How to Find Your "A" Game

Maybe you’ve never noticed, but poker can be a frustrating game, and I think one of the most important skills that distinguishes stronger players from weaker players, is the ability to play nearer to the best of your ability more of the time. Tilt in minor or major form is a major component of the game, and anything that turns your emotions on high gear and your analytic abilities on low has a tendency to greatly diminish your long term results.

So what follows is just a list of ideas on tricks/focuses/approaches, for more consistently playing the best game you know how to play.

  • Stop playing and take a break when you are not having fun
  • Avoid deciding what you will be doing ahead of time in vague terms, and instead define, as precisely as you can, what situations you will be putting new strategies into effect
  • Understand that over a few million hands, you’ll see pretty much every bad beat it is possible to get; know they are coming, and that everyone has to face them just like you do, and that those that can take them and keep playing well have a big leg up on those that can’t
  • Laugh at yourself… you’re probably only human
  • Try to become completely unconcerned about the results of individual hands, and shift your focus to the quality of the lines you selected
  • It can be nice to remember prior hands or streets of the same hand in terms of understanding your opponent’s likely range, and their likely perceptions of your range, but beyond that, forget prior hands and even prior streets, and focus on the best play available in the current moment
  • Focus on doing your best to find the highest EV play (that will often be folding, especially when there are more opponents)
  • Fear of looking stupid; fear of folding to a bluff and losing your chance to win; fear of losing your chips; fear of being out drawn: all of these things just get in the way of your ability to really focus on the very hard task of finding the best play
  • When you’re playing good, you probably feel relaxed and confident: folding is easy; calling is easy; raising is easy; you’re just waiting for the right spots to make the right plays. When you are struggling, or you’ve just lost a big pot to a complete fish that was the main reason you wanted to be at the table, you may find yourself in a hurry to get a big hand, forcing the action and getting unusually aggressive. Notice that this is happening. This is what tilt looks like in the early stages, and you’re already playing less than your best.
  • Practice thinking about hands from your opponent’s perspective, and how they will probably feel with various parts of their range as the board develops. This can help get you out of your own head, and can also provide some insights into some exploitative plays that can often be profitable.
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Thank you Yoruname for continuing to share your vast knowledge of poker on the Community Forums. I always find your post entertaining and insightful.

Agree with all of this. I posted recently highly recommending the recent series of videos on Youtube by Daniel Negreanu as you kibitz with him playing in real online high stakes 6- and 9-seater tournaments. Really he recommends all of the above points.

As a result I have definitely been able to eliminate some weaknesses, although I still have many deficits, with the result that last night for the first time ever I played two tournaments simultaneously (overlapping, that is)–which I find hard enough–and managed to win them both, which I have certainly never done before. OK, I got lucky and did have the run of the cards to some extent.

  • Practice thinking about hands from your opponent’s perspective, and how they will probably feel with various parts of their range as the board develops. This can help get you out of your own head, and can also provide some insights into some exploitative plays that can often be profitable.

This is particularly important, because if you observe that a certain opponent will make a bet of a certain size on the flop with the intention of folding to a check raise, then you can print your own money. Also important to note that if an opponent makes an overbet on the flop, does this mean he thinks he is ahead, and wants to force you to fold and stop you from drawing out, or does it mean that he is semibluffing a flush draw with overcards, or an open ended straight draw with a pair on the flop? You always want to be the leader on the flop and not the come from behind flush and straight drawer unless you have a massive stack superiority and can afford to take a shot. When you watch the pros playing, I don’t think you ever see them calling off their whole stack to pursue a flush or straight draw, unless, perhaps, they have both draws.