I like the way you play.
You're smart, you know? That's why I respect your game. You're one helluva a player and I don't know why you don't win more. Tough break on that ace-jack hand. So damned cruel when a monster like that gets coolered by AK. It's okay, though, bud. You're going to get there. After all, you've got me and a host of other people telling you what's right and wrong about your game.
Oh, and hey, if you lose tonight, shake it off. It's going to get better, because I like the way you play.
I made two rules for myself about a year ago: Never take criticism from someone I've just beat and never believe an opponent who says they respect my game. The rules exist for a variety of reasons. First, if I played a hand badly, I know it. I don't need someone else to tell me. Second, if someone says they respect me (especially in the midddle of a game), the chances that they are lying or shooting an angle are about 99%. Furthermore, it doesn't matter if someone likes my game. They are still trying to take my chips.
My psyche doesn't matter, though. The above is simply the way I protect myself from manipulation and, more importantly, ego. Pride and timidity are equally dangerous at a poker table and I want none of either. It's up to you how you handle your head.
What's on my mind today, however, is how people handle their mouths, how they handle beats, and the purpose of both. Purpose is the thing.
I do not hold myself out as an expert in poker, psychology, or any combination of the two. However, I am clear on one thing: Everything you do at a poker table, from the time you walk in the door or log-in online to the time you cash out must have a purpose. Every move you make, thing you say, or motion you make should have purpose, and better yet, a purpose toward the ultimate goal of making money.
Few people, least of all I, have perfected this. It's exceptionally difficult to follow this rule. Distractions like a TV, a waitress, or a beer can steal focus and render all of your attempts at a purpose-minded game. For some people, the hardest thing to contol is their mouth, especially after playing and losing against an obviously inferior opponent.
I wonder sometimes why more people don't consider how absolutely contrary that is to poker's first goal. Among the first thing a new player learns is to stay as far away from the aquarium as you can. You want your fish to be as still as possisble. Stasis, after all, is death. And yet, I see great players going to great lengths to pick up the fish and shake them until they completely understand how unreasonable it is to call a re-raise with ace-jack off.
What do you have to gain by doing that? Do you know? I only ask because you are making better the people I can conceivably beat and that is more than a little annoying. Plus, it's just a little rude.
I have a couple more rules. First, you will never hear me criticize your game. Second, if you hear me complimenting your game (beyond the occasional and polite, "nice hand"), be very wary, because I probably don't mean it.
There are five people with whom I would be totally honest about their play--and then only of they asked. There was a time when I could still teach my poker friends. That time has long since passed. They now all have a fundamental understanding of the game and have developed their own style. If they played a hand badly, they know it as well as I do. However, if they ask, I will offer my opinion, because, as friends, we hope to improve each other's game. We all know our respective strengths and weaknesses. We explot those in home games, but otherwise, we work to encourage each other to improve...without working to discourage our friends.
When Phil Hellmuth won his eleventh World Series of Poker bracelet this year, I was standing about 20 feet away. I couldn't see it happen, because Hellmuth sat in a live coverage void in the Bluff Magazine tent. Still, it was clear what happened. When the crowd rose in applause, I clapped as well. I have no love for Hellmuth's personality, table demeanor, cash game, or general life outlook. Regardless, I respect him as one of, if not the best, no-limit hold'em tournament player in history.
There is probably only one honest thing I could say to someone at a table: "I appreciate the way you handle yourself at the table."
I know tons of good poker players. I know some great poker players. Among those people, the only ones I care about are the ones I can respect. Phil Hellmuth has turned himseld into poker's version of a pro wrestling villian by criticizing his opponents' play. Everybody else who tries to emulate the Whining Badboy Poker Genius character is just slapping his man-part against the glass.