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Thinking like a poker player may be a cliché but it is one that certainly hits the nail on the head. Poker requires a way of thinking which many beginners find difficult to comprehend.
It can be quite easy to get off-track during a game of poker, so this section is designed to help you eliminate distractions and learn to concentrate on the things that you must be concentrating on in order to be a winner – like the four key poker skills.
4 ESSENTIAL SKILLS
Frequently, professional poker players are considered to be either ‘tight’ or ‘aggressive’. Poker sharks play few hands, but when they play, they do so with a killer-like instinct. While these terms a good descriptions of poker professionals, novices simply will not understand them.
To address things in basic terms, the most important things a poker player can do is learn, practice and develop continually four critical skills: math, discipline, psychology, and risk versus reward. Here’s an outline of these critical concepts:
A good poker player should about know general percentages. These are any odds that can be memorized about the game of poker which will save you time when playing under pressure. For example, there is approximately a 1 in 8 chance of hitting a set when holding a pocket pair. The chance of completing a flush draw at the flow is around 33%. The more general percentages you know there more help you have when sitting at the poker table or playing online. Focus on critical numbers because it is impossible to remember all the many statistics available. However, the more you play, the more you’ll develop a memory for these facts.
Outs are un-dealt cards that will improve your hand and great poker players always know their outs. Keep track of how many cards can help your hand and think of them in terms of a percentage. To calculate the odds, count the number of outs, multiply by two, add two, and the answer will show the percentage change of hitting one of the outs to improve your hand. This formula is well worth committing to memory.
Pot odds are very important also and go hand-in-hand with outs. Unless outs are converted into intelligent betting that considers the financial return versus the risk of decisions, they don’t mean anything.
Great poker players require an advantage. The difference between a winning player and a fish is that a fish doesn’t expect to win, while a skillful player does. A fish is just hoping luck will be on his or her side and will play other casino games. A skilled poker player doesn’t depend on luck; he does, however, hope that others do not get lucky.
Skilled poker players know that every game requires different levels of discipline. A disciplined no-limit player could be a very foolish limit player or visa versa. Most often, a disciplined limit poker player plays tight at the pre-flop stage. He doesn’t play too many hands. Instead, he selects those hands high winning potential.
On the flip side, a disciplined no-limit player is entirely different. This player is less concerned with playing too many blinds. Instead, he concentrates on not getting trapped. The main difference between a disciplined limit and a disciplined no-limit player is that the limit player avoids allowing his stack take repeated small hits. A disciplined no-limit player avoids losing his whole stack in one fell swoop. Because of this, a disciplined no-limit player can play a lot of hands. Pre-flop, he may play be as loose as anyone else. Yet, he also knows exactly when to fold hands that can get him in big trouble.
A truly disciplined poker player, as the song says, knows when to “hold’em and knows when to fold’em”. He or she recognizes when they’re on tilt and aware when the game is too lucrative to stop. This knowledge arrives only through playing experience; in the meantime simply follow your instincts. If you find you are playing more with emotion than with your brain, taking a break and reorganizing would be in your best interest.
Disciplined poker players know they are not perfect and that they will make mistakes but they use this mistakes to learn. They do not blame others for their errors nor do they whine or cry about them. Every mistake is a lesson from which a poker player can learn to become a more sophisticated player. So, when you make an error, learn from it and move on.
A great deal of information about poker psychology is available, far too much to address in depth here. However, there is some sound advice you should know. Remember that the OTHER PLAYERS in any poker game are just as important as you. Often, people playing poker are off-guard because their thoughts are on themselves, their decisions, their strategy and approach and their cards. While these things are important, as addressed in the DISCIPLINE section above, you should still think about what is going on elsewhere at the poker table.
A good poker player is not a self-centered player. While he may be a real jerk and very self-centered when not at the poker table, when he IS playing poker, his philosophy should change. He should empathize with other players and attempt to place himself in their position. This helps him to understand the decisions they are considering.
It is very important for a good poker player to always try to answer three very important questions:
1. What cards does my opponent hold?
2. What cards does my opponent think I may hold?
3. What does my opponent believe that I think he is holding?
First, consider what you believe the answers to these three important questions are and then use that information to manipulate the situation to your advantage. You want to first know the answers to these questions and then know how to manipulate the answers to your advantage. If you have a pair of kings and your opponent has a pair of aces, and you both know what the other has and you both know that each of you knows what the other has, why bother to play a game of poker? A poker professional will manipulate the scenario using various techniques in order to mislead the opponents. You’ll need to become accustomed to mixing things up and not being too easy to ‘read’. This is the best, and sometimes only, way to play a great poker game.
Import note: Good psychology is crucially important in a no-limit game, much more so than in a limit game. It is absolutely vital that you realize this important fact. Limit games frequently become math battles, but no-limit games involve a strong psychological element. Novice and beginners should be fully aware of what they are getting into before playing no-limit poker.
4. RISK vs. REWARD MGMT
Risk and reward management may seem obvious; after all, we use it in daily life as well as at the poker table. But gambling often brings out aspects of ourselves that we usually don’t encounter; we may, at times, play with more passion that reason. Always try to strike a balance between the two, and never allow things to get out of control. Good poker players are willing to take a big risk only if the reward is sufficiently large, and even then ONLY if the expected return is higher than the risk. Playing poker is a balancing act, and expert poker players are those able to balance things most effectively.
More importantly, understand that the risk-versus-reward nature of poker extends beyond the poker room. Always keep a budget of how much money you need for playing poker and how much you need for other living expenses. It is not our place to tell you which is more important, but it is a good idea to play within your allocated poker budget.
Fundamentally, good poker players are slightly averse to risks, which may come as a surprise to many. In terms of investment, a person is risk-neutral, risk-averse or risk-accepting, depending on how that person allocates available investment funds. You’ll find that, over time, the most successful poker players are not those who bet the whole wad on a risk-accepting long-shot, hoping to get lucky, or even the ones who bet their bank roll only on rare occasions (risk-neutral). The really successful poker players are actually those who take only calculated risks, and keep focused on the ‘big picture’.
Sticking to this kind of example is much better than striving for the whole pot all the time. Even though you may have some success with taking big risks, over time reckless strategies will result in much less success than playing more prudently.