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 29.09.2021 · last updated 29.09.2021

With everyone and his dog playing online poker tournaments nowadays it’s worth the trouble – even for recreational players – to put some aforethought into the game in terms of having specific goals during a tournament. Just because it’s a fun way to spend a few hours during which we’re partly at the mercy of Lady Luck, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be putting in some effort along the way. Or, in this case, before we even sit down – a good gameplan requires preparation.

There are all sorts of strategies, tactics and styles, as well as number-crunching methods to help navigate a way round the mathematical side of poker for those who like that kind of thing. The more of these we become acquainted with, the better armed we are for when battle commences in the virtual arena.

Here are two important elements of tournament poker that should help players focus and hone their game with a view to staying ahead of the curve as the blinds increase which, in turn, ratchets up the pressure and effectively makes

subsequent pots more worth winning.

Be Prepared Mentally

There’s not much point knowing the ins and outs of pot odds or implied odds or fancy equations if you’re not generally in the right mindset to play. Poker can be psychologically draining and requires players to maintain a certain level of concentration from the first cards dealt to the last. We need to be able to take bad luck (including dreaded bad beats!) in our stride, to not let ourselves be hijacked by our emotions during potentially critical hands, not get carried away as we near the business end of proceedings, not become overly cautious as the bubble approaches (see below), keep our egos in check… a poker tournament can seem like a psychological minefield.

It follows, then, that our mental preparedness should be just as important a consideration as any other aspect of the game, if not more. Yet so many players don’t give their mindset the slightest thought. Human nature is a powerful thing, and not looking after our mental wellbeing and neglecting to make sure we’re on an emotional even keel – not only when we first sit down to play but throughout the course of a tournament – is one of poker’s cardinal sins. If this is an area of poker that thus far hasn’t been afforded any thought, then now is the time to remedy that, as it’s as big a leak as any.

Find the Fish

Every tournament, without exception, is going to have weak players swimming around, donating chips all over the place. It’s imperative that we recognise who are the fish – whether these are beginners and inexperienced players, recreational hobbyists just wanting fun who have never put any work into the game and those players who, despite having devoted years to poker, still don’t have a clue.

If we’re not striving to find the fish at our table and subsequently taking advantage of them, then we’re going about the game in totally the wrong way. Good players build their stacks by separating weak players from their chips, and we need to be doing exactly that. Such an approach is part and parcel of winning poker.

And time is of the essence because these advantageous opportunities are finite. Fish are fish because they lose their chips and their stacks through poor play and dubious decisions. Every time they get involved in a hand they’re vulnerable, so it tends to be only a matter of time until their stacks dwindle to nothing or, equally often, lose everything in a single hand. The quicker we identify them, the sooner we can endeavor to exploit them – if we don’t, we can guarantee that someone else will!

So – we need to keep an eye out for fishy play such as limping, loosely calling raises, calling bets with weak(er) hands, not betting enough, betting too much, a lack of understanding of position, passivity, unjustified aggression and so on…

The above might seem like common sense, but it’s amazing how many players lack an appreciation of these two fundamental parts of the game. In modern online poker, not being mentally prepared is tantamount to giving those who are a potentially decisive edge, while lazily waiting around for big hands and fortuitous situations to come our way while others are finding and hunting down the fish at the table is equally unforgivable!

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