2021 World Series of Poker 2021 MSPT Venetian

You Don't Have to Be Embarrassed When You Make a Mistake

Kristy Arnett

For the past five years since quitting my job and turning poker pro, I've made a living grinding mid-stakes no-limit hold'em. A couple weeks ago, I was playing in a cash game when a new player sat down. He was in his mid-thirties and judging by the pen lodged in the breast pocket of his button-up, short-sleeve shirt and the conference badge still hung around his neck, he was an amatuer player. I said hi and asked him about the conference and where he was from.

"Chicago," he said. "The conference was all right, but I skipped out early to come play. I don't get a chance to play much when I'm home." He was smiling as he took the chips out of the rack and set them on the table.

For a couple of rounds, he (let's call him Chicago) played tight and passive. I could tell he was starting to worry that he was getting bluffed a lot (he was). Then he played a hand with a young kid wearing an oversized sweatshirt and headphones. Long story short, Chicago called an all-in when way behind with pocket tens, and he got lucky.

"You gotta be f***ing kidding me," the kid said as he pulled the headphones out of his ears. "What are you doing calling with pocket tens?"

I wanted to say something, but I wasn't sure what. So I settled on what I think is a truth. "Real pros don't complain when they get unlucky."

Chicago didn't know what to say and just kept stacking his chips. His face started to turn crimson. There was sweat on his temples.

"Keep calling with tens. That's why I'm the pro, and you're not," said the kid, while staring him down and pulling chips out of his backpack. Chicago looked embarrassed and kept his head down. I was sure this wasn't the fun he thought was going to have when he left the conference.

I wanted to say something, but I wasn't sure what. So I settled on what I think is a truth. "Real pros don't complain when they get unlucky."

Chicago lifted his head when I said this, then looked back and forth between the kid and me. The kid didn't say anything, which surprised me. Maybe deep down he knew that he was just upset, and shouldn't have said what he did.

When Chicago's eyes met mine again, I said, "I'm sure you thought he was bluffing and that your tens were good, right?" He nodded. "You went with your read. That's poker."

Chicago didn't stay long, and I wondered if he would be as excited to play next time.

This interaction is what inspired the tweet at the top of the article. It got over 800 likes and 70 retweets because it struck a chord, so I thought it was important to expand on this idea that you never have to be embarrassed at the poker table.

When you are playing poker, you are equipped with all the skills it is possible for you to have in that moment. Your decisions are based on the experience, knowledge and mental toughness level that you have cultivated up to that point. Therefore, you're doing the best you can with what you know at at given moment.

We all want to do well and be respected, but to expect ourselves never to make a mistake is futile. Sure, embarrassment might creep up, but don't waste your time or energy beating yourself up for it. Mistakes are not only inevitable, they are necessary.

Instead, when it does happen, spend that energy learning from it. Ask yourself, "How did this mistake happen? What was the error in thought process? Was the mistake caused by tilt or by being unfocused? What did I miss in the hand?"

To expect ourselves never to make a mistake is futile. Sure, embarrassment might creep up, but don't waste your time or energy beating yourself up for it.

Furthermore, if a "pro" ever tries to make you feel embarrassed or calls you out for making a mistake, know this: They actually aren't a "pro" or at least won't be for long because they are insecure and have huge leaks in their mental game.

People will say, "Well, what about Phil Hellmuth? He's a pro and berates people all the time!" Okay, sure, maybe Phil still makes money playing poker and maybe his antics are just that and actually don't affect his mental game. Maybe. So there's Phil Hellmuth... and who else?

Real pros take a beat and don't flinch. They knock the table, reset and go onto the next hand. They recognize how illogical it would be to expect other players to play perfectly and how dumb it would be actually to want that.

Analyze your game with people whose games you respect, not through the "free advice" given by tilted know-it-alls.

And by the way, if you're an amateur player who loves just whaling around, making silly plays because you're having fun — GO FOR IT! It's your money and you're free to play how you want.

For more poker and life tidbits like this, follow Kristy on Instagram @kristy.arnett or Twitter @kristyarnett. You can also get her articles straight to your inbox by going to KristyArnett.com and signing up for her newsletter.

Sharelines
  • Misplay a hand? You never have to be embarrassed at the poker table, explains @KristyArnett.

  • Mistakes are inevitable in poker. You can use them to improve, but don't ever be embarrassed by them.

More Stories

Other Stories

Recommended for you

Hold'em with Holloway, Vol. 130: A Pair of One-Outers on the River Hold'em with Holloway, Vol. 130: A Pair of One-Outers on the River