AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 26.05.2021 · last updated 26.05.2021

Poker, like chess, is one of those pastimes that we’ll never fully master but at which we’ll continue to improve, albeit not always at the same pace. Ideally, we should be able to achieve constructive progress while simultaneously boosting our bankroll, but this is much easier said than done.

Because we tend to learn more by mixing with more experienced, skillful opponents, it follows that going in the right direction on the learning curve can quite easily mean going in the wrong direction financially. Indeed, this is quite a problematic conundrum because on the one hand we strive to become better players while, on the other, we want to ultimately add to our coffers.

As is so often the case, the trick is to find a balance which gives us the best of both worlds. With this in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that, usually, both goals cannot be achieved at the same time. However, it’s a common misconception among those players who have accumulated some experience but wish to maintain momentum that it’s an imperative to face strong(er) opposition in order to improve at a desirable rate, but this isn’t at all the case. It’s absolutely possible to raise our game against weaker opponents, too – not least by recognizing in which ways we can exploit others’ weaknesses and poor play. This is, after all, exactly what makes a skilled player. It’s all relative – very very good players beat very good players by homing in on the aspects of the game that they better understand, very good players do the same against good players, and so on.

Getting used to winning is just as useful as learning from losing. And the advantage of this exercise is that we do indeed see our bankroll increase as we go. So, it’s fine to play at the lower levels with a view to honing our game while picking up profit. When, over the course of a couple of orbits, we see a dozen or so limps from numerous players, we should be rubbing our hands with glee. Another good sign is when a single raise sees a multi-way pot, and players going all the way to showdown with a middling pair and hands such as J7 or 85 suited. Contrast this with a table at which everyone seems to be open-raising and 3-betting, with not a single limper in sight, and when every showdown features strong hands. Undoubtedly, we would learn something from the second scenario, watching good players play properly. But we would very likely end such a session with a loss. If we have a big bankroll that can sustain such a price for a poker lesson, then it’s fine to do this occasionally, but for the vast majority of players there are serious bankroll management ‘rules’ to adhere to, and therefore the first case, with weaker players making mistakes from which we can learn to profit, is a more attractive and practical one.

Single out weak(er) players

We should make a special effort to seek out opponents who limp into pots, too willingly enter multi-way pots with hands that are simply not robust enough, defend Blinds too much, pay over the odds to continue with draws, stay committed for too long with a made hand that’s most likely beaten, insist on seeing a showdown with mediocre hands…

By playing against such opposition, who will continually make the same mistakes and play according to the same misconceptions and flawed logic, we can get to a point where winning poker strategies are second nature – and at the same time we’re playing within our bankroll requirements and, over time, making telling profits that, in turn, allow us the luxury of being able to progress worry-free.

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