Automatic decision making, and the magic three-letter word [more long musings]

  • Thread starter Dorkus Malorkus
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Dorkus Malorkus

Dorkus Malorkus

Silver Level
Jul 12, 2005
Total posts
...because rambling is fun!

Poker is like one giant, never-ending education. It is constantly changing, constantly evolving. What was widely considered to be ideal strategy ten years ago is now somewhat redundant given the metamorphosis of the game (seriously, read one of McEvoy's old tourney books and consider how weak-tight he appears now). In ten years time, who's to say what will widely be considered 'ideal' strategy? With new strategies come new counter-strategies, with new counter-strategies come new counter-counter strategies, and so on and so forth.

Poker is a constant learning process. To optimise our play, we need to be learning as much as possible. Some people think that studying literature is an effective way of learning, some people think that experience is by far the most crucial element in the development of a poker player. The particular thing I want to drill into anyone reading this thread is quite simply you gain very little from experience if you do not actually open yourself up to the learning process while you are playing. Some people seem to think they can jump in, play a few thousand hands, read a book, and almost automatically become a good poker player. Unless that particular someone is incredibly gifted, this is not the case.

You gain little valuable knowledge from just playing hands. To optimise your learning, while you are playing poker, you should be continually asking yourself one very simple question - "Why?".

Each and every single decision we make, in life and in poker, we make for a reason. Sometimes this reason is remarkably simple and petty, sometimes it is remarkably complex. When me make similar decisions repeatedly, we reach a point where we end up taking them for granted, so to speak. When someone makes a decision on a certain thing for the first time, he or she will generally give lots of thought to the subject, however upon many repetitions of said decision it becomes an almost automatic process. A "yes" or "no" decision, so to speak.

With many aspects of life, this is fine. This 'automatic' thinking saves time and effort, without any great penalty if the decision is trivial. This is not the case in poker.

Because, as I said earlier, poker is a never-ending learning process, we should always think about the reasons behind our decisions. If we fall into the 'automatic' decision-making trap, we are not learning as effectively as we are able to. You should always be asking yourself, "Why?".

Example time!

You load up the poker client of your choosing. You go to the 2-4 limit tab and start looking for games. This is an automatic process, quite simply because you've done it so many times before.

Except next time you do it, stop for a second, and ask "Why?".

"I'm looking at 2-4 limit because that's what I've played for the last month and I'm winning at it."

Not good enough. Try again, "Why?"

"I'm looking at 2-4 limit because I have a bankroll of 400 big bets for it, which is more than sufficient enough to see me through most bad streaks. Although I'm a winner at 2-4, I'm not comfortable moving up just yet as my bankroll is insufficient, and I'm not going to move down while I appear to be a winner at 2-4, because that would be silly."

Congratulations, you've just reinforced a valuable lesson - bankroll management, and common sense to a degree.

So, you go to 2-4 limit, and boot up a table. Again, this is another automatic process you've done hundreds of times before.

Stop again. Ask the question. "Why?".

"Because this was the first table I clicked on"

Dig deeper! "Why?"

"Because I remember one of the players there as being terrible, and according to the lobby the table has a high %to flop and a high average pot, so the game appears to be good".

Again you've halted the automatic decision-making process and reinforced another valuable lesson - table/game selection.

The thing about poker is that there is so much to learn and there are so many intricacies, you can easily find yourself forgetting what many people consider to be the absolute 'basics' as you get lost in researching reverse implied odds, stop-and-gos, and whatever else. By constantly posing the question "Why?" to yourself, you are stopping this from happening, and there is always a chance that if you dig deeply enough you will learn new lessons too.

You sit down at the table in Seat 3.


"Because it just happened to be the first seat I clicked on"

You shouldn't need me to tell you anymore that this isn't satisfactory. "Why?"

"I'm sitting here because the player on my right appears to be pretty loose-aggressive, so I think position on him is a huge advantage to me. The guy two seats to my left seems like a rock too, so I don't mind him having position on me greatly."

Now you've reinforced seat selection.

The real fun starts when you actually start getting dealt hands. When was the last time you actually really thought about the reasons behind why you are raising with your KK while you were in the hand holding your KK (and I don't mean "I am raising because KK is a very good hand")? Thought so. Again, this is a symptom of automatic thinking syndrome. You have raised and reraised so often with Kings in the past, it's now an almost automatic process, and you've neglected to remember the exact reasons as to why you are doing it.

"I am raising Kings because they are the second best starting hand in Hold'em. Folding is out of the question as I would be losing a tremendous amount of value considering there is a very large chance I currently have by far the best hand, and calling is a bad idea because I do not want to let a lot of people into the pot cheaply and give them a chance to outflop me while learning very little about their holdings".

Three lessons covered there; basic preflop play, raising for value, information gathering. All of which are crucial to your development as a poker player, and have been reinforced by the use of one simple word - "Why?".

One further point, and this should be obvious from my prior ramblings, but if at any point you cannot provide a complete and satisfactory answer to "Why?", you need to re-evaluate your decision. If you still cannot find an answer, note the situation and research. This could mean posting a hand on the forum, it could mean reading a book, it could just mean reviewing the hand yourself away from the stresses and constraints of the poker table

Next time you load up your favourite poker client, make an effort to ask yourself "Why?" as you make every decision, be it folding 42o UTG, or whether to call a river bet on an A7742 board with 99. Then, if and when you're comfortable, you can start posing the same question of the important decisions your opponents are making. This is a completely different monster altogether, as (a) you're relying on reads to an extent, and (b) you will never be able to give as 'perfect' an answer as you will when questioning your own plays. But that's another subject, for another day.

Live, learn, and improve.

(The magic three-letter word is "Why?", of course ;))
Last edited:


Silver Level
Jun 19, 2006
Total posts
Excellent post.

You have hit the nail on the head with the "automatic thinking". Everyone must be 100% guilty of this.



Rock Star
Silver Level
Mar 20, 2005
Total posts
hi all,

great points.

how to implimment your game plan....

keep asking , why?



Silver Level
Dec 30, 2005
Total posts
I was on the 'whos online page' and a slurp spider was readiing this so id thought id bump it.

Why did i bump it?
Cause its a good post.