Poker Strategy: Be Your Own Critic

Most of the time, simply using trial-and-error can improve your abilities. For instance, if you’re a baseball pitcher, you can improve the speed and accuracy of your pitches by practice. When you hit the glove at 90mph, you pay attention to how you did it and then avoid the things that cause you to miss that mark. However, this doesn’t work in poker. Even the right move can sometimes make you lose money and the wrong moves can occasionally let you stumble into a win.

Let’s look at an example. You’re holding 8s7s with a board that reads Ah10c6c. There’s $10 in the pot and the bet is $8. You should fold because you’ve got nowhere near the pot odds needed to call. Let’s say, though, that for some stupid reason you call anyway. The turn is 9d, giving you a straight! And the river is a relatively harmless 2d. So, you’ve got the nuts and you’ve won a big pot. Does that mean you’ve made a good call?

Actually, no. It was a mistake to get on that hand and you’re very lucky that your bet ended up making you any money at all. When looking at plays like this, you have to realize that it was luck, not skill that got you any cash at all and in the long run, decisions like that will cost you more than they could ever make.

Let’s look at the same pocket cards but with a board that reads Qs6d5h. This time, though, there’s $10 in the pot and someone goes all-in for $5. Everyone folds to you and you decide to call. The turn is Qs and the river is KHz. You stare at each other for a bit and your opponent flips over AdQd and takes the pot with a set.

You can be upset that you lost the hand, but you made the right decision by continuing to play. You’ve nay contributed a quarter of the pot and you have a 1/3 chance of hitting the straight. You’ve got pot odds and should make the call.

When you evaluate your plays at the poker table, do not focus on whether a single play resulted in a win for that given hand. Instead, look at trends and consider if that move will be effective in the long run. In the end, the luck evens out and the players that make the best plays are the ones who end up with the most chips.