There are a number of myths that have grown up about the necessary ingredients for success at poker. A myth usually has a germ of truth to it, with a large degree of distortion. It sounds plausible, but a close examination will reveal that there is more falsehood than truth. The overall effect of these poker myths is to mislead people who are trying to improve their game. Here are my candidates for the four misleading myths that do the most damage to players' bankrolls—especially newbies:


(1) You've got to advertise.

This gets misinterpreted into meaning that you need to bluff a lot so your good hands will make mucho money. My quarrel with this thinking is that the purpose of a bluff is to win the pot. It may not work, but there should be a reasonable chance of success. Those who bluff to advertise bluff too often and in situations where success is remote. A little bit of bluffing is enough to get you action on your good hands. Advertising is only a byproduct of bluffing, not the main purpose.


(2) Confidence is very important for a player.

Even though it is helpful in any endeavor to have confidence, we must ask, "Where does that confidence come from?" When you see Tiger Woods get up on that eighteenth tee on national television and whack a big drive right down the middle, he looks confident. The reason for this confidence is certainly not that he hits slices into the boondocks on the practice tee, but thinks he can do well under pressure. No, no, no. The reason is he has performed so well on previous occasions that he feels he can do the same thing when the chips are down.

I would argue that it is vital for a poker player––or any gambler––to have a realistic view of his own strength. Should a $5‑$10 limit player go into a trance, mumble fifty times to himself "I am the greatest," and then take a seat in a tough $50‑$100 game? Would you want to stake him? Confidence is something that flows naturally as a result of successes. You don't swell your chest with confidence and then become successful; it's the other way around. The maxim should read, "A realistic appraisal of one's abilities is important for a player."


(3) The best players are all super‑aggressive.

This is simply not true. There are only a few successful players that are super‑aggressive. These players are better performers at tournament play than money play, and also are better at big‑bet poker than limit play. Three-time World Champion Stu Ungar is a good example of this.

A look at the guys who get the money year after year shows that being selectively aggressive works better than unrelenting pressure, if steady long-term results are the criterion. Look at such players as Chip Reese and Daniel Harrington to see what I mean.

Moreover, even when this hyper‑aggressive style is made to work, it will surely not be harnessed by ordinary mortals like you or me. You need to be a real poker genius to know how to extricate yourself from the tough situations this style of play will continually place you. I'll guarantee you the ten most aggressive poker players in America are all busted! Don't be a wimp, but don't try to play in fast forward the whole session either.


(4) You must pay to learn.

This saying makes it sound like you need to blow thousands of dollars to become a good enough player just to break even. While this maxim certainly applies if you feel the need to start playing right away for high stakes, I don't believe it applies to low stakes––which is the level where most beginners belong. The cheap poker games have a lot of undisciplined players. I believe newcomers can at least break even simply by reading a book on poker and playing only good hands. The shield of good starting hands should be enough for somebody to hold his own at games below $5‑$10 limit, even without knowing the fine points of poker.


What do all four of these poker myths have in common? They encourage players to put more money into the pot than they should. A player who followed all of these axioms would be confidently raising every pot in a high‑stakes game. Such a recipe would bring nothing to him except disaster. So the next time you hear, "You've got to pay to learn," ask yourself whose pockets the speaker wants to line with money. My guess he wants to fill his own with your money, not the other way around.