so much of poker has drawn a lot of attention from people in recent history:
a) the glamour of being a professional gambler, which has been grossly heightened partly due to poker players self aggrandizement and natural narcissism (one needs to really believe in one's ability and judgment to really excel at poker), and also probably because of recent media portraying gambling in a "cool" light (ocean's eleven, 21, rounders, etc.), but also because of the recent allowance for a wide multitude of players to make a very profitable living off of it.
b) for the players, some of it has been the intellectual side, relating it to merely as a game that is played where money are points to keep score, where complicated bayseian game theory also meets an element of heightened awareness of human psychology (games where money is at risk tend to bring out heightened emotion).
c) our culture has been reevaluating the acceptability of gambling as a normal way of life, by examining the definition of poker as a game of skill or chance, what part the government has in allowing or disallowing it, and ethical debates of the impact of poker on our society.
as i have understood last year, however, there's one aspect of poker that has become more apparent to me. with winners, there are losers. this much is painfully obvious, but that doesn't tell the whole story. in order to be successful at the game, you have to be willing to constantly be on the attack. it might be silly, but you almost have to think of it as a war, in a warrior like mentality. your table mates, are your adversaries. and as hard as it may be you must not harbor good or bad feelings towards them, as both will cloud your judgment.
last september, i played in the WPT at the borgata, where i finished 19th. there was a bit of luck sure, but i think also what was different than from how i had been playing a lot recently was the way i approached each hand. i had been playing with a more robotic mentality when i was playing, and things became just textbook and predictable. i switched from thinking, "i'm merely betting, folding, raising, calling," to thinking, "i am cutting into their stack," visualizing my chips as more of a cutting tool. every bet became a thrust, every fold became a side step, every call became a parry. all necessary moves to gain victory, but all moves that needed to be played at the right time. however, if you're too friendly with your opponents, you may not be as willing to cut them when the time comes. if you're filled with too much enmity towards them, you may become distracted and walk into a trap by another opponent.
there was one hand where i lost focus, and i thought of saving my chips as a measure of safety, when the move was to be aggressive and shove it all in. i was distracted not by my opponent, but by my not accepting that i was in a battle to begin with, and that i was trying to escape it instead of face it. it was because i let my emotion dictate my actions that i didn't win where i should have, where it was better to err on the side of...not caution. it could've made the difference between a late finish and a final table.
5 years ago, when i played in the main event for the first time, i went in with the mentality that i wouldn't play scared and i would play the best i could no matter what and even if the best play seemed risky, because in the grand scheme of things, the $10,000 didn't mean much if i had to live regretting making a poor decision that would cost me what i thought would be my only shot at the WSOP main event. i think i've lost that mentality after a few years, and hope to regain it next month, when i will probably play the main event for the last time...in a while, at least.