Poker is a game which has generated a lot of amazing stories, brilliant players, and fantastic quotes.
But poker quotes aren’t just fun to read—they are also educational. They have something to say to us about the game itself, and oftentimes, life in general.
Let’s Check Out Some of the Most Enlightening Poker Quotations Out There and What They Can Teach Us
- “If you’re playing poker and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”
- “I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a Champion and make a sucker of him.”
- “It’s not whether you won or lost, but how many bad beat stories you were able to tell.”
- “Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponent’s cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”
- “Poker is war. People pretend it is a game.”
- “You get your chips your way, I’ll get my chips mine.”
- “The majority of players are looking for reasons to fold. I am looking for reasons to play.”
- “In order to live, you must be willing to die.”
- “Just play every hand, you can’t miss them all.”
- “Everybody will eventually run worse than they thought was possible. The difference between a winner and a loser is that the latter thinks they do not deserve it.”
- “Poker is 100% skill and 50% luck.”
- “High-stakes gamblers love heart-racing Omaha-type action; normal poker players don’t!”
– Paul Newman
This seems to be one of the most famous quotes in poker, though I’ve seen a number of variations on it, all of them attributed to different people.
This quote grabs us because it is clever. But how can we ultimately interpret it?
Well, first of all, if you aren’t skilled at recognizing who the suckers are at the poker table, that probably implies that you aren’t that good at your game.
It is also common for newbies to have an over-inflated sense of their own abilities. Most people need to be taught a lesson in failure in order to recognize just how unskilled they are.
Indeed, to be truly be good at poker, you need to be aware at all times that you are fallible, even as you gain experience and skill. If you lose perspective of that, somebody else is going to take advantage of your lack of humility.
So you should never assume that you are the smartest person at the table. The moment you do, someone else is going to unseat you.
– Amarillo Slim
Cleaning out fish at the poker table is a good way to make easy money, but you cannot always control who sits down at a table with you.
For that reason, you should be aiming to improve your skills, not simply take advantage of those whose skills are inferior to yours.
That means pitting yourself deliberately against players who are better than you, as they are the ones you can learn from.
This quote is a also another reminder that any player, no matter how skilled, is fallible. That includes not just you, but your opponents.
Ultimately, if you want to win poker tournaments, you need to be able to discover and exploit those fallibilities in the brightest players out there.
– Grantland Rice
This quote doesn’t represent good advice or wise priorities if you want to make bank. Your aim should be to win money, not tell stories about your losses.
But it does emphasize the fact that a lot of poker players don’t have their priorities in order, whether they think they do or not.
They may sit down at the table thinking their aim is to win, but really, they aren’t playing that way.
They may, for example, take wild risks, because doing so leads to more memorable experiences—even if it drains their accounts.
If you are aware that this is your priority and you are okay with that, that is perfectly reasonable.
The important thing is not to be lying to yourself about why you are playing poker, or the way that you are approaching the game.
It is worth it to take a close look at your actions and whether they align with your expressed intentions. You may be surprised by what you discover.
At that point, you have a choice either to keep things the way they are or change the way that you approach the game.
– David Sklansky
There’s not a lot to say about this quote as it speaks for itself in detail. It is not a philosophical observation, but rather a way of thinking about poker strategy.
I choose to include it here because it is simply and clearly expressed. If you keep it in your mind while you are playing, it may help you to think more clearly about what is going on around the table.
– Doyle Brunson
As dramatic as this quote is, it is entirely true for anyone who takes the game seriously, especially someone who is trying to earn a living with it.
Poker is only a game if you are approaching it as entertainment. If you’re not, it is a zero sum “game” where the winners can earn an income and the losers cannot.
– Phil Ivey
There is no one perfect strategy to play poker successfully. If you want to be successful at this game, it is important not just find a strategy that works, but one which is ideally suited to you.
Sometimes, that might mean ignoring well-intentioned advice from others. Even though that advice may work for them, it might not be as suitable for you.
– Daniel Negreanu
One of the top reasons why many poker players lose (especially beginners and casual players) is because they want to play.
Being part of the action is exciting, so they try to play every hand that they think might possibly pan out.
They think of playing a hand as the default action, and folding as something that they want to avoid unless necessary, but the proper way to play the game is the exact opposite of this.
One should think of folding as the default action, as many hands simply are not worth playing.
The trick is only to play hands when you have a really good reason to do so. If the cards you are holding do not allow you to control the action at the table, it is usually best to sit that hand out.
– Amir Vahedi
At the same time, even though you should only play a hand if you have a good reason to, it is important to embrace the fact that risk is a necessary element of the game.
For those who are naturally risk averse, this can be more of a challenge than avoiding the urge to play sub-par hands.
Even when you have an excellent hand, playing it is a risk.
That means that on some level, you must accept that any hand you play will potentially fail.
Until you are okay with that, you will probably find yourself sitting out a lot of opportunities which strategically, you should be taking advantage of.
– Sammy Farha
This humorous quote is, of course, terrible advice. Nonetheless, there are people who play as if it is true.
If there is any wisdom to be gained from this quote, it is perhaps the observation that even a very poor poker player will win some hands.
That means that even a very good player sitting at the same table will lose some hands.
This is a reminder that even though poker is a game of skill, luck can still rob any player, no matter how skilled.
– Irieguy (2+2 forums)
As this quote indicates, sooner or later, you will encounter a very bad losing streak.
If you think that you are undeserving of this misfortune, the implication is that you believe you have simply had a run of bad luck.
Bad luck probably has played some role in your string of losses, but the consistent factor in those losses as you.
If you ignore that factor, you are doomed to repeat those losses in the future because you are not addressing the problem.
Ask yourself what mistakes you might’ve been making over the course of your losing streak to contribute to your misfortunes. If you can identify what you have been doing wrong, that is something that you can control.
And once you do, you can get back to winning.
– Phil Hellmuth
I like this quote because 100% and 50% obviously add up to 150%, not 100%.
It emphasizes the fact that even though luck may in part decide a large number of your hands, at no point does skill not come into play.
– Daniel Negreanu
If you’re playing poker for its excitement, and you get into the emotional highs and lows of the game, that probably means one of a couple things:
- You are playing for entertainment (whether you admit that or not)
- You have money to lose
In this quotation, Negreanu seems to be referring to gamblers at the latter situation. Often times, high-stakes players have money to burn—or at least see it that way.
If you value your money, whether you have a large or small bankroll, you will not be so eager to risk it. And if that is the case, it isn’t the emotional highs and lows of poker which will attract you to the game.
On the contrary, you will probably be working toward keeping your emotions in check, and will prefer quieter, more predictable games where you can control as much of the action at the table as possible.
“Playing chess can make you a better poker player because it forces you to think several moves ahead. That kind of intense mental exercise develops a deeper level of thinking than is typically encountered when playing poker.”
– Daniel Negreanu
This quote from Negreanu points out that poker has a great deal in common with a number of other games, and not just those you find in the casino.
While playing poker can help you to get better at poker, playing other games can sometimes help you develop the same mental muscles and give you insights that you might not otherwise have gleaned.
So consider taking a break now and again from the poker tables to try something new. You might be surprised by how much it teaches you about poker.
“I like to peruse the Full Contact Poker online forums to read and comment on posts about interesting poker hands and whether they were played properly. I find that many of the contributors consistently suffer from the same problem: they are far too preoccupied with statistically insignificant aspects of a poker hand.”
– Daniel Negreanu
Negreanu offers quite a few insightful quotations. Rather than interpret this one, I will simply point you toward the quotation below where he elaborates on this issue.
“Obsessing about statistics won’t make you a better poker player. In fact, you’ll end up wasting too much valuable time on that stuff when you should be concentrating on crucial issues, like getting a read on your opponents and studying the psychological aspects of the game.”
– Daniel Negreanu
To some degree, statistics obviously are important when it comes to trying to determine whether your hand has value, at least in the mathematical sense. But it is important to remember that poker is not blackjack. When you play blackjack, the dealer has to follow prescribed rules.
Because the dealer is not making any decisions on the spot, and is simply following a set of unchanging rules, mathematics can drive every decision you make.
But poker players do not play their hands this way. Whether they choose to fold, call, check or raise, there are a variety of factors contributing to their choices. Statistics are just one of them.
Because this is the case, the key to beating your opponents is not necessarily to play in a mathematically optimized way. It is to figure out what is driving the decisions of the people around you, and then optimize your own strategies according to that, rather than just the values of your hands in an objective sense.
“I’m familiar with that magical mindset during sporting competition where one feels completely zoned in on what’s happening. There are occasional nights in poker when the mists have cleared, and I just know what my opponents’ cards are. Everything at the table is slow, loud, and easy. The rest of the world is silent.”
– Victoria Coren Mitchell
I’ve chosen to share this quote with you for a couple of reasons. The first is simply that it is beautiful and poetic to read.
The second is that I wanted to point out the most important words in the quote, which are “zoned in.”
Mitchell here is referring specifically to the psychological state which we refer to as being “in the zone” or being in a “flow state.”
This isn’t something which tends to happen everyday. When you do get into this state, you may find yourself highly attuned to everything going on around you at the table while able to block out distractions almost effortlessly.
Getting into a flow state can give you an edge, but it is also important to remind yourself when you do reach that state that it doesn’t make you invulnerable.
Also keep in mind that sometimes, you may be up against opponents who are also in the same state of mind.
“A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.”
– Doyle Brunson
Having a large bankroll is certainly an advantage in poker as in life. But it doesn’t necessarily go as far as you might think.
High rollers blow through large bankrolls all the time. All it takes is reckless play or bad luck. But if you have a goal to keep you focused, that can help prevent you from making the types of decisions which wipe out bankrolls, large or small.
That is why a player who has only a small bankroll can sometimes outlast another who has a great deal more money.
“It’s hard work. Gambling. Playing poker. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Think about what it’s like sitting at a poker table with people whose only goal is to cut your throat, take your money, and leave you out back talking to yourself about what went wrong inside. That probably sounds harsh. But that’s the way it is at the poker table. If you don’t believe me, then you’re the lamb that’s going off to the slaughter.”
– Stu Ungar
Poker is an unusual world because people show up to tables for all kinds of reasons. This can even be true in tournaments, where a surprising number of players may believe that poker is the way to fun, easy money. But those who are serious about making this game their living do not view poker as a game, but as a serious battle for survival.
If you think that poker is easy money and you go up against a player who needs to beat you in order to make a living, you are going to be soundly trounced, because that player has more motivation and perspective than you do.
That goes back to the whole “man on a mission” quote from before.
“There’s no one that ever beat me playing cards, the only one that ever beat me was myself.”
There are some limitations to this quote—it is important to recognize that a superior opponent may have bested you fair and square. But that is not Ungar’s point here. His point is that when you are bested, laying the blame solely on your opponent is not going to help you get better.
You should always look to the mistakes that you may have made over the course of a game. While studying what your opponent did right, you should also look at what you did wrong.
Chances are good that you will learn from both of these observations.
By incorporating lessons learned from your opponent with the lessons which you learn about yourself, you can improve your play in multiple ways.
“We’ve all heard stories about poker players grinding it out for two days straight. Believe me, I’ve got stories like that of my own. But the bottom line is that these stories usually don’t have great endings. That’s because the mind starts playing tricks after a marathon poker session, especially after a losing session.”
– Daniel Negreanu
In today’s world, we tend to glorify the entrepreneur who is willing to put in insane hours to make it to the top. This is true in business, and it is also true in poker. But that does not mean that putting in those kinds of hours is actually a route which will lead you to the top, or keep you there.
As Negreanu points out, our bodies and minds simply do not function at their peak after a certain amount of fatigue.
That means that our performance drops, which can cause our dedication to backfire.
The key to avoiding this is simply to keep things in balance. Playing poker should be about making money, not about bolstering your ego.
Ultimately, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, playing these marathon sessions has more to do with creating and maintaining a certain image of yourself than it does to do with profiting.
Set aside that image, and focus instead on playing poker when you are at your best. That means you need to eat, sleep and lead a balanced, healthy life in general.
That will keep your body and mind sharp, which will help you to win when you’re at the tables.
Don’t Forget to Apply These Poker Lessons When You Are Playing Online
I hope that you enjoyed these gems of wisdom about the game of poker. If you keep what you learned in the forefront of your mind when you are playing, it should help you to maintain perspective and hopefully take your game to the next level.
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