The Five Faults

Sun Tzu says:

There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general.

(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;

Recklessness is present at all levels of poker. Even in professional games some players swing for the fences, and take big risks that when successful pay off, but when not will ruin your chance to compete in the game. The most important thing to remember is that even great poker players can be reckless. There are many ways to be reckless in poker.

  • Going all-in repeatedly – relying on coin-flip odds
  • Betting enough to be trapped into being in a hand you should not be in on
  • Thinking you know what an opponent has without properly studying their betting styles
  • Letting your opponent tell you how much to bet when you do not have the best hand

If you rely on coin-flip odds, you will receive coin-flip odds and you will lose. All-in’s pre-flop have a place in poker, but it should be used as a desperation move. Smart players put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat and do not miss the opportunity to defeat their opponents. If you place a bet, you above all need to make sure you are not committing yourself to playing all the way. Bet hard at hands that you are willing to play to the end. Some players over-extend themselves and play a hand that they would never all-in on their own accord. This is akin to letting your opponent arrive first to the battlefield of their choice, which Sun Tzu would object to.

In All warfare is based on deception we talk about the importance of figuring out how your opponents are deceiving you. Choose your battlefields for all-in hands, if you think your opponent is bluffing, do not call with a half-decent hand. If you fold, the worst that can happen is that you lose a few chips and your opponent will think you can be bluffed easily and become over-extended later when you can take them out.

Closely related is letting your opponent choose how much you bet. You should be telling your opponent how much to bet from the signs you give them. Your opponent is also giving you signs, and unless you understand those signs you are not in a position to mess with that opponent while they are in a strong position. If you are a good player, you can choose the battlefield for a decisive hand.

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;

Once you’ve figured out your opponent, you should not miss the opportunity to defeat them. If you have carefully studied your opponent and selected a battlefield of your choosing you have no reason to fear the opponent unless every sign you are getting tells you otherwise. Always second guess yourself, but when and how you put your chips in is what it means to choose a battlefield, and if you have done this right then you should take as many chips as you can. If your opponent is betting hard, are they doing it because they have a great hand or because they have decided that it is better than yours. If they are betting hard because they think their hand is better than yours, they are in a weak position and you should not hesitate to take them for their whole stack. If you convince them to bet by the signs you give them, don’t be scared when they bet a significant portion of your stack.

(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;

If you have ever seen Tony G. playing poker, you know the way some players can win by angering their opponents in poker games. In one World Poker Tour event, Tony G. masterfully taunted his opponents and won the tournament. But an insulting player is not the only way to lose your temper in poker. Many players lose their tempers when a player out bets them consistently. If you see a player getting mad, keep it going and they will make a mistake out of frustration. If you find yourself getting angry, simply switch your game plan around a little. Helplessness is a root cause of frustration, and should be carefully handled when you are being outplayed consistently.

(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;

Poker is not about winning consistently. You will not win every hand, and you should expect in a ten player game to only have the absolute best hand one-tenth of the time. Yet so many players get upset easily when they don’t receive cards several hands in a row and start betting anyway. Bad poker players win in the short run, but lose in the long run, while good players often lose in the short run and win in the long run. The time while you are losing is a great time to start feeding your opponent some false information. If you have to check every hand then do it. This way when you get a good hand you can check that too and your opponent will be used to buying pots from you, and may bet too much and become trapped.

(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

Do not be afraid to lay down your chips if you have carefully chosen your battlefield. Guard primarily against a decisive blow, while searching for a weakness in your opponents position. You should not worry about your chips unless you have not properly studied your opponent or are playing on your opponents term on a battlefield of their choosing.

When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.


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  • Joseph Mitri, 10.03.2012, 8:00 дп

    Very well written story. It will be supportive to anyone who employess it, as well as me. Keep up the good work — i will definitely read more posts.

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