Ten Poker Outlook Tips to Improve Awareness and Focus

Poker strategy is written about by every Tom, Dick, and Harry. However, in my frustration at the shortage of worthwhile poker outlook ‘heuristics’ (handy little rules of thumb), I decided to do something about it.

Bankroll with unspeakable nittiness - to avoid nitting up at the tables!

Here are ten little heuristics to improve your awareness and focus at the poker tables.

–          A good poker player is one who doesn’t get in his own way

–          You are only as good as your C-game

–          Awareness is curative (thanks to Timothy Gallwey for this one!)

–          A great poker player is one who can analyse herself without rushing to judgment

–          Experimenting and curiosity came before ‘rules’; never be bound by              conventional theory. ‘Rules’ are created after discovery through creativity.

–          You will never be great if the desire to study only arises when on a bad run

–          The only thing that truly matters is this decision in front of you, right now

–          Tilt is not entirely a bad thing; a little bit of poison strengthens the immune  system

–          We must bankroll with excessive, almost embarrassing conservatism to truly focus on the long game

–          We must prepare for even the most remote possibilities, as they are often the  most impactful

 

 

Do you agree with my ten heuristics? Let me know which are the most useful – and which you take issue with. And of course, please take a moment to use the Share buttons to spread the word.

Why You MUST Slow-Play Pocket Aces – The Availability Bias

Quickly answer this question: do more words feature the letter K as the first or the third letter in the English language?

***

Vedran is a strong low-stakes 6-max SNG player who is playing his way out of a minor downswing. He posted up the following hand in my students’ chat group:

‘I am dealt AA and open raise from middle position. The TAG reg in the Big Blind 3-bets me, and I decide to flat call, for deception and balance purposes.

The flop comes Ks Jd 3h. The reg checks, I continuation bet 60% of the pot, and the reg mini-raises me. I estimate his range preflop to be TT-KK, and, based on this range, I feel that he must have a set so I puke-fold. This is why I hate slow-playing AA!’

The Poker Mindset gets cloudy

Now, let’s get something straight. Vedran posted up the hand because he suspected that he had made an error. And believe me, he most definitely had. He had fallen foul of availability bias.

ScreenHunter_57 Jun. 18 17.31

When we think back to all of the times that we slow-played AA, we instantly recall the occasions where it ended disastrously. Our minds become awash with memories of flopped sets, of backdoor draws hitting, and of losing our place in the hand.

As such, our mind wants us to believe that slow-playing monster hands is a terrible move, and that we will somehow get punished every time we do so.

Well guess what?

It’s total garbage.

Should we slow-play Pocket Aces?

There IS a time and a place for slow-playing Aces. It’s just that all the times that it works out well are harder to recall.

In this hand, Vedran back-fitted his analysis to paint a scenario in which a fold could be deemed acceptable. However, is it remotely realistic to peg the TAG reg’s range squarely at TT-KK? Hell no! What about all the 44s and JQo and A5s that elected to 3-bet pre-flop? Just because villain is tight, doesn’t mean that he MUST have a monster here.

Similarly, on the flop, Vedran disregarded any bluffs or value raises with AK, KQ etc. He feared the worst, partially because, on an unconscious level, he has been conditioned to believe that AA gets cracked FAR more often than is the reality.

Vedran allowed his irrational fears to influence his decision-making, and It resulted in his making a very poor fold.

We are programmed to remember the remarkable. We are more likely to recall the times where we got that horrible sinking feeling in our gut as we saw the diamonds hit, than all those times where we doubled-up unceremoniously and quickly moved our focus to the next hand.

Your Mind Plays Tricks

Just because something springs more readily to mind, does not mean that it occurs more commonly. In fact, it is BECAUSE Aces win more regularly than lose that the wins become routine and unremarkable. By extension, the losses are out of the ordinary and therefore easier to recall.

And, as you have probably worked out by now, you were wrong. The letter K features more than twice as often as the third letter than as the first. It’s just that those words that begin with K spring more readily to mind.

Ladies and gentlemen – the availability bias. A nasty little blighter that needs to be kept away from the poker tables!

***

Let me know of the times when YOU fell foul of the availability bias in the comments below! And don’t forget to use the Social Share buttons to spread the article online.

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*I borrowed the Letter K example from Daniel Kahneman’s groundbreaking Thinking, Fast and Slow.

 

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Why I Don’t Play The Lottery: The Winning Paradox

Good news: there is a sure-fire way to win the lottery.

Bad news: you will need to have £14m available.

To win the National Lottery here in the UK, you need to match 6 numbers from the draw of a possible 49.

There are about 14 million 6-number combinations between 1 and 49. At £1 per selection, and given that National Lottery organisers Camelot don’t do bulk-buy discounts, you’ll be looking at a £14m outlay, to guarantee yourself a £5m jackpot (give or take).

And of course, if someone else is lucky enough to have also picked the winning numbers, your jackpot is halved.

The Winning Paradox

This is what I call the Winning Paradox. Spending £14m to win £5m is clearly not a profitable approach.

Anyone who thinks about this for more than half-a-second can recognise that it is not a viable strategy. The upside does not get close to matching the downside.

In other words: even when you win, you lose. £5million in returns has cost you £14million in outlay. Ouch.

Winner winner!

Winner winner!

Poker Players and Sports Bettors Beware

Yet poker players and sports bettors fall for the Winning Paradox time after time.  They chase draws without the correct odds, or back short-priced favourites at the bookies even when the risk/reward ratio is terrible.

The problem with this strategy lies in those two simple words that unfortunately a lot of the gambling community forget to consider: risk and reward.

Unfortunately, it is all-too-easy to lose your discipline. Backing short-odds favourites may lead to a lot of small wins, but that is of little use when the big loss comes in that wipes out all of your profits – and then some. The Winning Paradox in all its glory.

Or picture the poker player who can’t resist chasing gutshots when they are being offered 3:1 – even though the ‘correct’ odds for making this loose play are around 10:1.

Feedback Loop

Admittedly, the waters are muddied because, in poker and in sports betting, the feedback loop is misleading. It feels good when you win the hand (or the bet), so it is perfectly normal to attempt to replicate the success.

And because you are playing every hand and placing every bet in a batch of one (rather than in a batch of 14 million, as with the lottery example), the downside can be camouflaged. This is why discipline is the key.

When placing a wager or considering a call in poker, it is imperative that you ask yourself one simple question:

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

 

 

Do you always ensure that you are getting good value for your investment when playing poker or sports betting? Let me know in the comments, add me on Skype (search ‘casy151’), or follow me on Twitter.

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10 Tips to Transform Your Heads-Up Game

Heuristics are little rules-of-thumb that can be used to simplify decision-making. In poker, where every decision is vital, it is important to have some guidelines to fall back on when tough spots come up. Here are ten heuristics for Heads-Up that will help you to make better decisions, more consistently.

 

–          If in doubt, take the aggressive route

–          If you never look stupid, then you are playing too conservatively

–          There is no ICM heads-up, so you are free to take thin edges

–          Never assume; make every great SNG player prove that he’s a great HU player

–          Every street provides at least one opportunity to make a great decision

–          Contesting from the button can never be a big mistake; open-folding the button                       usually is

–          You need a very good reason not to c-bet

–          The second that your foot slips off the pedal is the second that your quality dips

–          A LAG fishbowl is a tougher opponent than a TAG reg

–          The great heads-up player makes plays that she doesn’t WANT to make

 

 

How many of these heuristics do you adhere to? And do you disagree with any of them? Don’t forget to drop me a comment, or get in touch via Twitter. And hey, be a hero and spread the ten tips around Twitter and Facebook!

 

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Are You Too Quick To Give Your Poker Coach Credit?

Beware of falsely attributing an upturn in your poker results to a good coach. This one can be extremely tricky, so you have to be on your guard. Here’s a scenario for you:

Mike is a long-term winning reg in the mid-stakes 6-max Sit N Gos. However, in the last couple of months he has been losing a chunk in his normal games, and he is worried that the other regs have figured him out.

On the recommendation of another reg, he contacts a coach to see what can be done to end his slump.

Sure enough, after five expensive coaching sessions, Mike’s results start to improve. Before long, Mike is back to his old win-rate, beating his normal games at a decent clip.

The coaching worked!

Or did it?

The Poker Coaching Conundrum

As a coach, I can assure you that most players seek out my services when they are suffering a bad run of form. They think that it must be addressed urgently, and hiring a coach must be the most efficient way of getting back to form.

I am always very wary of accepting coaching applications from such players. Indeed, I reject a lot more of them than I accept.

The reason is simple – it is immoral for me to take credit for aiding these players’ recoveries. 90% of the time, what they experience is a simple case of regression to the mean.

Poker’s Regression Obsession

Regression to the mean is when things naturally settle back towards their ‘true’ level over time. For example – in poker, an average player who binked a massive tournament win was almost certainly extremely lucky, rather than someone who had developed poker genius overnight.

Before long, they will dribble some of their money back to the poker community as the luck wears off and their typical skill level emerges.

When a football team sacks their manager, it is usually because they have been under-performing relative to their normal standard. The new boss gets appointed, and lo and behold, results start to improve. Miraculous!

Well, not really.

The reality is that the team were likely going through a run of bad luck and fragile confidence – a temporary blip that would rectify itself naturally in time.

Do you see where this is going?

Let’s get back to Mike

Mike’s poor recent run was overwhelmingly likely to correct itself over time – assuming, of course, that the bad luck would not provoke bad decision-making.

The real solution to Mike’s sticky situation is to simply keep doing what he does best: grinding away, until variance rights itself and he regresses towards his typical, impressive level.

classroom

So how best do we avoid getting into this sticky situation?

I always encourage my students to strengthen from a position of strength. That means that they should look to work hardest on their poker homework when things are going well for them. It is during such times that their thinking is at its clearest, and my students are at their most responsive to new ideas.

If they wait until something goes wrong (ie. a downswing) before attempting to appraise their game, then their outlook will be cloudy. They will be tempted to attempt root-and-branch, reactionary surgery when a few tweaks were all that was needed.

My advice to Mike

In future, look to engage the services of a coach when things are going well. Don’t fall into the trap of bolting the barn door after the horse has departed. When things are going badly, it is not the time to clutter up your mind with new concepts and it is very difficult to objectively appraise your game.

And most of all, don’t assume that the upturn in results was down to the genius of the expensive coach! In all probability, in a swingy game like poker, it was a simple case of regression to the mean.

A good coach will be able to say no to applicants who are suffering a temporary blip – or at least, they must be willing to hold their hands up and say that they had little to do with the sudden upswing in the student’s results!

 

What do you think – are you too quick to seek out coaching when you hit a downswing?  Are you the sort of person who wants to pat the coach on the back when you should really be applauding yourself? And most of all, do you truly understand the nature of variance and its sister – regression to the mean?

Let me know in the comments, or drop me a message on Twitter or Skype (just add me – ‘casy151’)

 

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What Every War Can Teach Us About Poker

‘In a conflict, the middle ground is the least likely to be correct’ – Nassim Taleb

Let me explain what Taleb’s neat little aphorism means – and how YOU can use it to plug a costly poker leak.

—–

We have all heard certain over-enthusiastic types talking about poker being war. It is an understandable concept. Enemies clash, and only one can prevail.

However, the reality is that it is a card game – not life or death. The war analogy is limited and ill thought-out. Professional poker players are often close friends away from the tables, and their rivalry stretches no further than their bankrolls.

Nassim Taleb would be a great poker player

Nassim Taleb would be a great poker player

Despite this, there is one clear truth that can be learned from war and applied seamlessly to poker:

When two conflicting view-points are expressed, many people make the mistake of believing that the truth must lay in the middle. In a war, it is easy to assume that there is validity to both sides’ stance, and that they are both half-right.

This is called the Argument to Moderation, and it is quite, quite wrong. Here’s why:

Let’s say that I truly believe that the cup of coffee in front of me is stone cold. My girlfriend, however, is adamant that it is boiling hot. When I drink it, I will either spit it out because it is disgustingly freezing, or I will spit it out because it is burning my mouth.

One of us is right, and the other is wrong. The cup of coffee is not lukewarm. I will not happily guzzle the coffee down because we were both part-right. The truth does NOT magically lie in the middle.

This is all well and good, Christy, but what has this got to do with poker?

As it turns out, quite a lot!

A variant of the following situation rears its ugly head a staggering amount of the time when I am coaching students in the art of the Sit N Go.

We are on the bubble, and Hero is faced with a borderline decision. It may be that Hero has raised, and Villain has 3-bet. Hero is torn between finding a pretty nitty fold, and bringing down the hammer with an aggressive, risky shove.

The Thought Process of the Poker Player

Hero’s thought process runs thus: ‘Villain knows that I am stealing wide. He is a good player, and so will be 3-betting quite often here. I am confident that I can generate a lot of fold equity by shoving. ICM dictates that Villain can only call my 4-bet with the top 5% of holdings. And if I win this pot, I claim the chip lead and can confidently bully the bubble. The stats are on my side. I like a shove here.’

However, my hand isn’t strong, and I am contemplating tangling with the chip leader. ICM dictates that I need a monster hand to play an all-in pot here. I have a lot of equity to protect, as the short-stack benefits every time that I take on the chip leader. There is a strong argument to find a fold here.’

Hero is torn between two strong options. To shove or to fold? To shove or to fold? Hero weighs it up and….

Calls.

When faced with a borderline decision, Hero did the worst possible thing. He took the middle ground. He failed to act decisively, and it cost him equity – which costs him money.

He hoped that the coffee was lukewarm, when he really knew that it was either freezing or boiling.

The Move of Moderation in Poker

Poker does not lend itself to moderation. Much as a golfer cannot sink a putt if it is under-hit, the best poker players recognise that a lack of conviction is inexcusable.

And a lack of conviction is what often leads the poker player to making the move of moderation – in this case, the call.

When torn between two conflicting options – both of which are at least partly meritorious – it is criminal for the poker player to choose the third path.

It is criminal to avoid making a tough decision by making a WRONG one instead.

 

What do you think – is this leak something of which you are guilty? Drop me a message or a tweet with your experiences.

And, as always, please spread the word by sharing this article on Facebook and Twitter.

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Why Poker Players are Like Taxi Drivers – And What You Should do About it

Poker players are like taxi drivers.

No, I don’t mean that card games make them fantasise about going on Travis Bickle-esque vigilante killing sprees.

Although, I’m sure everyone has wanted to take out the dealer from time to time 😉

But the main similarity between a lot of poker players and cabbies is that they get their volume backwards – they tend to work fewer hours when things are going well, and more hours when it’s just not their day.

taxi

The Cabbie Paradox

An interesting study considered the working habits of New York taxi drivers. I’ll spare you the dry academic text, and skip straight to the interesting bit:

Logic would suggest that those who can select their own working hours should take advantage of inclement weather and subway breakdowns etc by putting in as many hours as possible when demand is at its highest.

This would free them up to take more time off when the sun is shining and nobody is interested in hopping into a Joe Baxi.

However, logic is not always the guiding force that it should be.

You see, it turns out that cabbies are driven (NPI) by money, rather than volume. So when they hit their target figure for the day, they call it quits and go get a beer. Maximising their earn is not their priority – a pretty heinous error for those whose income is at the mercy of variance.

I’m going to call this the Cabbie Paradox.

As a poker coach, this sounds eerily familiar.

It is very common to find people who still define a session’s success by its results, rather than whether or not they hit their volume target.

The logic runs thus:

If I can make $1000 in 50 games, then surely I deserve to take the rest of the day off, rather than play the other 100 games that I had initially intended?

In a word

NO.

There was a reason why you hit $1000 in such a short time frame. Perhaps you ran well. Perhaps the games were softer than usual. Perhaps you were in a great state of flow.

Whatever the reason, you don’t know when the next time that you hit the perfect storm will be. It’s not a tap that you can switch on and off at will – regardless of how easy it feels when things are going your way.

Just as taxi drivers are prone to thinking that the procession of customers will never end when the rain is teeming down, poker players who are upswinging think that they can take it easy because it will always be this easy.

Poker Squirrel and the Nuts Joke

It stands to reason, then, that when things are going well, you should maximise it. You should be a poker squirrel, hoarding nuts away for when times are lean – as they inevitably will be, someday soon. If you have a volume goal (and you definitely should!) this is the time to smash through it. Maximise that upswing by putting in the hours on those days when the game feels easy!

If you do this, then the trade-off comes when it’s not going well. You can treat yourself to a shorter day, for the nuts have already been squirreled away in more bounteous times.

The Cabbie Paradox is one whose origins are easy to trace. For self-employed people like poker players and taxi drivers, one of the most appealing attributes is the way of life. Being able to pick your own hours is a giant two fingers to the 9-5 grind, and when things are going well it is hard to find the discipline to still hit volume.

After all – who amongst your friends can say that they woke up without an alarm clock, made four figures by lunch, then went to the zoo to drink from a hip flask and take funny selfies?

Getting Unstuck

On the other hand, when things aren’t going well, many players give themselves no option but to play until they get unstuck. This determination is bizarre for the following reasons:

1)      Most people don’t play their best when they’re getting crushed – so why choose this moment to play more?

2)      It’s a results-orientated, short-termist outlook. Day-to-day goals should be volume-based, for volume is entirely within your control and results are at the mercy of variance.

3)      Poker is about making good decisions. You may or may not get unstuck by busting past your volume target, but regardless of outcomes, doing so is likely to be a bad decision – something that should be anathema to a poker player.

Let’s Be Logical

It’s clear that there is a severe logic breakdown, when it is spelled out like this.  Unfortunately, the poker world is littered with people offering bad advice.

So next time you feel the urge to slack off and quit your session early, ask yourself this:

‘Am I behaving like a taxi driver?’

 

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Pump up the Volume with this Easy Tweak

Answer me this: are you interested in getting as much volume as possible into your poker grinding sessions, without having to resort to adding a ton of extra tables?

If the answer is no, then please feel free to unsubscribe or leave the site, because this one is a no-brainer 😉

You need volume. It is what makes all of the hard work that you did away from the tables so valuable.

Up That Hourly

Let me put it another way:

You may work super-hard on your poker EV calculations. You may spend hours every week running reports on Pokertracker 4, and running Sit N Go simulations through ICMizer.

You may subscribe to every magazine and read every poker book going. You may grind a lot of short sessions, to keep focused and to make sure that you’re always fresh.

Well guess what?

You’re still not maximising your earning hourly rate. You’re still not hitting the volume of which you are capable.

This is because these short sessions are terrible for your bottom line. ‘How so?’ I hear you ask. I’ll tell you right now.

Introducing Johanna – a Sit N Go Grinder

Let me introduce you to Johanna – a Sit N Go grinder like you and me. Johanna can play up to 12 tables profitably. Any more than this, and the quality of her decision-making suffers. So she asked me to help her increase her volume without adding more tables.

I asked Johanna what a typical grinding day for her constituted. This was her reply:

–          Hey Christy, I like to keep my sessions short because I’m worried about tilting and I hate to lose focus. Sometimes I can feel myself making bad decisions and I don’t really know how to stop it, so I find this easier to cope with when sessions are short. I guess I play about two-and-a-half hours in the morning, two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon, and sometimes another session in the evening when I can.

Talk about an easy fix for a coach! With one minor tweak, I was able to help Johanna to up her weekly games total by 10% without having to resort to drastic measures. And let me tell you, it is the easiest thing in the world to implement. You can do it too.

2.5 + 2.5 = 5?

I simply recommended that Johanna merge her morning session with her afternoon session. One five-hour session is worth a whole lot more than two 2.5 hour sessions.

This is because every session requires necessary downtime while tables are filling and the grinder is getting their software loaded up, etc. Similarly, it is not as though every table finishes at the same time, so time is lost at the end as twelve tables winds down to zero.

With the load up, and then the wind down, a 2.5 hour session would probably only feature a maximum of 120 minutes of 12-tabling, with Johanna spending at least 30 minutes playing below her capacity.

And for any serious grinder concerned with their hourly, this is akin to burning money.

However, when the session duration doubles to 5 hours, the down-time remains the same. Johanna still only drops below her maximum capacity for the same 30 minute duration. Therefore, she gets 270 minutes of max-capacity grinding in; a handy increase of 30 minutes when compared with two 2.5 hour sessions.

Gaining 10% Every Week

Needless to say, all these half-hours add up! Over the course of a week, Johanna gets the equivalent of an extra session in, simply by postponing her lunch break until later. Short evening sessions notwithstanding, the extra half-hour of quality grinding that Johanna can now manage every day equates to an extra 2.5 hours per week – or a 10% gain, just by managing her time a little better!

Next time, we will take a look at the other aspect of Johanna’s email – the dreaded T word!

Tilt is oft-experienced, and even oft-er misunderstood 😉 It deserves its own blog, so we will give it plenty of attention.

Make sure you subscribe to my email list (simply pop your email address into to the form) so that you get the benefit of my blogs as soon as they’re posted. And hey, they’re free, so be a sweetheart and give them a share!

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How to Up Your Volume – While Improving Motivation

Staying on pace to hit long-term volume goals need not be a painful slog. I propose one adjustment that will revolutionise your approach. To do so, let me introduce you to Holly…

Volume. Turnover. Grinding. Call it what you like; the reality remains the same. The more Holly plays, the more she earns. Simple, right?

Indeed it is – at least in principle. However, the theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t necessary feel straightforward when Holly’s chips are being pushed towards her opponents for hours on end. It is thoroughly dis-spiriting.

She approached me looking for some advice as she knuckled down for her first year as a professional grinder. Reaching 2x Supernova was her goal– an ambitious, but certainly achievable, target for somebody who grinds the low-mid stakes SNGs.

However, she was being held back by an inability to pace herself.

Drifting Focus

In her determination to get ahead in her Supernova charge, Holly would play until her energy levels were at zero every session. Then when it came to firing up her next session, her motivation would be down, and her focus would drift off after an inordinately short amount of time.

Sometimes, the mere thought of loading up the Pokerstars client would fill her stomach with that awful sinking feeling.

The result? A disillusioned grinder. An all-or-nothing outlook. A tilty disposition. An unprofessional approach. Boom or bust. Repeat.

How could Holly re-model her grinding schedule, so that she would start every day feeling fresh and motivated?

There's a wrong way and a Hemingway

There’s a wrong way and a Hemingway

The New Approach – via Murakami and Hemingway

My advice to Holly was straightforward: in order to reach her goal, she needed to take a leaf out of the book of two literary greats.

Haruki Murakami’s outstanding meditation on running and life What I Talk About When I Talk About Running offers a fascinating insight into his writing method. This is something that he nabbed from an unknown scribbler who went by the name Ernest Hemingway. No, I’d never heard of him either.

‘I stop everyday right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly’ (p.5).

For Murakami and Hemingway, a long-term project like writing a novel required a steady pace and perpetual motivation. They did not want their brain to associate their craft with suffering.

Writing until they fell asleep at the desk was a sure-fire way to decrease motivation for the next day. Indeed, it would feel like a mission just to pick up the pen, after such a draining session. So they would quit, right when it felt like they had a little left in them.

Sound Familiar?

The Murakami method translates to poker beautifully. Ending each session on a high, with a bit of fuel left in the tank, keeps motivation up and dodges that nasty hidden danger ego depletion (the topic of an upcoming blog).

So the first step that I recommend when it comes to hitting long-term poker goals is to actively ignore the popular myth that you should ‘grind until you can grind no more’.

The reality is that playing until you flat-out can’t take any more is likely to hinder your progress. If you are mentally and physically exhausted, then sustaining your motivation across time will become incredibly difficult. In short: the likelihood of burn-out is massively increased.

Nailing Down a Plan

When I asked Holly how many games she could manage in a day, nailing down a plan became easy. She replied ‘225 at the absolute most’. So we knocked about 10% off, settling on 205 per day (which would get her to Supernova x2 comfortably, playing 5 days per week).

This would ensure that she finished every day happy with her volume, but feeling that she was capable of more. That final, painful, stretch from game 206-225 was simply chopped off.

The result? Holly became eager to log in the following day. Poker was no longer something that she associated with exhaustion; every day, she would end her session with something left in the tank and a desire to hit the tables again to keep her Supernova hunt on track.

Here’s the Best Bit

Best of all, her results improved too! No longer were the final 20 games a race to the finish, in order to tick another day off the list. Instead, Holly found herself playing a sharper, more focused A-game for longer.

The Problem with Volume

I sometimes fear that the volume-centric poker outlook is counter-productive. Some coaches and players would have you believe that stopping short of maximum volume every single day is absolutely scandalous. I disagree, and here’s why:

It is terrible to play 500 games daily for a month or two, and then to burn out and start tilting (or even quit!).

On the other hand, the slow-and-steady method has four clear advantages:

a) A more measured pace is less likely to make your brain associate poker with exhaustion, meaning that those I-just-can’t-face-it days are kept at bay,

b) Focus is stronger, and A-game is maintained,

c) Rather than focusing on just…getting…through…..this….never-……ending…….session, which is an extremely short-termist outlook, this approach keeps the grinder focused on the long-term goal of playing the same volume daily. Once the habit is formed, it is easier to adhere to,

d) Motivation is sustained when goals are met. For Holly, playing 205 games every day is a lot more achievable than playing 225 games most days. Therefore, she hits her target more frequently, perpetuating the feel-good and motivation.

Every day is a small victory, as she repeatedly hits her volume goal.

These small adjustments can be the difference between success and failure over the long-term. They have certainly helped Holly develop a strong grinding routine.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me your grinding routine, and perhaps I’ll be able to help you optimise it. And if you think that this article could help people to reach their long-term poker goals, give it a share on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word!

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Do You Have This Costly Leak? Introducing the Diamond Star Effect

I was coaching an excellent player this morning, when an interesting scenario arose. We were reviewing a Sit N Go that he had played, in which he reached Heads-Up against a guy who is generally considered the best player in those games.

A particularly strange hand saw villain take an extremely non-standard line, which left my student flummoxed.

What was his thought process? I encouraged my student to talk the hand out from the start. Several different possible reasons for villain’s strange decision-making in the hand were discussed. None seemed credible.

‘Why did he decide to make that move?’ asked my student, obsessed with unravelling the truth: ‘he must have had a reason’.

Here’s the thing. Villain did have a reason. It’s just that the reason was not what my student anticipated.

Villain screwed up.

Nothing simpler, nothing more complicated. He misplayed the hand. He lost track of where he was, of the flow of the hand – a side-effect of multi-tabling. His move made no logical sense, because there was no logic to it.

My student had made the cardinal error of associating villain’s undoubted technical quality with infallibility. Of considering an elite SNG player to be superhuman and incapable of error. His reason was understandable, if misguided.

To understand this, you must appreciate that villain is something of a legend in the low-midstakes games; a regular leaderboard-topper, who plays more tables with a better winrate than anyone at those stakes.

The Halo Effect is when a Person A’s judgment of Person B’s character is skewed by their overall impression of Person B. For example, it is common for us to think a movie star a cool person because of a role that they played. Or that a politician is a good decision maker because they dress well and have a strong physical presence.

This was its poker equivalent: the Diamond Star effect.

On Sharkscope, Diamond Stars denote the top players at each limit. Villain possesses several Diamond Stars. However, that does not mean that he makes the optimal decision at all times.

It takes him a few days to play one thousand games; errors are guaranteed. My student gave too much respect to villain’s reputation, and attributed merit where none was due.

We see this in football. In Scotland, Celtic rarely get beat at home, regardless of how poorly they play. They have a bigger budget and better players; however, this is not the sole reason for their imperious home form. Their apparent invincibility is a daily topic in the red-tops and on the sports shows. Players at ‘lesser’ clubs are treated as irrelevant by the media, whereas Celtic’s players are rated as demi-Gods. When they take to the turf, the visitors afford their exalted opponents too much respect, and might as well be 1-0 down by kick-off.

Deference does not win battles. Opposition that you consider to be of superior ability can be overcome by playing them, not their reputation. If you are a profitable, hard-working player, then you must trust your decision-making and problem-solving skills, regardless of your opponent.

Sure, the best players make fewer mistakes than most; however, you can be absolutely certain that these do occur on occasion.

So if it looks like a mistake, and it smells like a mistake, then it probably is a mistake. The esteem in which my student held his opponent determined his reaction, despite the evidence that suggested that villain simply misplayed the hand.

How often do you fall into the trap of thinking that excellent players always play every hand optimally? I know that I have made this mistake before, and I would bet that I will make similar errors in logic in the future. However, the first step towards eliminating a leak is to recognise it.

Christy Keenan is a poker coach, writer, and player. He has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology, and specialises in decision-making in competition.

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