Thinking in Poker by Mike Caro
I subscribe to the Poker Player Newsletter and found this article by Mike Caro to be a good reminder of thinking when playing:
Todayís word is... THINK
by Mike Caro filed under Top Story on 2009-09-13 [Originally appeared in the September 14, 2009 issue of Poker Player]
Mike Caro is the Mad Genius of Poker
What should you think about in a poker game? Can thinking be dangerous? Are some decisions instinctive? In this edition of my series of self-interviews, we visit the word ďThinkĒ and learn how it relates to profit. First question, please.
Question 1: Does everyone spend the same amount of time thinking?
When you understand this answer, youíll not only grasp poker, but life itself, in a whole new way. I spend a lot of time pondering. I sit quietly, shutting out the world, and treating life like a puzzle. Often Iím rewarded with insights and theories about how things work and why people do things.
If youíre like me, sometimes when others voice opinions contrary to yours, you wonder what caused them to stray from whatís obvious. Faulty evaluation caused that conflict. Advice: Remember that one of you reasoned wrongly, and it might be you. Itís never me, though.
Hereís the big secret. Whether youíre playing poker or interacting in the real world, most people think lightly, not profoundly. I urge you to think harder and deeper, because thatís where your life success and poker profit comes from.
Some people think so lightly that they donít really understand what you mean when you ask them to think. You probably assume that everyone is capable of analytical thought. They donít know how. From hostile gangbangers to unsophisticated folks who struggle to live honestly day to day, there is an absence of thinking. They donít really understand what it means to think. Thinking is a vague concept that their teachers asked them to engage in, but they never really mastered. So, they live day to day with only utilitarian thoughts about how to follow procedures and take the next minor steps.
The majority of people either think shallowly or almost not at all. Once you understand that, you realize why you have such a great advantage at a game like poker. You can make better decisions than your opponents. And you can manipulate them.
Question 2: What should you think about at the poker table?
I want you to win. Itís my lifeís obsession to help you profit at poker. And in order to do that, you need to outthink your foes. The best technique is to prioritize. If you try to think about everything, youíll see nothing.
You have a very short time to make quality poker decisions. I could spend days or write books examining a single tactic. But you only have seconds when youíre actually engaged in poker combat. So, you have to think about whatís most important.
I believe it helps to make a list of questions to ask before you make a decision. As you think about choosing the right action, follow that list in that exact order.
Question 3: If you make a list, what should be on it?
Iím going to give you an example of a three question list to guide your thinking. This isnít the only list you could make. Whatís important is that you have a disciplined procedure that keeps you from straying and wasting valuable decision-making time exploring the wrong paths. Obviously, after quickly thinking about the questions on this list, youíll consider other factors. Whether you decide on these three questions or others, follow that path, every hand, every decision.
1. Can I save money by folding? Every time you face a decision, ask yourself that. If the answer is ďyes,Ē then you need to exit the pot rather than pay money to pursue it. All other decisions are invalid. So youíll either fold if it costs you money to play, or check, hoping to continue for free.
2. What are the best hands an opponent can hold? Most players assume that the answer is obvious and that this step is too basic for a sophisticated player to bother with. Thatís wrong. How many times have you thought, ďI didnít consider that,Ē when seeing the showdown. Ask yourself: What are the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth best hands possible. Then think about how likely an opponent is to hold each of those hands in conjunction with how the action unfolded so far. Yes, the betting usually centers around weaker hands, but thinking about the top five possibilities answers many questions.
3. How do my opponents perceive me? If your opponents think youíre conservative, theyíre more likely to bluff and you should call more often. If youíre opponents see you as loose or wild, you can bet more hands profitably. You need to make decisions consistent with your image at the moment, and you can only do that by thinking about how opponents perceive you.
Question 4: Is thinking in poker always profitable?
No. If you think in faulty ways, youíre often costing yourself money and would be better off not thinking at all. This is why instinctive players who react quickly in accordance with past experience sometimes outperform players who ponder in a misguided way.
Biased thinking is epidemic. Thatís where you decide you want to call or bet or raise, and you look for reasons to justify that decision, ignoring indicators that would demand caution. Most players are subject to this kind of biased judgment, at least sometimes.
Remember that contrived thought can justify any decision. You can give too much weight to almost meaningless factors and devalue more important ones. If you do that, youíve thought about the situation, but in a way that leads to an unprofitable decision.
Donít ever let your hopes or your emotional thoughts influence your decision.
Question 5: How much of your lifetime poker profit will be a result of superior thinking relative to your opponents?
All of it.