Photo via William
Our New Player Guide wouldn’t be complete without talking about the mental side of poker. You can be the best strategic player in the world, able to outplay Phil Ivey and crush table after table, but if you don’t have a strong poker mind you will never be world class. In fact, you may never make it out of the micros.
Inside the Poker Mind
What do we mean when we say you need a strong poker mind? There are a few key concepts that we will cover, but someone with a strong poker mind is able to separate their emotions from the game.
Being that we are emotional animals, this is difficult for most players, even those that have been playing the game for decades. Poker is much more of an analytical game. You are faced with many decisions and if you make more correct decisions than your opponents, you will make money. However, in any given hand, a correct decision does not mean you will win. When things go wrong, you have to control your emotions.
So much poker strategy is focused on improving how to play your hand and making better overall decisions. And this is important, which is why we focus on it for the first 7 parts of this guide. But the mental aspect of poker is often overlooked and sometimes completely ignored. I’m arguing in this post that it is just as important.
So let’s dive in.
If you’re new to poker, you’ve likely heard the word tilt. But what does it really mean? Tilt comes in many different forms and can be defined in many ways, but the best general definition I can come up with is playing sub-optimally or making bad decisions when you’re not in the right state of mind.
There are many reasons why your mind may not be sharp. Perhaps it’s due to being tired, thinking about work or other commitments, or maybe you’re hungry. While these can create issues, the biggest problems with tilt usually arise when things don’t work out the way you want them to. Or to put it another way, when you’re on the receiving end of a bad beat.
The most obvious cases of tilt emerge when you get your money in good and lose. A classic example; you have AA and the fish on the table decides now is the time to shove with his QJo. You hooked him, he’s yours. The poker gods are rewarding you for your patience and persistence. It feels good, man. Oh, he flopped a pair. No need to worry, you’re still ahead. Phew, a brick on the turn. Just one more card until his stack is yours! And then it happens… He binks two pair on the river. All those precious chips that you were just about to add to your stack are now going to the worst player you’ve ever played against. And to make matters worse, he’s gloating about it. Oh god it hurts. You hate his face, you hate poker, and you hate your life.
I have news for you, if you want to play poker seriously, this scenario will happen again and again and again. If you allow suck outs like this to affect how you play, you will not be playing optimally, which means you will not be winning as much money as you should. If you don’t get tilt under control early, it may do much, much worse and lead you to spew chips, blow your lead in a tournament, or even completely destroy your bankroll.
Even the best player in the world will go broke if they can’t control their tilt.
Long Term Thinking
Another saying you will hear over and over – poker is a long term game. This simply means that in order for you to truly know if you’re a winning player, you have to keep playing. You have to keep logging hands and doing what you do. Anyone can get lucky in one hand, in one tournament, or in one session. But if you make the correct decisions over and over, you will end up with the cheese.
If it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over, I am. I’m trying to remove the emotion from the game and bring to light the ONLY thing you have to do to become a winning player – make better decisions!
Let’s take a look at the math and crunch some numbers. Using PokerStove, I’m going to calculate Hero’s AA vs Villain’s 88. Villain over plays his mid pairs and we have him trapped for his stack.
This means that over 61+ million simulations, pocket aces won 80.29% of the time. However, if you look through the simulations, or run it out yourself with a deck of cards, there will be periods where pocket eights are victorious more than 19.37% of the time. You would be able to find a series of 10 hands where 88 won 7 of them. But in the long run, that is over 61 MILLION simulations, if you hold aces, you will win just over 4 out of 5 times. The math doesn’t lie.
Now before you say, “Well, duh,” remember that it is different looking at it from the outside. Reading or hearing about a bad beat is one thing, but to experience it happen is a whole different story if you let the result get to you. Next time it happens to you, don’t turn the tilt switch on, instead say “Well, duh,” just as you did to my example. Think long term. Play the next hand. Don’t let it affect your decision making!
Because poker is a long term game, one must adhere to strict bankroll management rules. Without doing this, it is near certain to go broke.
Bankroll management is playing within your means. In other words, if you only have $1,000 to play with, risking that $1,000 in one hand or tournament is incredibly risky. Even if you get your money in with the best hand, there is always the chance of losing. In order to nullify negative short term results, one must play at a level that can adsorb the inevitable bad run.
While this isn’t set in stone, and depends how risk adverse you are, I advise new players to use the following bankroll management guidelines:
- If playing cash games, an adequate bankroll is 30-50 buy-ins.
- If playing sit & gos, an adequate bankroll is 40-60 buy-ins.
- If playing multi-table tournaments, an adequate bankroll is 60-80 buy-ins.
For example, if you’re sitting down at a $25 NL cash game table and buying in for the full $25, I would recommend having a bankroll of $750 – $1,250. If you are playing $22 SNGs, your bankroll should be $880 – $1,320.
Again, this should vary based on your skill level, how risk adverse you are, and how tough the games are that you’re playing. The above numbers are what I recommend as a general rule of thumb.
Playing outside of your bankroll is a near definite guarantee to go broke.
Tilt is an issue that is so prevalent in poker that there are thousands of articles on it online. Just search google for poker tilt and you will see the vastness on this subject. However, they’re all saying the same thing. To master tilt, one must master their emotions and not let a short term result affect their decision making. That’s it.
This article is just one more to add to the pile. Becoming a better poker player includes both strategic decision making and a strong poker mind. Don’t ignore the mental game of poker.
New Player Guide
This article is part 8 of an 8 part series from New Player Guide: A Shortcut to Playing Better Poker. You can navigate to the previous article below, or choose a specific article from the series.