Poker teaches us so many things about decision making, that apply to our everyday life. You can think about both poker and life as games of skill and luck. Most of the outcomes in life don’t depend only on the quality of our decisions, but also on our fortune. Sadly, for example you can eat and live healthy, but you can still be unlucky and get sick or somebody can smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and still live a long life.
This is the reason why it’s so hard for us to know how good our decisions and strategies are. To give you an example and amateur player might win a big tournament and believe about himself that he is an incredibly good and skilled player. This will usually lead to a huge failure in the future.
This can happen to a skilled player to. After a couple of big wins and successful sessions we can easily overestimate our level and become lazy to study or jump in to higher stakes games, for which we are not prepared. As Liv Boeree said: “Our egos love to downplay the luck factor when we are winning.”
It’s so important to understand how to make better poker decisions. Here are some tips:
1. Train your decision making
Reviewing your decision making process, not just your decisions at the table is crucial. I recommend using your poker journal to determine how you make poker decisions. You can get started by answering this questions:
- What factors do you take in consideration during a hand?
- What questions do you ask yourself during a hand?
- Do you take the factors in consideration and ask the questions in the same order every time?
- What factors do you fail to take in consideration when you are not playing your A-Game or when you are tilted?
- Do you consider the same facts and ask the same questions when facing a recreational player vs when playing against a skilled player? What are the differences?
The best way to train your decision making process is through reviewing your hands. During the review ask yourself the same questions you would ask yourself if you were playing. The more you practice this, the more likely it is that it will show up during play. You can also try understanding WHY your decision making process did not show up in some hands.
To improve your decision making process in poker read this very helpful article about hand reading, the logical process of deduction, using poker tells, and common hand reading mistakes. Click here to Learn the Right Way to Hand Read in Poker.
2. A bad outcome it’s not necessarily a bad decision
The inverse of the statement is also true, making a bad decision might have a positive outcome. In poker, decision outcomes are not only determined by skill, luck plays a huge part in it. It’s a big problem, if we ignore the role luck plays in the outcome of the decision. This is called the Hindsight Bias. By definition this is a term used in psychology to explain the tendency of people to overestimate their ability to have predicted an outcome that could not possibly have been predicted.
Evaluate your decision making process based on how you made your decision, not the outcome.
3. Think in probabilities
Because uncertainty is part of playing poker, the best approach to decision making is through probability. You must avoid the black-white thinking(meaning that something is either true or false) and always try to think in numbers. For example: instead of saying “he probably has a set in this spot”, try figuring out logically how often he is going to have it: “He will show up with a set 60% of the time”.
This way of thinking also helps you to be more objective and rational when evaluating an upcoming decision.
4. Avoid the most common errors in decision making
- Confirmation bias: one of the most common biases that influence your decision making process. This is when you search for proof and information that reinforces your preexisting beliefs and you completely neglect the information that opposes it. One example of confirmation bias for poker players is about their skill level. They believe they are winning players, so whenever they hit a wining streak this reinforces their belief. When they experience a losing streak they rationalize it as being bad luck. Ultimately this leads them to completely ignore good variance, since they think wining was a result of their skill, with no good luck involved. In their mind they will believe that hey run worse than anyone else in this world and that they never get their fair share of good luck. You have to understand that in order to become a successful poker player you have to be able to admit your weaknesses and be realistic about your skill level.
- Being too attached to your hand: Every poker player experienced this. You get dealt pocket aces, you are already excited about making a lot of money with it, but you end up facing a huge all-in raise on the river. You know your beat, but you like your hand too much and can’t bring yourself to fold such a strong starting hand.
- F*ck it, let’s gamble: This happens when you are facing an extremely tough spot, for example facing the pressure of an all-in call. You become overwhelmed by the spot, you can’t find a logical answer and end up deciding to take a gamble and call.
When you find yourself in one of these spots take a deep breath and logically go through your decision making process(the factors and questions you ask yourself during a hand), then make the best possible decision. You may still end up with a call, but this time, because that is the best decision, not because you gave up on trying to decide and said: f*ck it, let’s gamble.
5. Embrace the uncertainty
Remember my post? People with very low risk tolerance, who cannot accept losing sessions, are not cut out to be great poker players, since losing is simply part of the game, mentally tough poker players are able to emotionally accept the uncertainty that is inherent in poker.
Embrace the uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.