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Thinking Like a Poker Player

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When playing Texas Holdem poker, we must understand that we make decisions based on partial, incomplete information. We cannot know which card will hit the board next, or what exactly our opponents are holding as their hole cards. As true poker players, we must gather as much information as possible and then try to formulate the best course of action based on the conclusions we reach. Poker players who are successful engage in a thorough thought process to gather as much information as possible, narrowing down hand ranges, focusing on betting patterns and tells in an attempt to determine what the opponent is thinking.

Far too often, poker players think about the wrong things during a hand. Many amateur poker players focus on trivial things such as wishing for an ace-free flop when holding pocket jacks. A successful poker player focuses more on his opposition’s holding than his own hand. He concerns himself with how the board might have helped or hurt his opposition, worrying less about “getting there” himself.

Thinking Before the Cards Come Out

Understanding first whom you are sitting with is the first thing a poker player should think about. You should know if you are playing against a table full of poker players, or are facing table full of donkeys. You should have in mind who you wish to get involved against with marginal hands, as well as determine who you should avoid without “having it”. This way, you know before hand whom you wish to get involved with in big pots and whom you do not want to mix it up with regularly. Determining this before the cards are dealt really helps when playing poker. It allows you to focus on important factors such as your reads and isolating or outplaying your opposition once everyone has cards.

Against strong opponents, you are often wise to proceed in a conservative manner, being careful not to get into trouble with your marginal hands. Against week opponents, however, you should be pushing the envelope, seeing several flops, with the belief you will make prudent decisions as the hands progress.

Thinking about your situations

Profitable poker players think about things such as “how does my stack size up to the average stack in this tournament”, or “where do I need to get before the end of this level”. We also ask ourselves what we need to do to win the tournament, and try to determine how not to lose. We know before a hand gets out of control as to whether or not we are able to make a “situational fold”. Additional awareness as to where we are within the tournament is a key concept to focus on, understanding where the blinds are, where they are going, how many players remain, as well as how each player tends to play in various situations. Fortunately, much of this information is available in the tournament lobby on Full Tilt Poker.

Instead, many amateur poker players think about things such as “I could really use pocket aces right about now” or they focus on how they have not had a playable hand in what seems like days. The thinking poker player spends their mental energy thinking about where they are and how they can best get to their destination. We want to know what the most effective, efficient path to victory is, and we draft a map or game plan as to whom we shall run over to get there. We know whom we want to play against, and how we plan to play against them, while remaining flexible to shift gears and adjust on the fly.

Understanding How Others are Thinking

Another important detail to grasp is insight as to how the other players at your table might be thinking. If you are near the bubble in a big tournament at Full Tilt Poker, you can be certain that many of your opponents are trying to survive past the bubble. They are clearly looking for a reason to fold at the first sign of defeat. Other players are trying to exploit this tendency to maximize their profits. Understanding what everyone around you is thinking is key to planning your strategy. The profitable player is keen on this, and pays attention to know who is playing scared, and who is playing reckless. He then plans his strategy accordingly.

What about my cards?

Wait, what about my own cards? You never mentioned profitable players thinking about their own cards! Well, that would be because a profitable poker player understands that situations, table conditions, the thinking , as well as the tendencies of their opposition is far more important to their bankroll’s bottom line than that of his own personal holdings.

Thinking about your opponents at the poker table, rather than worrying about what cards we are getting is key to the long-term profit margins of good poker players. If you begin thinking like a poker player, you will end up playing like a solid, profitable poker player.