I have goals of improving my “hard” poker skills. “Hard” skills are the in-game strategies of poker: cbet bluffing, board recognition, hand reading, bet sizing, etc.
I also have goals of improving my “soft” poker skills. These are mental aspects like always being in control of my emotions, not forcing the action, avoiding tilt and displaying patience. “Soft” might unimportant, but these mental game aspects are anything but. These are incredibly important aspects of playing long-term winning poker. I use the word “soft” because they’re hard to quantify, but when these mental aspects are in place, you play much better than your non-mentally controlled opponents.
Listen to this podcast episode #301:
The Poker Mind
The Poker Mind is patient and persevering, open minded, always calculating, never emotional and constantly strives to always make the best play with the information available. For most people, it takes years of focused, concentrated effort to develop a strong poker mind.
I’m the first to admit that my poker mind isn’t where I want it to be (not yet, at least). I still tilt, make illogical decisions, I get angry, I have to quit sessions to avoid spewing chips, I miss important details and sometimes I play with vengeance to win back my losses.
It’s always a work in progress for me, both on- and off-the-felt.
- On-the-felt: I try to be present in the situation and aware of my mental state and I do things like meditating and taking breaks to keep me focused. I tag hands where I know I made a mental mistake so I can review them later.
- Off-the-felt: I review those tagged hand to get a sense of why I was mentally off in the hand. Was it a prior hand tilting me? Was I distracted? Does this player piss me off and I don’t approach things like I should?
I think awareness of your mental game issues is the first step to improving your poker mind.
So with that, here are the 5 aspects of a healthy, strong poker mind.
Patient & Persevering
A strong poker mind takes years of dedicated study and practice to develop:
- Thousands of hours spent playing the game over hundreds of thousands of hands
- Hours upon hours reviewing hands and judging the profitability of plays made
- Loads of time spent discussing poker with other like-minded individuals, reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, etc.
Once you develop your poker mind, you can weather any storm and you know that in the long run you’re a winner, so small setbacks don’t affect you. Sure, you would’ve preferred to not get sucked out on by T7o when it had AA. But it happens… and you’ve learned to accept the defeat. You’re thankful that this player chooses hands as weak as T7o, you make a player note and move on to the next hand.
You know that eventually, if you remain patient and persevere through this loss, those chips will make their way back to your stack and then some. I say “and then some” because if this fish is in your games, there are others as well. And the longer you remain patient and persevere through the downswings and occasional losses, the other fish will bite and you’ll catch them as well.
A winning poker mind isn’t set in its ways. It never says, “That’s impossible,” or “That would never work.” You must always be open to new ideas and willing to dedicate the time and effort into studying and experimenting with them.
There was a time when 3betting was only done by pocket A’s or K’s. Then, some unconventional and aggressive players came along and showed that you can make lots of money doing what others would never consider profitable.
Your task is to always be open to new ideas, to dissect them and run the math yourself to test the validity. Don’t listen to others who tell you the “rules” of poker. The only rules in poker are what hands beat what and the order of play around the table. Other than that, you do what you want. The only limits to what you can accomplish are those you set for yourself.
A winning poker mind is dedicated to problem solving. It uses necessary tools and years of experience to find plays that work in many different situations. A simple question a player might ask is, “How often does my Cbet bluff have to work?”
- Non-calculating, “feel player” answer: “Well, if he thinks you’re full of it, he’ll call. If not, he’ll fold.”
- The calculating player: “You’re bluffing 1/2 pot, so that needs to work 33% of the time to break-even. But, let’s dive deeper. What’s your opponent’s range and how well does it interact with this board? Can you name a lot of hands from his range that can fold? If he calls, how will you approach the next street? If he raises, what does this mean for his range and what will you do?”
A winning poker mind dives deep into the situation, takes all available information into account, runs the math, and uses imagination and problem-solving skill to find how it can make a situation profitable.
You must look for errors in your opponent’s way of thinking and devise ways to exploit any weaknesses and tendencies. In fact, you know how to exploit players, but you must constantly look for situations in which to use these exploits to make the most profitable plays possible.
Is tilt an issue for you? It’s still an issue for me, but one that I’m always working on and I’m getting better at.
It creeps up occasionally, but a strong poker mind is able to see tilt coming, grab it by the throat and squeeze before it takes control. You must spend time off-the-felt to reflect on what sets you off and brings about tilt. Is it losing to a weaker player, maybe losing to a flush after flopping the nut straight, or getting your AA cracked? You must learn what sets you off and work to respond in more healthy ways than blowing up through anger and tilt.
Read Jared Tendler’s book The Mental Game of Poker for some great analysis into tilt and ways to avoid it. Don’t sweat the small stuff and try to NOT be results oriented. Realize that the cards falling the other way is good for the game; there has to be some give and take, but your skill will be the deciding factor for you in the end.
I fill out the Tilt Questionnaire from The Mental Game of Poker:
Strives to Make the Best Plays… Always
A winning poker mind always considers the options and all the information available. Weak players do things by default like always cbetting, checking to the bettor, always calling with draws, always set mining with small pp’s preflop, etc.
The great thing about being an online player is that when it’s your turn to act, your options are always presented to you. Buttons popup for “Fold”, “Call” or “Raise”. It’s your job to consider the merits of each play and choose the best one. If calling puts you in a bad spot on the turn, then the other options of raising or folding are available, and you have to go with one of those.
But, how do you do this? You strive to always make the best play by taking all information into account.
So much info available:
- Player type and HUD stats
- Notes on how they’ve played in the past
- Positions of the players involved
- Bet sizes, stack sizes and pot sizes
- The range your opponent has and how it interacts with the board
- What the future will look like
You must use this information to place your options along the EV Spectrum:
You’re dealt A7o in the SB. A LAG player in MP opens full pot to 3.5bb’s. The Fishy BTN player calls and it’s your turn to act. 3 little buttons popup: Fold, Call and Raise.
At this point you must consider each of your options and place them on the EV Spectrum.
- Fold: This puts $0 at risk, so it’s a neutral EV decision (right in the middle).
- Call: You have an Ace but you have to put in 3bb’s to see flop OOP against 3 other players, two of which are very aggressive players (Villain 1 and Villain 3). Does that sound like a winning spot to put yourself in? OOP against 3 other players, 2 of them being loose-aggressive, in a 14bb pot holding a measly A7o? Nope, not at all so it’s a -EV play.
- Raise: Raising here is a total bluff. You have an Ace-blocker, and that’s about the only thing you’ve got going for you. So far, you haven’t seen how the open-raiser nor the caller respond to 3bets (Villain 3 and Villain 5). Given that the pot is already 8.5bb’s, you’ll probably have to raise to 15bb+ to hit their pain threshold and get them to fold. If you get any callers, they’re almost assuredly calling with better hands than yours. And, your A7 isn’t even suited or connected, which decreases your hands chances of making money when called. Lastly, both players don’t really like folding to flop cbets, so it might take multiple barrels to get them to fold.
When placing these options on the EV Spectrum, folding is the best play. I would fold this hand and watch the action to see if I can’t learn from these opponents.
In order to always make the best play, weigh your options with all the information available, visualize them on the EV Spectrum, then make the most +EV play, even if it’s folding.
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Use the EV Spectrum in your next 5 sessions. Draw it on a piece of paper and every time it’s your turn to act, visualize your options along the spectrum. Take all available information into account and choose the most +EV play. Tag hands for review where you’re just not sure of the best play. And, if you’re ever unsure of what to do, folding is probably the best play.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
Support the Show
I’m super appreciative of these incredible Forge members who have reached their 1 year anniversary: Christian Hart, Oliver, Chuck, Bryan, Chris Merhoff and Jerry! Thanks for being the super rocking Poker Forge members that you are!
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Paul Curran, Timothy Just, ghirans, Stacy Dickey, Jeff, Ben Samy and Nick bought the Smart HUD with a 1.5 hour webinar for PokerTracker 4. It’s the best online poker HUD in the business with every critical stat in the HUD and the 7 custom popups. This is what every online player needs to maximally exploit opponents.
- The 5 Mental Aspects of a Winning Poker Mind - July 22, 2020
- From ThePokerForge.com: Training a Positive EV Mindset - July 16, 2020
- From ThePokerForge.com: Listen to What They’re Telling You - July 9, 2020