That’s a famous line from the brilliant play, Glengarry Glen Ross for which David Mamet won a Pulitzer. Mamet’s great insights into human nature come across in the characters he creates and in his sharp dialogue. Apparently Mamet also played (and quite likely still plays) a fair amount of poker, as is evident by this old essay he published in the eighties.

While I cannot evaluate Mamet’s acumen as a poker player as I’ve never seen him play, there is little doubt he is uniquely gifted as an observer of human nature. Here are three gems from his essay on poker:

 

Many bad players do not improve because they cannot bear self-knowledge.

If I had to pick one quote that best characterizes why bad players stay bad (despite playing the game for years), it would be this. Most people learn the mechanics of the game in a session or two. They get more experienced over years of play and yet they repeat the same mistakes. In most endeavors in life when you try to deceive yourself about your level of skill, the results make things embarrassingly clear. The poker table is one of the few places where you can play poorly, recklessly even, and still win. At least in the short term. You can play sensibly, analytically, and lose. The game seems magically designed to reinforce bad habits. But the truth isn’t hard to find. It’s right there just below the surface for anyone who dares to look.

Most players don’t look. They can’t bear to look.

 

Poker is boring. If you sit down at the table to experience excitement, you will, consciously and subconsciously, do things to make the game exciting.

This is particularly true of cash game poker. The pace of the game is inherently slow.  Players are constantly trying to force the pace, but the only way to succeed in the long run in cash games is to let the game come to you. You have to adjust to its tempo. You can’t force it. What is worse, sometimes, in the short term, forcing it works. But this accomplishes only one thing: it encourages you to repeat this long-term losing play.

 

When you are proud of having made the correct decision… you are inclined to look forward to the results of that decision with some degree of impassivity.

Anyone who plays knows that emotional pain comes with the territory. You have to tame that pain. It’s unlikely that you can ever erase it completely, but you can put it in its place. You can minimize its effect on your decision making. The game is primarily a battle with yourself and your ability to remain focused on the decision making process in the face of repeated emotional adversity. Once you start getting too wrapped up in the results you lose track of what really matters… the decisions.

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