Analyzing Game Characteristics
To think about poker strategically is difficult. Most people play poker by looking for the right cards. They hope that their starting cards are good, that the flop hits them, that they will outdraw the other players, and that the other players will not outdraw them. Thinking never progresses beyond what cards will improve my hand, and what cards I should fear.
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Poker Mental Discipline
To go beyond the superficial analysis of cards, you need to develop the mental discipline to analyze the kind of poker you are in, both before, during, and after play. While your name is on the waiting list, scope the games you might enter. During the game, think about whether the table dynamics have changed. After play, think about the key decisions you made. Keep a poker diary and analyze which plays worked and which did not.
To orient your approach to the game in terms of the strategic grid, here is a list of questions you should ask yourself while observing games:
For online games, the ability to take written notes means that you can be even more systematic in game analysis.
When I am checking out online games, I use the chart to note the actions on at least ten hands prior to joining the game (I don't take notes while I play because it is too time-consuming). Extreme behavior is particularly revealing about the nature of the game.
Does every hand end in a showdown?
Are there never any pre-flop raises?
Answer yes to those two questions and it is a loose-passive game. By mentally asking yourself the kinds of questions listed, you will be able to orient yourself on the strategic grid and know the critical factors in your decision-making.
Poker is an exquisitely balanced game. For every action there is a counteraction, for every strategy a counter strategy. Much like martial art that depends on balance and timing, your approach to poker must be dynamic and adjustable. In his book: The Theory of Poker, Sklansky (opens in a new window) provides a table of common poker mistakes and corresponding strategies for exploiting each mistake".
All the mistakes are described in terms of extremes, such as bluffs too much, bluffs too little, never bluffs, never slow plays. Each mistake requires a counter strategy tailored to turn your opponents' excesses against them. The lesson I take from Sklansky's table is that poker is not a game about strength and aggression; rather, it is a game about balance and self control. You do not control pour opponents in a poker game. You control yourself and adjust your play so that your opponents' excesses become their own undoing.
Observing Online Games
Make photocopies of the form "Game Observation Form for Online Hold'em" (new window) and use them to assess online poker games. Observe the play of at least 10 hands. Assign sequential numbers to the hands in the first column. Make a check mark in the second column if there is a pre-flop raise. Note the number of players who pay to see the flop in the third column and the number of players who continue play after the flop in the. fourth column. Make a check mark if there is a showdown and note the rank of the winning hand. Jot down the amount won in the last column.
Use the notes in considering the strategic questions posed on the previous page. Pay special attention to behavioral extremes, such as: always a showdown; never a showdown; everyone folds following a raise; everyone calls a raise. Approximate where the game falls on the strategic grid and plan your strategy before entering the game. It is especially important to observe online games carefully because social cues and player motivations are more difficult to discern in an online environment.
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