Consider the Why, Not the What

March 26, 2012 Jeff Edgie Poker psychology

Maybe you consider yourself a pretty decent poker player. After becoming fascinated with the game, you might have bought a few strategy books. You might have joined a few poker forums and talked about key hands. You might have even dropped 20 bucks a month on training sites. You have had considerable experience playing thousands and thousands of hands online, you have gone to your local casino and came out ahead. Friends and relatives stay away from you when they sit down for a friendly home game. All in all, you have established a persona as a great player. But are those appearances translating to pure profit?

Perhaps you can relate to this predicament — you have a realization that your outer confidence does not match your results as often as you like. It might even get you down, or perhaps depress you. You find yourself getting bored while playing, and often deviate from your standard play just to ’mix things up.’ These are natural tendencies, and there could be a number of reasons why they might occur, but I would like you to consider some thoughts as to how you might avoid this kind of predicament a little less frequently, in a way that will get you out of your comfort zone and increase your win rate. Instead of thinking about ’what to do’, think about ’why you do.’

Almost Always

Let’s use an example. All of those books and videos say that if you raised pre-flop with a strong hand, you should almost always fire a continuation bet on the flop. It’s become like a mantra for many players — if the books, videos and forums say it, it must be true, right? The answer is as inscrutable as it is obvious — not necessarily. But WHY not? Notice that I said ’almost always’ - Isn’t it interesting how the human brain eliminates ’almost’ in that sentence? Most of us don’t think about ’almost’ - we take the basic strategy, hope it holds true, and trust our reads and ranges on other opponents to just ’get us through’ the hand. I’m suggesting that this isn’t the way you should be thinking anymore.

There is no denying that books, videos and strategy articles are invaluable to your growth as a poker player, but they are not all the gospel truth, universal for every situation. Think of them as a roadmap, where it is your job to find the destination you seek. Instead of taking an exit, stopping at a gas station and asking the local attendant for directions, take that map and find your own way. But what happens when you take the map but find out that the roads has changed. What do you do? You might check for landmarks or even use the sun in the sky to figure out which way to go. You might retrace your steps and find a better route. But do you drive around willy-nilly? Of course not.

Poker can be this way too. You can be deep into a hand, having started with a general plan, only to find yourself completely lost. Maybe an opponent makes an unexpected play, or a flop comes out that is highly unlikely. Whatever the circumstance, getting lost in a hand is no excuse for wild play. Rather, it is an opportunity to reassess, think through the hand and come up with a logical conclusion as to the next best course of action. The average player thinks of what to do here. The excelling player thinks of why he needs to act and from there, decides the best course of action.

Take chess as another example to illustrate my point. The best and brightest in this age-old medium are always thinking two, three, often ten steps ahead as to how they are going to get to checkmate. Is that how you think in poker? Sure, you might say, I ALWAYS slow-play my flopped set so as to trap my opponent, that’s planning ahead. There’s that ’Always’ again.

Think About Why

Instead of spouting out absolutes, start thinking of poker like chess. Before you go your instinctive route, think about WHY you might be doing something, instead of WHAT you should do. A player in MP raises to 100 with blinds of 10/20. Another person calls. You call him with 4d5d. Why did you call him? Did a book tell you that suited connectors like 4d5d play well in multi-way pots? That might be statistically true, but how does it play in THIS pot, at THIS table, with THIS set of opponents? Is the MP player tight or aggressive? Has he shown up with face cards often? What about the player who called? What set of hands would he just call with?

When you are faced with any decision in poker, do not just accept the first “solution” that rushes to the forefront of your head. Think about WHY you might want to do that, and what you might want to achieve. In the 4d5d example, perhaps you call in hopes that the flop will coordinate with no card higher than 9. When the flop comes, you can bet or raise on the assumption that the previous two players have missed the flop, if you know that they are the type of players who play any face cards.

Even if the situations were reversed, the advice remains the same. Think not about what to do, but why you are doing it. If you had KhQh preflop and raised, you may feel instantly compelled to bet that 9-high flop as a standard continuation bet. But that is often not the right play. Look for other solutions.

It should be noted that in order to know the whys of a hand, you first need to pay attention and gather information. Do not watch the TV while others are in a hand. Gain knowledge. Think about WHY you might make (or not make) the decisions you make, at EVERY step, and envision your actions and the effects they may have all the way to the river and beyond. I guarantee you that thinking about why instead of what will make the game exponentially more interesting and hopefully a lot more profitable as well!


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