Most poker players like to think of the mind as an objective and rational computer. But sadly, modern psychology has confirmed that’s not the case.
We are all vulnerable to various cognitive biases and logical fallacies which can cloud the way we perceive and interact with information that we receive from the world around us.
We all have a subjective lens which is colored by our unique personality, background, and emotions, which colors our experiences at the table. When you add this to the fact that poker is rife with losses, variance, and mistakes, you can see how it is likely for the mind to become overrun with irrational thoughts, unhelpful urges and negative emotions.
But, there are ways that we can reduce our irrational thinking and negative emotions and approach the game of poker with calm composure. Let’s have a look at my favorite foundational strategy:
I was recently told about an interesting situation from a $1/$2 no-limit cash game that illustrates how to take advantage of weak, straightforward players who make their hand’s strength clear with their bet sizes. With $300 effective stacks, a player from middle position limped, as did the cutoff. Our Hero raised to $12 from the button with.
While I am fine with raising this decently strong hand from the button, I think both calling and raising larger, perhaps to $16, are also reasonable options. Calling keeps the pot small, often amplifying your postflop advantage (assuming you play well) while raising larger allows you to pick up the preflop pot with no contest more often. When you make it between $8 and $12, you will find that you almost never win the pot preflop, meaning you often have to flop well to have a good shot to win.
I was recently told about a hand from the final table of a live $500 buy-in tournament that illustrates a few key mistakes that many players make when playing short stacked. With blinds at 5,000/10,000 with a 10,000 big blind ante, everyone folded to the small blind who started with 120,000. He was the shortest stack at the final table, but there were a few other players with between 15 and 20 big blinds. The blind was a loose, aggressive player with 50 big blinds.
The small blind looked down atand decided to limp.
“Alex, how do you play poker?”
My friend asked me this with a smile while we were on a business call.
On my podcast, we have an old joke. Whenever someone asks a question that is extremely broad, we call it a “how do you play poker?” question. It’s a fun way of saying, “how much time do you have? This might take a while.” However, this time, my friend was serious:
Choosing the correct hands to 3-bet as a bluff to balance your value range can be a difficult task. Many professionals of all levels fail to study enough to know the correct hands to bluff with in certain situations. Mistakes that are made in 3-bet pots are magnified due to the size of the pot being larger. Constructing a proper 3-betting range is the first step in minimizing those mistakes.
I was recently told about a no-limit hold’em poker hand that illustrates a key concept you must master if you want to succeed at the game. In a $1/$2 cash game, someone raised to $7 from early position out of his $200 effective stack and our Hero called on the button with 3-3.
“The smart man accepts. The idiots insists.” - Unknown
One of the most baffling parts of my job is seeing people repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this one:
“Oh, I was doing great in the tournament, then I tried to run a bluff on a guy and he called me down with one pair.” “Do they ever fold one pair?” “No,” the player says, laughing, “people don’t fold pairs anymore live.”
I sit there in silence. “Then why would you give your tournament away like that?”
One of the most common mistakes many amateur poker players make is that they only bet when they have a strong hand. They assume that the way to win at poker is to wait for a premium hand and then pile their money into the pot, hoping some oblivious chap pays them off. In reality, if you only put significant money in the pot with your premium hands, if your opponents are anywhere near competent, they will essentially never pay you off.
Polarized Versus Merged
In the same way that your preflop strategy and ranges start to shape your strategy on the flop, your flop strategy determines how your ranges are setup on later streets. Making serious mistakes early in the hand will have severe effects on your strategy on later streets.
The biggest problem with most poker players is they don’t actually want to win.
They think they want to win, but what they truly want is to play perfectly. They never want to fold and be shown a bluff. They never want to bluff and be caught. They want to feel good about themselves, and they’d feel terrible if any of those things ever happened. They want to sit there, see flops for cheap, and hopefully hit some of them. And they never want to be criticized. They don’t want to be given the side eye if they do something out of line. They want to fit in. They want to feel like a cardplayer.
This is horseshit!
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