As the game of poker evolves, both recreational and professional players alike have begun to search constantly for ways to improve their poker aptitude. Whether it be through the newest implementation of poker training videos, hiring an extremely knowledgeable poker coach, or following the more traditional method of reading text, there’s a plethora of information readily available at player’s fingertips.
Students of the game have gone to great lengths in order to gain an edge over their opponents. To be completely honest, in today’s day and age, in order to succeed at almost any level and stake, nearly all players need to possess a great deal of innate talent and familiarity with the game of poker. Characteristic playing styles, betting lines and tactical adjustments have all evolved so tremendously it’s integral to seek improvement in order to stay ahead of the learning curve.
Nonetheless, while having a diverse skill set and vast amount of poker knowledge is important, what many players don’t realize is that it’s often the under-estimated aspects of poker (or better yet, the subtleties of each individual session) that separate the good regulars from being world-class. In my opinion, if poker was played in a vacuum, nearly every great poker player would be relentless in the application of each of the following traits. And while most of them certainly are, even the best are guilty of ignoring a few of these very simple guidelines. This is what makes poker unique, and you can also distinguish yourself by following their example. Learn to separate yourself by devoting time to implementing each of these very important attributes.
Arguably the most tossed around word in poker is tilt. What is “tilt” may you ask? For those of us who are unaware, “tilt” simply refers to a certain level of frustration that builds deep within our core. Sounds a bit dramatic, but sometimes it’s actually the truth. This usually occurs after you’ve lost a big, crucial pot. Although not always the cause of tilt, this is usually 95% of it. The other 5% might occur when you’ve played a hand badly, or maybe you misclicked or put in the wrong chip amount. Maybe even your opponent threw in a “needle”, which is a form of taunting used against your opponent in order to directly get him to “tilt”. (Mean, I know.)
But whatever the case may be, it’s important to recognize that it needs to be controlled. Almost always.
Everyone who’s played poker has gone on tilt at some point. Poker isn’t played in a vacuum like I stated earlier; it’s not free of its occasional bad beats and sob stories. Bad rivers happen just as frequently to the professionals as they do the amateurs. But despite the frequency of unfortunate events, the regularly of your emotion control should be in a separate category. Nearly all of the best players in the world have unbelievable tilt control. They’re able to lose pot after pot, while still playing at their best level. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be incredible if your C+ game when your on tilt was still better than someone’s A game? For many pros, it is.
So why is this important? Because by managing your emotions, your results usually improve. Often times many players attribute losing sessions to a few hands where they lost all emotional and behavioral stability after they had their aces cracked against kings. Or maybe they were coolered after flopping the nut straight only to lose to a flush by the river. What’s important to note is that these hands are merely a tiny fraction of the total volume of hands we’ll end up playing in a lifetime. They’re not the end-all-be-all judgement of your poker talent, so there’s truly no reason to treat it as such. In those situations, you’re the favorite to win over the long haul. Embrace that. The players who are able to control their tilt the best often find themselves at the top of the pack when it comes to overall profit.
Unfortunately, I can’t see through everyone’s soul to comprehend exactly what makes you tilt and how to fix it. Only you know that. But whether it’s getting up for a short break, taking a lunch, or quitting for the day altogether, make sure you take the necessary steps to manage your emotions at the table. Don’t play out of character. It doesn’t matter that you’re nearly unbeatable when winning, if when you’re losing you become an ATM. The latter is still greater than the former. You’ll end up giving your opponents many more reasons to play you if they know they can easily distract you. Prevent it. NOW.
Learn to Quit
Sometimes, rather than enduring a lengthy session of endless bad beats, it’s better just to quit. In my humble opinion, I truly believe the epitome of this trait belongs to none other than Phil Ivey. Despite being one of the biggest winners and most active participants in the history of online poker, even Ivey himself encounters many losing sessions. The difference is, often when Phil Ivey is in a losing session, he has little hesitation in stepping away.
Quitting your poker sessions (especially after losing) is great for several reasons. First, it stops the bleeding. So, if you’ve lost $200 at $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em for the night, that’s it, you lost $200. It’s possible that if you kept playing, your losses could’ve been much greater. Second, it’s highly unlikely that you were playing your best anyway during that period of time. Sure, there’s some instances where you’ll be playing great, but more often than not you’ll best struggling with tilt and making uncharacteristic plays in a desperate attempt to recover your losses. You have to avoid this. If there were several spots during your session where you should’ve folded top-pair-top-kicker, and you didn’t, you made some crucial mistakes. You should take the time to evaluate those instances which caused you money, as it may even be a major leak in your game. Use your down time to study and evaluate your play. It not only helps you learn to self-evaluate, but it also keeps you preoccupied. Use quitting to your advantage.
Also, quitting doesn’t always have to concern stop-losses. Sometimes after you’ve been playing for hours, your body simply gets tired. Many players consider themselves good enough to stay in a game even with fatigue, but if you’re not one of those players, it’s perfectly fine to quit simply because you’re exhausted.
During many poker sessions, players go into play being one of the best participants in the game with one of the largest edges, but by the end of several hours they finish being one of the worse. After awhile, you’ll become accustomed to the time frame where you can sense your fatigue starting to set in. Take note of its duration, and use it as a great time to take a break, or end your night altogether.
It’s also important to keep in mind, that a poker game that’s juicy one minute, may be rather stale the next. If the biggest fish at the table has left, in terms of expected value your results just plummeted. You’re in the game to win money. Once the game goes bad, maybe you should go too.
Ah, my favorite. Interestingly enough, I consider this idea the most important to a poker player’s success at the tables, although I don’t see enough players utilizing it. Game selection involves choosing the most profitable game to play when starting your poker sessions.
For instance, let’s say your normal game is $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em. You’re easily bankrolled for the game with $10,000. You buy-in comfortably and you usually play against regulars, whom through hours of study you’ve learned to adjust to and exploit. Let’s say that in your normal $1/$2 games, you rate to average a win of 6 big blinds per 100 hands, or $12/hour. Somewhat average for live play, but pretty good for online. However today when you signed online, there was an extremely long waiting list for several $.50/$1 and $.25/$.50 games, with several fish giving away tons of free money. But, because the waiting list wasn’t nearly as long for $1/$2, you stuck with your usual limit.
This decision, at the compromise of discipline and patience, may have cost you a large chunk of change from your hourly winrate. If instead of averaging $12/hour playing your normal stakes, you could’ve averaged $20/hour, you definitely took a pay cut by not choosing to play the lower stakes.
There’s a reason why that waiting list was so long. Most of the great players realized this as a fantastic opportunity to increase there bankroll with a larger edge and lesser risk. Don’t associate your skill level and pride with the current stakes you play. Associate them with your winrate. If you’re someone who’s interested in taking their game to the next level, be conscious of better opportunities that may arise. Although your bread-and-butter game may be $1/$2, take the time to search different tables and stakes to find the highest return on your investment (ROI). In the long run, it will be essential in steadily increasing your bankroll.
This may be the smallest change a poker player can make to increase their poker prowess. Before you sit down in your next poker session, take the time to choose the best seat. Unfortunately, by best seat I don’t mean choosing seat 5 because you’re directly in the middle, or because the woman in seat 6 is very attractive. By choosing the best seat, I’m implying that you should take a minute or two to evaluate the stack sizes of your opponents, and if you’ve been viewing the table for awhile, maybe deciding which players you’d like to keep to your left or to your right. I’ll explain briefly.
If you’ve been watching the table, and you notice particularly that the young gentleman in seat 8 is aggressive, it’s often a smart decision to try and keep that player to the right of you at the table. If you accomplish this, during those times in which he raises, or even re-raises, you can easily fold to his aggression because you’re nearly ALWAYS acting AFTER him. You can avoid his aggression with ease in most instances.
On the other hand, if you’re playing against several fish, it’s often not TERRIBLE to have these players to your left. They often play too many hands, and call way too often, so when you’re involved in hands with them you’re allowed to value-bet relentlessly with your premium holdings because these players will call you down light. Now while I never advocate getting out of control when you’re out of position against anyone, if there’s a player you don’t mind playing this way against, it’s definitely a fish.
In general terms, keep the tight and passive players to your left, and the loose aggressive players to your right. Now I’m not saying to go play musical chairs every time you decide to play a session. That’s bad poker etiquette. But just be mindful of more profitable opportunities.
It’s also integral to consider the sizes of the stacks on both sides. If you can, keep the big stacks to your right, and the shallow stacks to your left. This way, you might be able to avoid playing a massive pot when you’re out of position against a really good player. Be smart when you sit down. These things could be the difference between a winning session and a losing one.
Stay Within Your Bankroll
Likely the simplest, but hardest step for a poker player to follow is playing within your bankroll’s parameters. Some of the best poker players to ever play the game have tapped out their bankroll due to horrific bankroll management. Poker is a game of variance. Even if you’re the best player in the world, you’re not immune to it. Even if you regularly put yourself in +EV situations, in the short run you’re going to run into your fair share of bad luck. What comforts us as players is knowing that in the long run, everyone’s luck evens out. It’s the players who consistently exploit their hand equity that will end up ahead over time. And in order to minimize your risk of ruin (RoR), you need to be adequately funded to withstand through poker’s variance.
Staying within the guidelines of your bankroll doesn’t necessarily mean having a specific number of buy-ins to play, or earning X amount of dollars in order to progress to the next level. Instead, it simply means playing the game of poker in your most comfortable position, where the stakes and games don’t directly affect your decision-making process. There’s nothing worse in poker than having to stress about the money that’s in play. If when you play you become afraid to fire a third bet on the river because if you lose you’ll have to eat Ramen instead of rib-eyes, then you’re probably playing out of your bankroll.
If you find yourself in that position, try to increase your bankroll’s size. Worrying about whether or not you can pay your bills this month because you’ve had several losing sessions is not only going to be troublesome to your poker play and career, but also your life. Make sure that you’re able to sustain both aspects, so that you can live and play with the highest level of success.
If you can adhere to these tips, you’ll be a step ahead of most players. Good luck!