People often talk about the grueling nature of endurance sports on the body, however one area that is regularly forgotten about is the mind. In the world of poker there is no physical endurance needed, unless you’re playing online whilst in the gym. Rather, there is the sapping mental aspect of playing against several opponents, often for long periods of time.
Just learning how to play poker can take a lot of time and patience. Once you have a grasp of the game, there is the strain that it can take on your psyche when you’re experiencing leaner moments. Therefore to succeed it’s important to take advantage of absolutely everything at your disposal. In a game such as poker, marginal gains can make the difference between nothing and everything.
In this article we take at five different strategies that can help boost your mental fortitude and stack the odds more in your favour the next time you’re at the table.
#1) The Stop and Go strategy
Although it sounds like an advertising campaign aimed at small children to help them cross the road safely, it’s actually a well-known poker strategy. To make the most of this strategy, you’re better off using it in a tournament play rather than a cash game, where your rates of success will be lower.
In essence it’s a fairly simple tactic, which you execute by calling a pre-flop raise out position with the intent of shoving the flop. If you want to use a less fancy name than the stop and go strategy, it’s essentially a delayed shove.
There are three key ingredients needed to deliver a perfect stop and go: having a mediocre hand, being in the blind and being short stacked. This strategy is best used when you’re out of position or the first to act. Use caution in other scenarios and don’t be afraid to adapt quickly. Beneath are some examples of when to Stop and Go in Poker and when not to.
When you should use Stop and Go: In the blinds, 7-10 big blinds, against tighter players and in speculative hands.
When not to Stop and Go: Fewer than 5 big blinds, not in the blind, against slacker opponents, when you have a strong hand.
#2) Blocker bets
Attack, attack, attack! Wrong! You don’t always necessarily need to be the aggressor when you’re playing poker. Sometimes discretion is the greater part of valor. You may not have the best of hands, or your opponents may be grinding you into the dust.
Sometimes reverting to defence can help you in the long run, if you’re unsure of your hand then making a small bet can help deter your opponent from forcing you into a bigger bet than you wanted.
Although, exercise caution with this tactic as experienced, aggressive opponents can often see this as a sign of weakness and come back at you with a vengeance.
#3) Play within your limitations
Less of a strategy, more of a mantra to live by. If you’ve been cleaning up in a £1/£2 game then there’s probably a reason for that. You’re better than most of the players betting at those stakes. Recognize this and adapt your future game.
Full of vigour and self-confidence you may be tempted to jump to a game with much higher stakes, but don’t. Take baby steps and go to the next level up, if you struggle at first learn from it, review your mistakes and improve.
If you find yourself at a level where you’re constantly falling short and losing money then drop back down to the stakes that brought you success in the first place. If you were a boxer you wouldn’t jump straight from lightweight to heavyweight, would you?
#4) Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the technique of becoming more in tune with your body, and thus recognizing your emotions and being in greater control of them. If you’ve played poker before you’ll be well aware of the time constraints associated with the game.
It’s not uncommon to start a low-stakes game at 7pm and finish at 6.30am. For that kind of endurance you’ll need to ensure your mind is in the right place. Practicing mindfulness can be a great way to recognise your current emotions and level your emotional state.
Playing poker for nearly 12 hours can impair your judgement and make you more likely to play emotionally rather than rationally. If you do play on the back of your emotions, you will be much more likely to bet erratically and lose money.
Master your emotions, master your mood and success will follow.
#5) Don’t get stuck in a balanced style
Unless you’re a professional poker player, you’re unlikely to be playing the same people week in week out, so don’t worry about playing in a balanced style. If you have a propensity to bluffing then don’t worry about it, the chances are you won’t come up against the same opponents for some time and they won’t remember you.
If you’re playing stronger players don’t be afraid to go on the defence and vice versa, don’t be shy on coming forward when faced with much weaker players. If you do manage to make the step up to the professional world then you can ignore this certain part of advice.
But if you’re playing at a low level then keep it sporadic and keep it moving, opponents will struggle to work you out then and you’ll be more adept at reacting to different situations.
#6) Prepare for the unexpected
If you’re playing low-stakes poker then you’ll undoubtedly be faced with a plethora of different opponents all with differing styles of play. Don’t be surprised to jump from a defensive table straight into a crazily offensive one.
The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to analyse your finances and choose your game accordingly. If you have roughly 200 times of your average buy-in in reserve then you shouldn’t be caught off guard if everything takes a turn for the worst.
You probably won’t need it most of the time, but failing to prepare is preparing to fail.