Much of poker becomes a kind of reflex as hundreds of hands become thousands and then tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands of hands. Building the reflexes you want can be much like habit formation in other areas of life, and I thought it might be nice to post a list of good poker habits.
If these are habits you already have: congratulations; I hope they have been serving you well. Some of the habits, you may feel a bit skeptical about, and wonder if that is really the right way to play poker. No worries… work on something else and avoid things that don’t really make sense to you.
I’d avoid working on too many at once. Pick one or two and really focus on them… trying to decide on every street of every hand if you have an appropriate spot to put it to work. Really give it some repetition. It takes time to form habits.
So, here are some things I think have served me well. Many are completely automatic reflexes for me now, while others are patterns I’m still working to engrave on my nervous system.
- play within your bank roll
- pre-flop, raise more than you limp
- post-flop, bet more than you check, and raise more than you call
- always think about the full range of hands you are up against
- track the tendencies of opponents you play frequently
- when betting, think not of your opponent’s current range, but of their calling range, to decide if a hand is capable of making a value bet
- keep your own range in mind, and think about what hands in that range should check fold, what hands should check call, what hands should check raise, what hands should bet fold, what hands should bet call, and what hands should bet raise
- use some of your weakest hands for bluffing; most of those should have decent equity (outs), but there are spots where you also want to include weak hands with no equity that block your opponents continuation range
- consider how your cards block parts of your opponent’s range, changing the relative frequency of holdings in their full range
- decide before playing the hands you will open raise from each seat
- mostly stay within the ranges you’ve constructed above; when you have good reasons to modify these ranges on the fly, do it within reason, and make sure you have a clear vision of how that adjustment should be profitable against the range or frequencies you think you are facing
- if you play at a level where lots of others are also raising relatively broad ranges pre-flop, also decide how you will select hands for 3 betting and 4 betting
- try to make sure your play contains a reasonable measure of all possible actions (folds, calls, bets and raises)
- consider how an option will play out for your entire range against your opponent’s entire range when repeated thousands of times
- stop playing when you’re not having fun
- don’t over estimate your own edge
- focus on making the best plays you can with the situations that come up
- don’t be afraid to fold
- don’t be afraid to call
- don’t be afraid to raise
- take passive check call lines with some of your middle strength hands, especially when out of position and/or against aggressive opponents
- consider how smaller bets allows a wider range to call, making it possible for a medium strength hand to bet for value when it might not be able to for a larger size
- try larger polarizing bets using a mix of strong value and bluffs where your opponent’s range is capped, and your range is much more likely to have the strongest few hands
- work on a plan for when you should make protection bets with medium strength hands, and when you should use them to strengthen your checking range
- move your focus away from the results of hands, and toward the decisions made in the hands
- treat everyone with respect: its a good life habit, and poker is a piece of life