Mentally Separating Chips From Real Money at the Poker Table

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to play ring game poker where the chips functioned simply as units, without the strong link to real money that affects us every time we play. If our only goal is to collect as many chips as possible, instead of winning fifty or a hundred dollars, it’s very likely we will make much better decisions. Well, I recently just had the opportunity to do exactly that, although I wasn’t expecting it when I sat down.

It was my roommate’s birthday the other day and he had a bunch of guys over to play a game of poker. I gladly joined in, excited since I hadn’t had too many chances to play live in recent months. We gathered at our dining room table and went over the basic ground rules. It was to be a cash game with a relatively low buy-in. The guy in charge of the chips then handed me a stack and told me how much it was worth in total, but said that the chips themselves were worth 1, 2 and 5. Although it seemed strange to me, I guess the group usually played this way and calculated their wins and losses at the end. It wasn’t immediately clear what each chip denomination was worth in cash value.

Instead of trying to crunch the numbers and figure it out, I decided to just focus on the game. After a few rounds and, I had a rough idea of whether I was up or down, but not my exact position. Once more time had elapsed, I had even less of an awareness. And let me tell you: it really helped me!

I’ve found that I often tighten my play up considerably when I am grinding out a small win, fearful of going below even if the cards don’t go my way. Conversely, if I have a huge stack and can practically guarantee a win of a certain dollar amount, I tend to loosen up and push some smaller edges that I normally wouldn’t.

But in this case, however, I was completely oblivious to any of these short-term financial considerations. And as a result, I was in a rational, long-term frame of mind, not a results-oriented one. I was able to think realistically about my hand, my opponents’ likely holdings and the pot size without being distracted by any dollar signs. (This problem is also very common in online play when we obsessively track our session winnings or cashier tab for our account.)

When all was said and done, I was pleased to see that this point of view paid off. I figured I was only slightly above even, but when I cashed in my chips, I was actually up nearly 2x my buy-in.

If you have the ability to separate your chips from real money, it can be a big benefit!

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