'The Mental Game' #3 - In-game strategy

The third part of this series is long over due, but hopefully well worth the wait. I’ve been extremely busy during the holidays and getting ready to move to Las Vegas (cha-CHING)! Hopefully many of you have found these basic guidelines useful, helpful, and somewhat interesting. In this part of the series I’ll address the in-game aspect to poker and attempt to provide some tips to improve our game while in the midst of our active games. I’ll address things such as focus, optimal poker, sticking to plan/objective, keeping your cool, and staying in the zone. Let’s get focused and get to it…

We all need focus!

There are varying levels of focus that is required in the game (SnGs you need focus and find profitable shoves exploiting weaker players; MTTs require longer termed focus finding/exploiting +EV situations while having the stamina to do so for 4+ hours). How to remain focused? If all the distracters are removed (mentioned in the previous article), that is the beginning. Some people like to have sticky notes attached to the computer of key things to focus on. I have a notebook with notes from lessons, ideas, concepts, ramblings that I thumb through… staying fresh. It helps to open a notepad or word document to jot thoughts down on versus opponents; others like to use programs such as Note Caddy, HEM, etc. Use whatever you feel most comfortable with and will allow you to stay focused on the game. There is one side note that is worth mentioning about multi-tabling… if you are losing several games while 15 tabling, you’re probably not able to focus enough on the games and may consider reducing the number of tables to find your optimal number to give the most focus. Speaking of optimal, let’s review how to concentrate on playing optimal poker…

Spider senses

We all want to play optimal poker, if you don’t want to perform your best you wouldn’t be HERE. I’m not an expert in this as I think even the best players have areas that could be improved upon so therefore no one person is 100% optimal, but the goal is to get as close as possible. In most poker games I think it is important to visualize and take a second or two before you act—ask yourself questions: What image does the table have of me? What are the stack sizes of those left to act? What are my options? What is my intent (steal, bluff, value)? What is villain’s range? What action can I expect on later streets? What is my equity in this pot; implied odds to improve? Can I ever get away from this hand if all signs point to me being beat? There are a ton of other questions you could add into this, but the point is to play optimal poker you need to engage all your “Spiderman Senses” and wealth of knowledge. If it smells like a fish and tastes like a fish, I’m 99% certain it isn’t chicken. Get it? Most online games are going to play straight forward if you pay attention to all these factors, and we can minimize our mistakes. If you need to make a list of these questions, study them to memorization, post them next to your computer so you can review while playing, and make it routine. I’ll add one piece about live poker and tells… There are plenty of books out there that will cover various tells, but the bottom line is to pay attention and look for things that are out of ordinary behavior—look for CHANGE.

In a article in this series we covered goals/objectives, and while in game you should remain goal/objective oriented. Continue to play each game as an objective to your session’s goal. The culmination of these objectives will enable you to reach your goal. If your goal is important to you, then each objective should be equally important because without achieving your objectives you’ll miss your goal. In layman’s terms put everything you got into each game… if you’ve given each game 100% and your goal is not achieved then it is that much easier to live with the results. You’ll have a chance to go back afterwards and examine what happened, then determine if there is a weakness you were unaware of or if it was simply a case of you having bad luck against idiots. Variance is a part of the game we endear, but if you are making the right plays then there is little to do except to explore ways to avoid (if possible) and begin another game. But you need to keep your cool and not let it get the best of you…

Keep it together

Bad beats happen, marginal plays happen, shit happens… don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the moment as there is plenty of money to be made on the tables! Review later and learn (see post game article). If there is a flaw you’ll have a chance to see it, if there is a leak you’ll have a chance to repair it, if you got unlucky you’ll have an opportunity to see if there was a way to avoid the situation… bottom line, in-game is NOT the time to dwell on it. I tend to tighten up my range after a beat, fold more frequently until the sting is gone… this is probably a leak, but it prevents me from chasing after chips in a bad way. There are other tricks that assist people in playing poker too.

It is a mental trick, but if you chew gum or have certain scents (air freshners) while studying that all people to replicate what was learned and apply during your in-game session--your mind will be able to recall the lessons easier. Although I love my energy drinks during MTTs, they are counter productive at times because my mind starts to wander/I get antsy/chatty/whatever… might be good to avoid during session unless playing with buddies in a friendly home game. If you have a window in the room, you may want to open the window (for fresh air) but close the shades to avoid looking outside at the various distracters. If you need to go outside, tournaments have built in breaks…

Be sure to use breaks

Use your breaks! Get the blood flowing, get some fresh air, have a cigarette (if you must), go use the bathroom… anything that will prevent another distraction like a cramp or needing to take a leak. (sidenote: Pee bottles are absolutely disgusting and unsanitary, please avoid unless at FT of Sunday million and break isn’t happening for another 45min LOL) There is a reason why all schools give students breaks after 45min to 1hr in lessons, it is because it gives people a break to relieve their bodies (temporarily)—use IT. If you’re using your breaks to chat, or look up stats… there is plenty of time to do that in game after you mucked your hands (although I caution about chatting in game as it could be a distracter, I prefer copying the hand history to a word document and discuss the hand later).

Hopefully this was helpful and you are crushing the donks at your tables. The next article will cover post game analysis and life balance. Cheers!

(Article kindly provided by Tim 'The Chimp' - many thanks)

Also be sure to check out Part 1 (Bankroll Management)Part 2 (Pre game) and Part 4 (Goals) of Tim's excellent series.