In this blog post Barry Carter discusses how Tilt is a common issue to disciplines such as sports betting, trading and of course poker.  I felt compelled to answer this post as I have always found that comparing poker to other disciplines very useful to my understanding of the game.  One of the disciplines I used to be quite passionate about is pool.  Although poker and pool are 2 very dissimilar games, the psychological side of these 2 disciplines draw some interesting parallels.  More specifically, the Social Psychology aspects of poker and billiards are very similar:

-  In both games you act in front of other players and gradually give away your strategy;
-  It is very common for the players watching to form opinions about how you proceed;
- It is commonly perceived that winning players will often take the same strategic route when analyzing a situation

Pool players who are not accustomed to the added pressure of peer speculation often lose focus on their objective.  For instance, an 8-ball player who lacks confidence thinks about what his opponent will think if he does not choose the correct order of shots to take and fails to clear the table.  This player creates an extra layer to the problem.  Instead of focusing on the best course of action, the following thoughts set in:

  • If I lose, how can I do so without looking foolish
  • How can I win this game in the most impressive fashion
  • How can I play this to leave myself with excuses for losing if I don’t win

Poker players tend to fall into the same trap.  The pressure of being scrutinized by others sitting at the table can be overwhelming.  This especially holds true when facing a critical decision while playing a big pot.  Pressure opens the door to self-doubt.   Players find themselves trying to determine a play that will help them save face instead of focusing on playing optimally.  Losing their stack becomes acceptable with certain holdings. Profitable bluffs are not executed in fear of having to show an ugly losing hand. Players are focused on their post bust out story instead of focusing on making the correct play.

How to fix it

Barry and Jared probably have a more elaborate answer on how to counter this natural tendency.  Personally, I have found that gaining confidence by getting used to playing under stressful conditions helps.  The more you can handle the stress of a tough poker spot, the better are able to focus on the task at hand and not worry about what the rest of the table is thinking.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic and/or this post. I am looking forward to discussing it with you.


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Observation and Poker

In this post I described 3 essential skills of poker and the challenges they present for intermediate poker players.  The first skill, the one of observing and recognizing the situation, seems the simplest but can be the most baffling for struggling players.  What makes it difficult is the immense number of variables to consider.  The noise to signal ratio at a poker table is huge.  It is difficult for beginner and intermediate poker players to focus on the task at hand and not be side tracked by all the distractions.

The solution to this problem is to prioritize your focus.  We need to dissect what information MUST be focused on versus what information is beneficial yet not essential.  It is impossible to view and understand the tactical impact of everything going on at the table.  To help determine what information to seek out at the poker table, consideration should be given to the following criteria:

How frequently will the information benefit you?

The more frequently information will help you, the more you should seek it. For instance,  players should constantly focus on GAME CONDITIONS throughout their poker sessions.  Blind structure, rake structure and table dynamics are all variables universal to everyone at the table.  You will factor in these conditions in most, if not all, of your decisions; which makes this information crucial.

How reliable is the information?

Some parts of a poker problem would be great to figure out, however there is just too much noise to make RELIABLE DECISIONS based on them.  This is why BETTING PATTERNS AND PLAYER TENDENCIES TRUMP NONVERBAL TELLS.  Live players need to focus on both, but you should never sacrifice focus on tendencies in favor of nonverbal tells. Player tendencies are much more reliable.

How valuable is the information?

Although all information available at the poker table is valuable, it is important to understand that all information is not equal in value.  We must focus on what we can capitalize on most.  For instance, it is far more valuable to gain understanding of our opponent’s preflop ranges then it is to know about his current mental state.  The psychological aspects of poker strategy are intriguing, but skills like hand reading must be mastered and should take precedence.

Agree with this article?  Have any comments or questions?  Please feel free add your comments by clicking on the comments link below.


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DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE

A huge benefit of playing live poker is getting to listen to the constant table chatter. The conversation typically gravitates towards proper poker strategy for obvious reasons. Players feel the need to discuss the proper (or quite often improper) way to play when certain situations arise.

Having listened to these discussions for the past 15 years or so, I have noticed the same common misconceptions keep popping up.  The top 3 poker strategy misconceptions I overhear the most during live play are:

1. Betting cannot be wrong when you have a good chance of being ahead

This one makes intuitive sense but can cost you dearly at the poker table. Being obviously ahead of your opponent’s perceived range does not necessarily mean a bet or raise is in order. For the most part, betting/raising should be done with one of the following goals in mind:

  • a. Getting a worse hand to call
  • b. Getting a better hand to fold
  • c. Trying to win a significant pot uncontested

There are plenty of situations where you are probably ahead of your opponent’s range yet you cannot achieve any of these goals. For example, 3-betting a loose opponent preflop with a hand like A-Q is often a gross error. When you consider which parts of his range he will fold and which part he will call or 4-bet, quite often you are just setting up your opponent to play perfectly. In other words, you are isolating the top of his range; he will call/raise when ahead and fold when behind. Just calling in this spot is usually more profitable then raising.

2. Having a huge chip stack means you can afford to make marginal calls

I often hear this in tournaments and even more shockingly during cash play. A lot of good players misunderstand the value of having a big chip stack.

The power of having a big stack lays in leverage.   Having a deep chip stack allows you to threaten your opponent’s stack early in the hand. Early hand aggression presents a problem for your opponent; he has to worry that you might put a lot or even all of your chips in the pot in the later betting rounds. A big chip stack allows you to threaten your opponent’s stack without needing to risk much of your own. This constant threat allows you to win a lot of small uncontested pots. Leveraging your big stack has nothing to do with being able to afford taking risks in big pots; it is about putting pressure on your opponent with very little risk involved.

3. When you flop a huge hand you MUST slow play to extract chips from your opponent

Most beginner and intermediate players like to slow play when they flop a big hand. However, “letting them catch up so they can pay me off” is often a losing proposition. The problem with slow playing is that the following conditions must exist for it to be profitable :

a. Your opponent must be trailing in the hand

b. He must be unwilling to pay you off if you show immediate aggression

c. He must have a decent chance of improving without taking the lead

d. He must pay you off often enough to make this risk profitable

These conditions occur infrequently. In turn, slow playing usually loses money.  Slow playing can be a strong profitable tactic but she be used sparingly, under the right circumstances.

 

Do you have any personal favorites to add to this list?  Agree or disagree with anything in my list?  Floor is yours, comment away!!!


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Bad beat? Shut up about it!

I wonder why we berate poker players when they play a hand loosely and suck out on us.  Time and time again I see people react negatively towards the players that outdrew them

I think poker players do this for several reasons;

EGO – They want the player that busted them to KNOW they were outplayed and “just got lucky”.  And they dare not make an excuse for being in the hand and think they played it right!

PAIN - It hurts to get outdrawn.  Might as well channel the pain elsewhere right?  And, of course there is no better target than the person who sucked out on us!

SHORT SIGHTEDNESS – We are perfectly fine with the way our opponent played the hand.   We WANT them to play poorly, we just don’t want them to play poorly and then HIT.

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.Because of these and other factors I forget or am clueless about, it is quite easy to give in to our impulse to call out our opponent for a bad play that ended up smelling like roses.  Here are a few reasons I think we should fight off these urges and shake their hand and say “Good game”.

  1. We are civilized – We play poker mostly with friends; or at the very least, with people who are going through the tough Topsy Turvy, upswing/downswing, kick in the nuts process of being a poker player. The hand is over, your tournament may be over, deal with it.
  2. Tap the glass? – A bit of a more selfish motive; why tap the glass?  Do you really want your opponent to smarten up and start playing better? Again, realize that you are upset that they sucked out, not the fact that they played the hand badly.
  3. Solitaire poker? – React this way too often and the fish will stop be playing poker with you.
  4. You are nice guy; here you go, I will pay you off – Another selfish motive. Players do not mind losing to a nice guy.  Players tend to be less confrontational and competitive at the table when a player is nice, easy going and positive. Don’t miss out on this opportunity because you lost your cool immediately after a bust out.

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Although it is true that winning at poker has a reactive aspect to it, it’s a monumental mistake to ignore the proactive aspects of poker strategy. Hand planning is both critical and essential. Avoiding tough decisions further down the road is as important as solving the immediate problems a poker hand presents. Following are three key factors that should be considered when formulating a hand plan.

Stack Size

Stack size awareness is crucial to hand planning. Without knowing the relevant stack sizes before taking action, you risk finding yourself in a vulnerable position later in the hand. I recommend maintaining a general sense of each player’s chips at the table, at all times. I typically take inventory of everyone’s chip stack while the dealer is shuffling.

Let me discuss an example of a hand I played where my preflop decision was affected by stack size:

We are in a 24-player tournament – top 4 pays. Blinds are 50-100T. I have about 6500T in chips with A-K in Late position. I open for 400T, it is folded to my best bud Tim in the small blind; he has about 9500T and is on a pretty big upswing. Tim 3bets to 1200T, the big blind folds. I have to decide to call or 4bet. Although Tim has an aggressive table image, he just won a few big pots and I do not think he would 3bet me light here as I am the only one at the table that can really damage his stack. I have to decide to either call or 4bet. I decide to call.

Why did I opt to call and not 4bet? The main factor was STACK SIZE. I felt like I had too many chips to just 4bet shove, but I also felt I could not 4bet to any reasonable amount and still have a comfortable stack size for the flop if I were to get called. I did not want to play fit or fold on the flop, and the only real play I would have on the flop is to shove (the pot would be at about 4400T if I 4bet to around 2000T and I would have around 4500T left). Not wanting to commit my stack preflop or playing fit or fold on the flop, I decided to just call and keep the pot size smaller to give myself a bit more leverage post flop. If the effective chip stacks before the hand would have been shallower, I would have been okay with either 4bet shoving or to 4bet to about 2000T while planning to shove most flops.

Opponent’s Playing Style

When formulating your plan, another factor to consider is your opponents playing styles. More specifically, you must determine things about your opponent’s playing style, such as:

  • What is his hand range?
  • What is your opponent likely to do postflop?
  • How will he react to each of your preflop actions?

A situation that comes up often is when you are holding a small pocket pair in late position and you face a raise from early position. A fairly common plan in this spot is to call with the hopes of flopping a set. Conventional wisdom declares that calling is profitable if the effective chip stacks are deep enough – around 12 times the amount of the raise – to win a big enough pot when the improbable does happen and you hit your set. The error here is this plan does not take Villain’s playing style into account. You cannot suppose that every player who raises in early position will have a premium hand or play recklessly enough to stack off when you hit your set. I am not saying that calling in this spot is ever really bad, but it is often bad when your intention is to get paid when you hit a set and to give up when you don’t. It is necessary to consider YOUR OPPONENT’S PLAYING STYLE and not just stack size to determine the value of set mining.

Table Position

We all know that being in late position is a great advantage in a poker hand. It is important when formulating our plan to consider how to increase this advantage when in position and to negate this disadvantage when out of position.

The preferred method to negate a positional disadvantage is the “bloat the pot” preflop. Often when you know you will be out of position for the remainder of the hand, raising/3betingt/4betting can be the correct play. This “shortens the hand” and negates your opponent’s positional advantage.

For example: You are in the middle stages of a multi-table tournament, the blinds are 100-200t, and you have 4500T in chips in the small blind. A player that has you well covered open raises to 800T from the cutoff position. This player is fairly aggressive and you have him on a fairly wide raising range. You look down at your hand and see pocket 9’s. Do you three bet or just call?

A good plan in this spot is the 3bet to about 2000T. If you do this, you can fold to a 4bet or have an about pot sized chip stack for the flop when flat called. Your plan could be to shove most safe flops and to give up on all other’s for instance. Notice here that we alleviated some of the positional disadvantage. There will only be 2 streets of betting at most. It is much easier to play out of position with shallow stacks then with deep stacks.

These are a few examples of the factors to consider while formulating a poker hand plan. Hand planning is a topic I will cover more deeply throughout this blog. Do you agree that hand planning is a glaring weakness for many players? What are the other factors that must be considered when formulating a hand plan? Feel free to respond in the COMMENTS field below.


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