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 01.07.2021 · last updated 01.07.2021

One of the reasons why even top chess pros were eventually overtaken by machines is that the latter’s ability to calculate and analyze never falters, for any reason (unless, of course, we switch them off). Us poor humans, on the other hand, are awash with imperfections, one of which is that, however hard we might try, we’re always going to be prone to our fallibilities, not least when it comes to how clearly and consistently we think. Or, more to the point, how easily we fail to think consistently.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with poker, where clarity is an absolute imperative. With up to four different betting stages through which to navigate, it’s vital that we both find the right path and subsequently maintain our consistency of thought. It’s easy to find ourselves drifting from our set plan, going first from being on the verge of making the right, relevant decision, to then effectively switching lanes and veering off in another direction. Assuming that our initial strategy was the correct one, then it follows that suddenly having a brainwave and doing something different has a good chance of being a mistake. And mistakes are what we should always be trying to minimize.

This is why it pays to have faith in our convictions and not be side-tracked or susceptible to sudden bright ideas, or allow something to unjustifiably scare us into passivity when it’s so often the proactive course that brings success. Note that while this is a serious enough issue in the first place, it’s even more applicable to online poker, where we have much less time to act. What time we do have should be used well and with purpose.

If, for example, we’re on the Button and raise pre-flop with AK and the Flop brings Ac Jd 5s with a lone opponent on whom we have position, our game-plan for this hand should be to eke out some value through successive streets unless there is a very good reason to put the brakes on. It’s the accumulation of these bets that eventually combines to build our stack in a tournament or our bankroll if we’re Cash Game players. We can’t afford to leave chips on the table.

Returning to the above example, we’re going to Continuation Bet anyway (apart from convention being such that we’re expected to, we also have TPTK), which might well lead to us collecting the pot there and then. Also, our opponent might decide to come along for one more call with something like QJ, and reassess on the Turn should we then meet their check with another barrel. Note that failing to bet for value not only means missing out on these extra chips, but it also gives the opposition a free chance to improve.

So far, so good – we raised pre-flop and C-Bet with our relatively strong hand. Our opponent calls and the Turn is a 6c, which brings a fourth suit to the board. This changes little. There’s a flush draw but it shouldn’t distract us from our plan. It’s checked to us again and, sticking to the plan, we keep our foot on the accelerator with a 2/3 pot bet. As well as a hand like QJ, it wouldn’t be untypical for us to be up against a weaker Ace, or someone with any kind of made hand who believes that we’re attempting a classic C-Bet tactic that’s seen time and time again by players on the Button. Our opponent thinks for a while and calls… The River brings the 4c. In comes a final check. The pot is looking quite tasty. Is it time to top off a well-played hand by eliciting one last call and emerge with the reward of a skillfully built pot? The answer should be yes, but what about this pesky River card? Now there’s a possible flush out there, as well as a possible straight. And for many players this would be enough to set off alarm bells to the point that, rather than making a decent sized bet that could well be called given that nothing has happened to change the suspected mindset of our opponent, they’ll suddenly be afraid of phantom hands. Is it likely, for example, that our rival has lucked out by filling a flush? As for the straight, why would we now start convincing ourselves that all this time they’ve been calling away with 7 8 or – even more spectacular – 3 2? Surprisingly, many players have exactly this fear. Typically, they check back to find their opponent came along for the ride with A x and, while they’re aware they might have won more, feel considerable relief that they didn’t suffer a bad beat. In itself this ‘missed bet’ might not seem too significant but, in the long-term, talking ourselves out of a logical and profitable plan is going to have a very negative impact.

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