What Are We Looking To Accomplish At The Poker Table?

Guide To Winning Poker (1)

  • Make sure you’re really in it to win it
  • Take all factors into account
  • Focus on the big picture

We Need To Understand What We Are Trying To Do With Playing Poker

This would seem like a question that’s too simple and obvious to be even asking ourselves as we strive to become poker players, or looking to improve as poker players. However, it’s not as simple a question as it first appears, and a lot of players really don’t properly consider it, even players who have been playing for a long time. The obvious answer to it is that we are looking to make money. So in that case doesn’t this seem like a foolish question? Well not exactly, and it becomes clearer why it’s not foolish at all when you put it in a framework of proper hierarchical goal setting. You have the main goal and then you have sub goals under that which are what you need to do in order to accomplish the main goal, then you have sub-sub goals under that which are what you need to do in order to fulfill the sub goals, and so on down the line.

The idea here is to both list all the things that you need to focus on in order to succeed and in fact maximize your main goal, and to make sure that everything you do is directed properly toward it. So of course we’re looking to maximize our profit while playing poker, or at least this should be our goal if we are rational. Naturally, some players aren’t, and may be playing for other reasons such as the thrill of the action, or perhaps they have some sort of disorder where they subconsciously intend to lose in order to feel pain or remorse, or any number or other sub-rational reasons to play. We won’t be dealing with that per se here, but it may be worth bearing in mind to seriously examine your own motives to ensure that you aren’t being driven yourself by these other motivations, and be on guard to recognize this if it does indeed turn out to play a factor.

Are You Motivated By Other Factors Besides Winning?

Now, this isn’t to say that there is anything inherently wrong with at least some of these motivations, like for instance those which are related to enjoying the game. In most cases in fact, if you’re not enjoying playing poker you shouldn’t be doing it. However you do want to be careful not to create conflicts, for instance if you hate to lose but you are more entertained by more risky forms of play that are less than ideal earnings wise. At this point you may be required to make a decision between them, which will usually mean pulling back on the causes of your making less money, assuming that goal is a higher one, and it probably should be.

More often though, this can become manifest in one’s choice of game or stakes. Perhaps you enjoy a certain type of game that isn’t your best, and you become frustrated by your lack of relative success at it. Relative success by the way doesn’t necessarily mean winning more, it can also mean losing less, which is even more important actually if you’re not at the stage where you’re profitable yet, as this may be a matter of your very survival. Regardless though, while you do want to take your preferences and your personal enjoyment into account, once again you want to make sure that there are no real conflicts here with what you really want.

Make Sure You Are Pursuing What You Really Want From Poker

So let’s put the psychology aside for now and go into some more practical matters. We’re going to assume that you indeed truly are driven by profit and want to make as much money at the game as you can. So given that’s the case, we need to look at our play and check to see that our sub goals are in harmony with this main goal. Now this can get as complicated as we want it to and in fact as we go along we will be expanding on this, but for now I want to keep things simple and look at a couple of big things that can lead us seriously astray here.

The first big problem that we run into is focusing on winning hands instead of winning money. This might not seem like that big of a deal at first, as you may think that the two are closely connected enough, but this is not the case at all. Focusing on winning pots is a terrible way to approach the game and is the backbone of bad play in fact. Without even needing to get into this in any great depth at this point, this isn’t how you get paid and it’s your net profit that counts. Winning the most hands will provide the most gross profit of course, but when you add in all the extra losses that are incurred in pursuing this goal, the end result will always fall well short of your profit maximization potential. In fact trying to win too many hands is clearly the easiest way to ensure you will lose money at the table, and generally lose it in big piles.

If You Want To Make Money At Poker, You Need To Focus On That

To be more specific about what the problem is here, in trying to win too many hands, many of them will involve situations where you don’t have a positive expectation. Now of course you will win some of these, but when you throw together all this extra money that you end up throwing in the pot in pursuit of winning these, each and every instance will involve a bad decision. This is true by definition actually, as all of this money contributed is deemed to be unjustified in terms of overall profit. So what we need to do, clearly, is to focus on decisions from their perspective of their pure profitability. There are a few exceptions, when you want to intentionally create a certain image to take advantage of later, but that’s not the same thing. These are moves that presumably will lead to more profit overall, so it’s part of the same goal.

The second major stumbling block, and one that even many pros need some serious work with, is what I call not seeing the big picture properly. Poker is a game of both skill and probability. We need to use our skills in the best way we can, and in cases where we discover that there are areas which we can re-evaluate our play and perhaps learn from what we discover are mistakes, than that is a helpful approach. As for probabilities, once again we need to be as accurate as we can in evaluating them and incorporating them in our decision making at the table.

Focus On The Big Picture At The Poker Table

That’s all well and good, but the mistake I’m talking about here is allowing yourself to become so disoriented with reality that you become moved by not just the overall probability of a decision, but instead by a particular instance of it. Obviously, one manifestation of this is allowing yourself to become tilted, but it’s not the only one. The common theme here is a feeling of entitlement when you’re ahead, and this leads to not only becoming emotionally upset when you lose hands that you feel you should have won, but it also often leads to becoming too protective of these hands for fear of not winning, and deviating from the path of optimal profitability.

We’ll have more to say about this topic in future segments, as they deserve a lot more of our attention and will receive it there. Suffice to say though that this attitude is a purely foolish one, and as a general rule, poker psychologists don’t take the proper approach to eliminating it, instead suggesting coping mechanisms rather than tackling the problem head on. That won’t be our approach though I can assure you.

In the next segment we’ll talk about a very important and generally very underrated topic that you not only are faced with throughout your playing career, and that’s the matter ofselecting the best poker sites and gamesto ensure you maximize your overall profitability.

Ken’s Guide To Winning Poker – Index

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series