Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the October, 2010 issue.
Of course, you take your hat that can be put on backwards, your sunglasses that are too dark to see the cards, your music delivery system, a cool looking shirt, and never forget funny card protectors. Each person has a multitude of personal products that help them through the day psychologically and that certainly can make you play better if you feel at ease. Do all that, but that is not what this article is about. It is about what you have within you, that you automatically arrive at the game with that needs to be applied properly.
First is the right attitude for the game. You must not be there to play but be there to win. Playing when you just want to play leads to less than stellar results. So when you play, concentrate on wanting to win. I find when I am just there to play because it is something to do, having losing sessions are much more likely for me. Fight for each and every pot you are in. Don’t lose track of what you want to accomplish in that pot other than winning it.
It is too easy to forget and just call, when raising is the superior play. By far the most serious mistake most players make is calling too much. Each time you call, try to consider the alternatives (raising or folding) and why one of those might be better. If you are first and can stand a raise, betting is so often better than checking when not having the intention of check-raising. If you have the killer instinct and can maintain it, you will do so much better than the lackadaisical attitude many have that arrive at the table.
We all have heart so do not leave it at home. Some have more heart than others. By heart in gambling, I mean the nerve it takes to do the thing that is more daring or might hurt more. Everyone knows you need to be aggressive, but being aggressive in lots of the spots where you are guessing takes heart.
In no-limit hold ‘em on the end for instance, you often find yourself in a position to bluff as you feel weakness in your opponent. It takes heart to send out a huge bluff bet, and something a player has to do to maintain his bluffing ratio as well as win pots that are left to him. Other times when you have no information to go on and also expect you have no chance of winning, and by betting the pot size you think you are slightly better than even money to have him fold, you must bet. No way can you let this pot go. It takes heart to bet all or a lot of your chips when doing so is only a small edge. You notice how often the big winners move in compared to the weaker players and the reason is that it works. The big side benefit is that it puts the fear into players knowing that they are much more likely to face large bets or raises when playing a pot with you. The bad folds they make mount up in your winnings quickly, as those are pots you would have lost or given great odds for them to stay.
Awareness is my favorite asset to have. Over the years of playing, mine is weaker but certainly not gone. Once you start letting it slide in the game, it must be renewed or you are in trouble. A player will not be a long term winner if he misses the subtle clues that are constantly thrown out by each of us while we play. It is all about paying attention to the game and exactly what each and every player is doing. How they are thinking at that exact point in the game is important, as well as the change in their play as the game progresses. Early in the poker game, you may fold a pair of queens to a particular player’s raise, whereas later on, when perhaps he is losing or you see a temperament change, moving in on him is the correct play. It is a huge profit making opportunity for the aware person to remember noticing that when a player that rarely bluffs if ahead or even, shoots his last money in with weak hands so he can go home. This is quite common with players at all stakes and abilities. Think back and I bet you have done it as well. We all do to some extent. Of course, if you believe you might, go home and take that last bit of money with you. Over your lifetime, it will be a significant amount for sure.
Concentration makes the list of what you want to keep tuned. Focusing on the hand all the way through to the end is the key. Too many mistakes that costs a pot come from forgetting plays made throughout the hand you are in. Much of it is the hand reading part, but with the action happening quickly, a lack of concentration can make one forget about a bet or position action from a previous round. A simple quick call a player made can mean various options for you to take to win a pot or save yourself losing much. Paying strict attention to all of what transpires during the hand means you won’t make a mistake that is from ignorance of a situation. Figure out the things that make you lose your concentration and try to stop them from getting you. It may be letting people interrupt you when in a hand. Taking you eyes off the table to look at someone while needing to think gets people in trouble. The importance of concentrating solely on the events of the hand is why I do not advocate listening to music or watching something distracting during play. When listening to music, turn it off immediately when the cards are being dealt. That is the start of the hand and some of the most important information you will get will come as they look at their hands.
The lousy part of all of this is that some players do all these things naturally and seeing that seems unfair, but that is what gives the best their edge in poker and life. All anyone else can do is to pay attention to their weaknesses, and try not to let those things cost them too much. Spending time working on getting better at the important aspects of the game that one cannot easily learn, but which take hard work to maintain, isn’t much fun. The rewards down the road make up for it though.