How to gain a psychological edge in poker

By Julia Krotova
November 08, 2022

We all know about Maria Konnikova’s meteoric rise from absolute beginner to pro poker player as documented in her bestselling book The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win. But what strategies has Konnikova employed to keep her place in the poker hierarchy? Let’s take a look at how she deals with the pressure of competing at the highest level.

A thorough grounding in the rules of the game

Famously, Konnikova was a poker novice who had never played the game in her life and the rules of the game were also a mystery to her before she embarked on her remarkable journey to becoming a poker professional. She had the privilege of learning with poker legend Erik Seidel and while this option is not open to everyone, a solid grounding in the rules of the game is the best place to start.

Budding poker players have the opportunity to master the Texas Holdem rules at Bodog. The guide provides you with all the essential information required to become proficient in Texas Holdem including the basic rules and the various game types. It also explains the terms you will encounter in this poker variation such as the flop, the turn and the river. Once you have got to grips with the rules, now is the time to gain some insights into how players like Konnikova are able to compete with top poker professionals.

In an interview with Lewis Howes on the School of Greatness Podcast, Konnikova discussed how poker can also provide solutions applicable to everyday life. The first lesson is not only about the importance of concentration, but also ensuring that you focus on aspects of poker you have control over, i.e., your decisions. Once this targeted focus has been achieved, the trick is to spot all the opportunities during a game. This all comes together under the term “mindfulness,” or living in the moment.

The importance of avoiding tilt

For Konnikova, the avoidance of tilt, the phenomenon of letting your emotions take over your decision-making process when playing poker, can also be achieved through concentration. If you can identify situations where there is a risk of becoming triggered, this gives you the advantage of preparing yourself for the situation. If you are already in a situation where your emotions have taken over, it is harder to stop yourself and this could lead to the adoption of a suboptimal strategy. Therefore, it is imperative that you are proactive in the avoidance and awareness of triggers.

Reading your opponents’ behaviour

One psychological aspect Konnikova has identified through poker is the value of paying attention to players’ behaviour. By identifying the baseline of an opponent, or how they usually act, you can examine aspects such as how much they usually talk or how they sit. Therefore, by observing players during games, you can get insights into the significance of a deviation from their baseline. There is an opportunity to gain an edge if you can identify why an opponent is acting differently and the reason behind the change in behaviour.

Konnikova also recommends reading players’ hands as this is the source of the majority of physical tells during poker. By concentrating on hand gestures, it is possible to predict whether or not the player has a strong hand.

Hopefully this examination of Maria Konnikova’s journey from novice to poker professional will have given you some new insights into the psychology of poker and how you can influence your own game and identify the tells of your opponents.



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Julia Krotova poker author
Written By.

Julia Krotova

Julia is a freelance writer with an affinity for poker. She plays in the occasional home game in the UK with her gal pals for low stakes and is an avid fan of free-to-play online poker games.

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