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Thinking and Decision-Making in Poker

Thinking is the greatest preoccupation of any poker player. Good thinking is vital so that a player can beat the game and win the pot. And a lapse in concentration can be fatal. What does one need to achieve the kind of thinking necessary for poker?

First is discipline. This means that a player must be able to direct his mind on what he is supposed to think. He should not allow his mind to dwell on inconsequential things such as how the tie worn by his opponent is mismatched with the jacket.

Second is objectivity. A player should evaluate the odds (card odds, investment odds, edge odds) before choosing to bet, raise, bluff or fold. He should not raise simply because he was irritated or he wants to get even.

And third is tenacity. A good player should not lose his concentration. He should endeavor to stay at such level of thinking that does not allow distractions or intense emotions. He should not spend precious minutes staring at his cards before deciding what to do next. He should just take a quick look and then immediately plan his strategy. For such is the only way to make the poker game beneficial to his pockets.

There are two kinds of thinking that a good player employs during a poker game. These are "objective thinking" and "analytical thinking".

Objective thinking involves the astute planning of what action to take. He assesses the potential of his hand and weighs investment odds against edge odds. He formulates several strategies on how to best win the greatest possible pot. And he stays alert for further developments that will help him decide more precisely about which strategy he will eventually use. To simplify, objective thinking is similar to "thinking ahead".

Analytical thinking goes hand in hand with keen observation. The goal of analytical thinking is to understand the personalities of the opponents. A good analysis will allow a good player to interpret the actions or movements of his opponents. From such actions, the good player can infer accurately the hand of the other players.

Analytical thinking is at its finest when the player is not involved in a hand. He studies his opponents, takes mental notes of their movements and creates future strategies. For example, one opponent has the quirky habit of inhaling (perhaps to relax himself) when he gets a good hand and exhaling (perhaps as a substitute for a sigh) when he gets a busted hand. A good player can influence this opponent to either fold or bluff. Another opponent, when calling a bluff, hesitates and purses his lips, then makes a $20 raise. Depending on the hand of the good player, he will decide whether he will call the bluff, fold, or make a bluff of his own.

Thinking is indeed vital in any decision making in each poker game. It can establish control. It can win the pot. And, if nothing else, it can make a player forget his nervousness.