Note: A version of this entry was originally published (2014) in Poker Player Newspaper.
Enhanced and added to Poker1 in 2014.
Mastering poker means learning new things. Sometimes. But, you can also increase your profit or even jump from losing to winning simply by stopping. Stopping what? Well, stopping lots of stuff you may be doing that’s costing money at poker. Today’s words is “Stop.” And that’s all you need to do.
I’m going to give you a list of poker things you should stop doing, if they apply to you. My explanations will be brief. Ready? Good.
1. Stop complaining.
When you complain about poker misfortune, opponents aren’t sympathetic. They’re inspired. They think, “Hey, there’s someone unluckier than I am — someone I can beat.” And then they grow hopeful and play better against you.
So, keep your misery to yourself. Act lucky, even if you aren’t right now. Your good luck is what opponents fear most. Really! Whether they do it consciously or unconsciously, most of your opponents are automatically intimidated when they think you’re lucky. And if they think you’re unlucky, they’re motivated to attack and get maximum value whenever they have an advantage.
Don’t inspire them by complaining.
2. Stop discouraging bets if you know you’re going to call.
Most players instinctively do this sometimes. And it’s silly. The pot is big enough to call the bet, but it looks as if your hand is more likely to lose than win. So, you reach for your chips, hoping to prevent a call you’re going to call anyway. Or you do something else to discourage that player from betting.
Ask yourself this: What if my action to discourage this bet works? I’m going to call, but my opponent doesn’t know it. Will I stop this opponent from betting a strong hand? No. A weak hand? Maybe. A bluff? Maybe. So, the hands I’m discouraging are the ones I can beat!
If you know you’re going to call, you should encourage bets, not discourage them. The more weak hands are included in those bets, the more profitable your call will be.
3. Stop making opponents uncomfortable.
You’ll earn a lot more calls and be involved in a much more action at an advantage if you’re fun to play against. Cherish your weak opponents. They’re your source of profit. If you criticize them, you’ll soon discover that they’re opting out of your pots.
Even your loosest and weakest opponents have a vague cut-off point where they might call or might not. Getting extra calls from them when they’re in that “gray area” is pure long-range profit. But their choice is discretionary. They’re less apt to play these terrible hands against opponents who ridicule them or make them feel uneasy. So, don’t do that.
Where did the profit go? Often it disappeared simply because you made opponents uncomfortable.
4. Stop finding reasons to call.
Poker is about making good decisions, assuming your goal is to win. Folding when a call would be costly adds to your overall profit. It’s money you didn’t lose, which is just as spendable as money you win.
But most players have a bias toward calling. They came to play. They would rather be involved in a pot than be sitting and watching. Don’t yield to this emotional bias. You need to be just as vigilant in finding reasons to fold as reasons to call.
5. Stop playing for uncomfortable stakes.
Look, I’m not the guy who screams at you when you take chances with your bankroll. I believe the amount of money you bet is a personal decision. You just need to realize that if you play bigger with an advantage, you’re more likely to build a bankroll quickly and you’re also more likely to go broke in the attempt. As long as you realize that, I won’t second guess your decision.
Still, you need to understand something about playing poker for stakes beyond your zone of comfort. You’re apt to avoid calling, betting, and raising with an advantage, simply because the risk of losing is too damaging. When that happens, you’re sacrificing the very edges that make poker profitable.
So, I’m not saying to play smaller. That’s up to you. I’m just saying not to play bigger if it makes you uncomfortable. You need to either decide to stick with smaller limits and build your bankroll over time or decide to take big shots at sudden success in higher-stakes games. If you do the latter, you need to enter with the mindset that you don’t mind taking great risk — that you’re okay with it.
In other words, you need to feel comfortable with your decision. And you need to play with almost the same confidence and aggressiveness in bigger games that you would in smaller games. If you make sacrifices to preserve your bankroll, make them minor. Don’t play scared. If you’re in a game where the stakes seem uncomfortable, you’ve probably made the wrong decision. You probably should be playing smaller or even not playing.
6. Stop expecting opponents to hold logical hands.
One of the great mistakes made by serious poker players, even world-class professionals, is that they too often expect opponents to hold hands in keeping with the logical flow of betting. He must hold this hand, because he did that. He must hold that hand, because he did this.
Those expectations are unrealistic. If you don’t believe me, just reverse engineer hands. By “reverse engineer,” I mean look at the cards that appear in the showdown and go back through the sequence that brought the action to this final stage.
Here’s what you’ll see: Chaos and confusion. Will you find that not every hand was played reasonably? Sure. But you’ll find more. You’ll find that most hands were played illogically at some point. And you’ll stop being amazed by how an opponent could possibly be holding that perfect combination of 8-6 to make a straight.
You’ll see that it’s happening all the time. And if it’s happening on the showdowns you see, imagine how many weak hands failed to win and be shown down! Illogical hands must be included in your analysis. Too many players only look for the logical hands in making their decisions to check, fold, call, bet, or raise. If that’s you, stop! From now on, include the illogical ones. Suddenly your decisions will be stronger and your sanity will be saved.
That’s only a half dozen things you should stop doing at poker. There are hundreds more. But start with these and watch what happens. You’ll like it. — MC