to shoot me, he would have already shot me. Let’s play poker.” I learned that night that reading people might not just win you a pot but save your life.
The most important thing we all should remember is nothing is as important as family and friends. One of my best friends, and among the greatest people I have ever met at the poker table, was an attorney who sometimes let poker interfere with his family. He was always making comments about the time like, “I should have left a long time ago. I don’t know why I’m still here. My wife is going to be so upset.”
We didn’t take it literally until one night about 11 p.m. he was involved in a big pot when all of a sudden two diamond rings were thrown into it. Everyone was startled and looked up to see his wife standing behind him. She said, “You guys want to win it all? You might as well win these.”
It created quite a problem for the dealer. Of course, we gave the rings back, but after that we were always looking over his shoulder for his wife. We saw her one more time. She suddenly appeared and slapped him across the face and turned around and left. Blood was streaming down his face. He didn’t miss a beat and just kept on playing. He always struggled balancing his real life with what he loved to do, which is play poker.
Poker can be exciting and life changing, for better or worse. You can meet some of the best people and some really bad actors. In my next article, I will share more stories about life lessons from the poker table.

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