Let’s talk about the decision-making process in poker. In every sport, the athlete has their technical fundamentals that they rely on during high pressure moments. In golf, it is the player’s swing. In basketball, a player’s jump shot. In swimming, it is their stroke. These technical aspects of a player’s game are constantly worked on and ingrained in their body, so they can perform under pressure. As a prime example, a golfer knows their swing so well, that they don’t even have to think about it. Their body automatically performs the swing, due to the repetition that has occurred.
In poker, our golf swing is our decision-making process. It is all mental and not at all physical. Our mind needs to be trained to make poker decisions automatically, just like a golfer makes their golf swing. As players, we rely on this process to guide us through a poker hand. More importantly, we need to get this process fully automated so that it does not break down under pressure. Just like a golfer has bad swings, poker players might have a bad decision-making process in hands.
We will look at one decision-making process that I believe works effectively. It is important to keep in mind that this will look differently for everyone. Every golfer has their own unique swing that applies to them. While they are all different, they contain certain pivotal technical points that makes them effective. Poker is no different, in that everyone’s decision process will be different, but needs to incorporate certain aspects to make them technically sound. Below are certain things to incorporate in your process. While this process looks very long, over time this will become automatic in your head, or at least that is the goal.
What does our opponents range look like? – Is the range wide or tight? How many combinations of sets does the opponent have? How many 2 pair combinations does the opponent have? I like to start with those questions first, to help determine how strong the range is. For example, an UTG raiser on, has only 3 set combos (AA), and only 4 two pairs (A5s and A2s, UTG has no off suit 2 pairs). Through this quick step, we have recognized all the hands better than 1 pair the opponent can have. This is very important in determining who has more equity or expected value in a hand.
What does our range look like? Now we need to assess our range. Let’s say we called from the BB and are presented with the sameboard. We have no AA but have all the 55 and 22 combos. We have 4 combos of 43s for the nut straight. We also have 2 combos of A5s, A2s, 52s and 9 combos of A5o. Going back to the first step, bet size, it would depend on the opening size if we had A2o in our range (and the A5o also). Now we have a good idea of all the strong hands in our range.
What does our specific hand want to do? Now that we have looked at our range, let’s focus on our range. Say we have AQo that we called the raise with from the BB and now we face a ½ pot bet. From the previous step, we know we have lots of strong hands including sets, straights, 2 pairs etc. AQo is probably too weak of a hand to raise now given that we have a wide selection of stronger hands to raise with. Now we can make a decision to make AQo to be one of our stronger check/calling hands in our range. This would change if we flatted from MP vs the UTG. Now we have no 2 pair combos (we would 3bet or fold A5s or A2s) and we have no straights. Also depending on our strategy, we may not have 55 or 22. AQo may be the best possible hand we could have.
This is a good starting point for developing your decision-making process. Every poker player has a decision-making process already, but refining and developing it will make you a stronger player. While this probably seems like a drawn-out process at the moment, over time and lots of practice, you can learn to automatically go through these five steps in a matter of a couple of seconds without thinking much about it.
Take action in your next poker session. Prior to playing, write down 4 or 5 steps that will be the core of your decision-making process. Then while playing, try to focus on them in every decision point, even the basic ones. After the session, take notes on what worked and what did not, and then make the proper adjustments.
Best of luck at the tables!