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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Stop it!  Stop telling yourself  and anyone within earshot that BANKROLL MANAGEMENT is the reason you are a losing player.  You lose at poker because you are not good enough…  AT POKER!!!

From the people that blog about knowing how to win but not doing so to those that refuse to think about any of their REAL leaks, I am sick of hearing about your lack of discipline.  The fact is, if it was true that Bankroll Management and game selection were the most significant problems with your game, you would totally rock at poker and easily compensate for these shortcomings with your world class poker skills.

So for those losing players that are convinced bankroll management is a significant reason for their lack of results, SNAP OUT OF IT!  You are in total denial and are NOT focused on improving your game.
For those that use this excuse as a crutch, but have at least a little bit of doubt that they are not being honest with themselves and others, you are not fooling anyone!  Please stop spewing this nonsense.  This act is very transparent and embarrassing.  Give yourself a fighting chance at success.  If you want to improve at poker take inventory of your play, find your TRUE leaks and work on them.
Are you equally as worried about/frustrated with “Bankroll Management-tards?  Want to share your perspective? I would love to hear your comments.


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Today I am sharing my simplest yet most powerful tip.  I am convinced that once you integrate the following into your poker game/routine, you will begin enjoying poker on a whole new level AND tremendously improve your poker skills.

The trick is to grab a friend, a tray of poker chips and a timer; then start playing some live heads up poker freezouts with your best poker buddy.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

Here are some thoughts on some of the variables involved in setting up a Heads Up match.  The key is to make these matches as competitive and enjoyable as possible in order to get the most out of them.

Heads Up Freezouts:  Playing a series of freezouts is the best way to keep these games engaging.  Being able to reset the chips equally after winning or losing a game will keep both parties engaged and ready to compete.

Starting stacks:  The starting stacks should not be too shallow as this would restrict the amount of creative play, but they should also not be unrealistically deep either. The goal is to reproduce situations similar to your standard full table game.   Starting stacks of about 80 to 120 big blinds with 20 minute or so levels should be adequate for most players.

The Stakes:  Stakes should be high enough to keep the competitive momentum flowing, but not too high as to discourage the matches from continuously running.  Make each match be worth fighting for but not enough to hurt anyone enough to make them feel like they have to quit playing before they lose too much.

Side Bet:  Seeing that single heads up freezouts are very small units of play,   you can always turn them into a series of matches.  For instance, all of my heads up games with my buddies are part of “race to 10 win” matches.  We bet a certain amount per individual win plus the first to win 10 freezouts wins an extra bet. This is yet another way to keep things competitive.  Having a constantly running scoreboard helps keep the participants motivated.

WHO TO PLAY WITH?

Here are a few guidelines to consider in finding a heads Up buddy that will help you get the most out of these matches.

A worthy opponent – Your opponent should be a tough challenge for you.  He should not be overly predictable so that you are forced into as many tough decisions as possible

Competitive – The more competitive these matches are, the more you will get out of them.  Try to find a heads up friend that will “fight for every inch” and spark your competitiveness!

Wanting to improve – Find an opponent that is looking to reap the same benefits from these matches as you are. Find an opponent that plays poker to improve and because it is the most enjoyable game on Earth. You need to play with someone that PLAYS POKER FOR VALUE!

THE PAYOFF

Playing these freezouts will help your poker game in many ways.

They will force you to play more hands:  This also means you will play hands that you would not play often under normal conditions.  This will help you figure out those “odd situations” you find yourself in during your regular game.  Experience is one of the keys in poker. Heads up poker is a quick way to gain a lot of MEANINGFUL experience.

They will force you to pay attention:  There is a lot less downtime while playing heads Up poker.  You are in or near the action 100 percent of the time.  This encourages you to examine your opponent more closely.  Heads up poker promotes the habit of profiling your opponent’s tendencies and helps you appreciate the value of studying your opponent for verbal and nonverbal tells.

You will become “battle ready”: Getting much repetition in a very COMPETITIVE setting will benefit you when you need it most.  To maintain your composure while facing a tough decision with something significant on the line is a learnable skill.  Playing these heads up matches will help fight the tendency of ‘freezing” in tough spots during your regular game.

Do you play regular heads up matches with your buddies?  If so, has it improved your overall game? How so?  If you have any suggestions or comments, I would love to hear your thoughts.


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We need to understand our opponents to win at poker.  Although physical and non verbal tells are important,  understanding our opponents tendencies is far more valuable and more often applicable then tells.

This post discusses the three phases of player observation and provides comments on how they are often misused.

Phase 1 -  Even before the first hand is dealt

We can tell much about a poker player simply by watching him sit down at his table, by greeting him and by engaging him in a pregame chat.   It is ok to label poker players based on their appearance.  Gender, age, social status and general demeanor are all important factors to consider.  They help “paint a picture” of our opponent and give valuable insights about his poker tendencies.  Although this pregame profiling is not totally reliable, it does trump the alternative of working in the dark and to view everyone at your table through the same “average poker player” lens.  Too many poker players skip this step.  They view their unknown opponents as total wild cards.  They miss out on a great opportunity to create a “poker tendency baseline” for these unknown opponents.

Phase 2 –  Labeling

Once play begins, it is now time to start observing player tendencies.   How often do they limp?  How often do they raise preflop?  Do they like to isolate?  Do they ever limp from the button?  Blind Defenders?  Do they Cbet a lot?  Do they play fit or fold on flop?  Do they float?  Do they check raise bluff?  You get the picture.

This is the meaty part of player reading.  Here we gradually adjust our initial speculative perception of our opponent towards a concrete summary of how he plays poker.  Once we get a grasp on how our opponent plays, we compare his play to the numerous opponents we have faced in the past and we label him accordingly.  For instance, if he plays very few hands but plays them hard, we call him a TAG, if he plays very loose/passively we label him a calling station or a showdown muppet.

Once we assign a label to our opponent, we can make decent assumptions on how he will play in certain situations.  Some poker problems are very similar, this allows us to categorize them as we can assume that if he plays situation “A” a certain way he will probably play very similar situation “B: the same way.  There are 2 common errors made in respect to the “labeling phase”.

Over focusing on Preflop play

While it is true that preflop tendencies tell us a lot about our opponents, they do not tell the whole story.  Players tend to observe preflop trends (loose or aggressive) and extend them to all facets of their opponent’s play.  Although it is true that the degree of preflop aggression can be a key indicator of how one will play the other streets, preflop play does not translate into a perfectly clear picture of how a poker player approaches the rest of the hand.

Why stop here?

We tend to stop at this phase.  We slap a label on our opponents and figure we can stop observing their play and focus on the other aspects of winning poker.  Laziness hurts us here.  For instance, while it is true that a TAG tends to bet light on the later streets, not all TAG’s will play the late betting rounds the same way.  Does this TAG check/raise bluff often?  Does he double barrel?  Will he semi bluff big draws on the turn or take a free card?  These are all specific aspects of our opponent’s play that can only be determined via direct observation.  The label we slap on our opponent will help determine these tendencies but we must REFINE our impression of our opponent beyond the labeling phase.

Phase 3 -  Refining

Once that we get enough hands in with our opponent, we need to start narrowing down on his specific tendencies.  Gradually we work our way from the label we assigned him towards a finely tuned view of his play.  We build data on how he plays certain poker situations that come up often during play.  We take note of every variable that made this situation unique and try and discern which variables affected his play the most.  The ultimate goal here is to UNDERSTAND our opponent, to know not only how he will act but WHY he tends to act a certain way at the table.

The one striking error I have seen at the refining stage is that players do not focus enough on the reason why their opponent acted in a specific way.  Once we start gaining an understanding of what a poker player is trying to accomplish at the table, we are one step closer to “getting into their head” and playing them optimally.

What do YOU think about player reading?  Do I put too much emphasis on reads and not enough on tells?  Do you agree that the 3 stages of player reading are important?  LEAVE A COMMENT… let’s discuss it.


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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.

.

.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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