Why do we play poker? Pros play to earn a livelihood. But the vast majority – call us recreational players – are quite satisfied if we go home a winner, the more the better. We also seek mental challenge and social interaction with the other players which we may not express or recognize. I’m referring to live poker, of course. When you play online poker on live casino sites like these that offer the game, there is of course a mental challenge, it can be fun, and there is a chat box to be sure, but the social interaction component just isn’t the same.
Scientists at universities have studied mental challenge and drawn their conclusions: As neuroscientist Anne Trafton wrote in the MIT Technology Review, “When you are deprived of human interaction, your brain reacts the same way it does to physical hunger.” We need it – and the poker table is a good place to find it. The same applies to social interaction.
Indeed, these are part of the skills essential to winning at the poker table. In that regard, there are two types of skills: “hard” skills and “soft” skills.
In poker, hard skills are the many strategies and rules for playing winning poker – such as game and table selection (for which there are different viewpoints), starting hand selection (probably your most important decision), building the size of the pot when you catch a monster, check-raising and slow-playing, counting and using your card outs to decide whether to call an opponent’s bet or raise, bluffing and semi-bluffing, reading your opponents and their tells – and so many others.
Add to these the various rules that have been developed over the years – such as the 4-2 Rule or the Hold’em Algorithm (Reference: See ad at end of column) when deciding whether or not to pay to see the flop, the Esther Bluff wherein you display confidence and use a reverse tell to encourage opponents to muck their cards, and the Hold’em Caveat when you catch a drawing hand that needs improvement to become a winner.
Soft poker skills are mental issues including social interactions and mental challenges. Other soft skills include controlling your emotions, respecting your opponents, not giving off any tells, avoiding going on tilt, realizing that bad beats are part of the game and are unavoidable, and always being patient no matter what. Like the hard skills, these soft skills are extremely important aspects of playing winning poker over the long term.
Another “Rule of Thumb”
Always seek improvement! This may sound pretty obvious, but too often we tend to rest on our laurels if we’re doing well at the tables. That’s the key: even when we’re succeeding, we should STILL strive to get better!
Here’s a good example: Recently, I realized that more aggressive playing could substantially add to my wins, especially before the flop. Having been dealt a playable hand, either raise or fold if no one has open bet before you. Not only will this aggressiveness build bigger pots for you, but it will also give your opponents reason for concern – an edge for you. In addition, be on the lookout for other situations where a raise would benefit you.
Improving your Game
And, of course, you can improve with experience. Think about what you did right or wrong. Poker books and magazine articles are a valuable resource, offering many thoughts and ideas. Discussions with poker buddies can help. Listen closely…