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May 2016

The Mental Game-Being Aware of your Surroundings

Winning at poker requires a deep awareness and understanding of the current situation and your opponents. Sometimes, the nuances that you pick up or miss can make a huge difference in a major decision. So you need to constantly be aware of the conditions of the game you’re in, and the constant changes that continuously occur.

Here are 10 basic things to look for, take note of, and continuously update your knowledge of:

  1. Your opponent’s range, adjusted for the current conditions. What hands will he bet with? Call with? Check with? Raise with? Check-raise with?
  2. Does he like to bluff? Is his bluffing frequency greater or less than optimum?
  3. Does he lay down hands to pressure?
  4. Does he pay off liberally?
  5. Does he bet his draws? Raise his draws?
  6. Does he automatically continuation bet? If not, when not?
  7. Does he like to make trap plays, or is he an ABC straight-forward player?
  8. Does he like to check-raise? With what strength hands?
  9. Does his bet-sizing vary, and is it indicative of his hand strength?
  10. Does he have tells?



Obviously, there are more, and you can delve deeper into each of these 10 issues. That said, it’s important to create a thought train within your mind so that you don’t mentally wander and can compartmentalize what you need to know. As you practice this, your mental skills will develop, the thought train will become habitual, and you can then train your conscious thought to a higher level.


Do that, and over time you’ll train your mind to automatically flowchart poker problems. And you’ll be amazed how much that it will develop your game!



Capped Ranges

The best poker players are great hand readers. They correctly ascertain their opponents’ range and then make the correct strategy adjustments based on their read. One component of that equation is determining if your opponent has a “capped range,” one that’s highly unlikely to contain high-strength hands.

Say you’re effectively 200+ BB deep, with an opponent you read to have JJ+ or AK on an 8h7s3c board. You know the strongest portion of your opponent’s range is one-pair and that’s a situation you can exploit. Will he call off his stack off with one pair in the current situation? If not, you have a feasible bluffing opportunity. Additionally, since you know he doesn’t have super strong hands in his range to call big bets, you should size your value-bets accordingly.

The point being that, if you can effectively take the strong hands out of your opponent’s range, you can adjust your strategies to exploit that change. If you’re planning a bluff, you will no longer be faced with the chance that you’ll run into those strong hands, thereby significantly increasing your chances of success. Along similar lines, since you know he can’t call a big bet with a strong hand, your value bets with your strong hands should be sized to maximize your EV against his medium-low strength calling range.

When you read an opponent’s range to be capped, you have some exploitable opportunities. That said; make sure you include your opponent’s texture into the equation before pulling the trigger. Some opponents won’t ever lay down their overpair and that would require a differing exploiting strategy, one that requires you not to bluff and to value bet larger.

Reading and exploiting these situations correctly will improve your edge. And with that improved edge, your stack will flourish.


It’s all about Edge

Do you have an edge over your opponents? It takes more than that. In order to win over time, you don’t just have to play better than your opponent’s; you have to have an edge large enough to cover your playing costs too. The house rake and tokes significantly cuts into your win.
Generally speaking, the smaller the game, the higher the costs in edge terms, so you need a larger overall edge to beat the game. Let’s define some of the basics you need to learn to put you on the right path to winning at poker.
It’s of foremost importance to play in games with inferior opponents. Be realistic! Most players put themselves further ahead of the pack than they truly are. Plus, they devalue their opponents’ game more than they should. If you’re playing in a small to medium size game with standard playing costs, it takes a significant edge percentage to overcome your costs. So, just being slightly better isn’t enough. You need to be a lot better.
You’ll need to know poker odds. How hands fair against each other and against ranges. There are many computer programs available that provide this nature of information. Doug Hull’s Poker Workbook for Math Geeks is a good learning tool and I use Flopzilla for a range analysis computer program, though there are many others out there. Anyone with reasonable math skills can learn poker math basics.
You need to be more strategically skilled than your competition. Some players quantify this simply by having stronger hand selection than their opponents. But, it’s MUCH more than that. A weaker hand than your opponent, played well, will often have better value than a poorly played stronger hand. Getting the right value out of your holding is of great importance. This requires a lot of knowledge and it’s a never-ending learning path. The good news is there are many good books and videos available. Sklansky’s No-Limit Hold’em; Theory and Practice is a good foundation read and the website is a treasure trough of information. Study them.
You need to develop superior hand-reading skills. That way you’ll have a better feel for whether you’re ahead or behind, be able to assess your value of aggression, bet-size correctly, fold accurately, bluff correctly, etc. This skill is developed by creating a systemic thought train and focusing on what’s going on around you. Compartmentalize and categorize. Don’t over-think. Keep it simple until your habituate your thought process; then grow it from there.
Do this, and you’ll develop a competitive advantage. And when you’ve got that, the chips will roll your way!

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