Livepoker: No Sweat
How can we keep calm during live poker? How is it possible to avoid confusion caused by the various factors that have an influence on our decision-making?
The process of reading opponents, evaluating ranges, trying to avoid personal live-tells, as well as keeping track of different stack sizes and bet sizings can quickly turn into an information overflow. We lose track of things, become nervous, reveal tells and consequently make bad decisions.
However, this article isn’t just directed towards people new to live poker.
Whether you often have the feeling to be confused in difficult situations, or if you are unable to consider each single piece of information, this article will be of great use to you.
Keep it simple!
Very often we reveal information, because we simply want too much. We want to read our opponent, avoid giving personal tells and process all poker-relevant information. As a consequence, we end up in a situation in which we are not comfortable. This leads to extreme stress.
And in those situations with a ton of stress involved we are unconsciously revealing tells. Or even worse, we make the wrong decisions because we are unable to filter important information.
Remember the three golden words: Keep it simple!
Don`t focus on your weaknesses
I will not only provide my individual experience from my first World Series, but also give valuable tips and experiences which I acquired during the coaching sessions with Kenny Hallaert, the WSOP Main Event November Niner.
Before my first World Series I used to grind a lot online. It went very well. At this point I was at the peak of my career and was more confident in my game than ever before. I was obviously highly motivated to extend my journey to live poker. I ordered books focused on live poker. Evidently, I was aware of the fact that I was missing experience in live poker.
I wanted to fix this as good as possible. But that was already my first mistake. Subconsciously, I was dedicating way too much attention to my weakness, which caused me to miss my strengths in multiple spots, due to neglecting the strategic approach towards poker. I wanted to bring my ability to avoid giving tells and to read my opponents to a top level. Another mistake. You only learn this from experience. Accept it.
You can prepare as much as you want, to avoid making major mistakes. However, your goal shouldn’t be to be on the same level as Daniel Negreanu, Fedor Holz or Phil Ivey when it comes down to reading your opponent. The same is also true for the other direction. If you are strong in reading your opponents, put your focus towards this ability. Don’t put too much emphasis on game-theoretical aspects.
Focus on your strengh
During playing there is one rule – Concentrate on your strengths. But be aware of your weaknesses. Your strengths are the groundwork for accessing your maximum performance.
Off the tables it means: Fix your leaks. It is your goal to bring your weaknesses on the level of your unconscious competence. Maybe you have already heard about the 4 stages of competence. I will quickly introduce you to them:
|Phase 1: You are not aware of your mistakes and weaknesses. For instance, during the beginning of your poker career you didn’t know which hands you could profitably open-raise.|
|Phase 2: My own weaknesses and incompetence was mercilessly discovered when I began to concern myself with live poker theories.|
|Phase 3: We know how to apply the things we have learned. However, this also needs our awareness. This means that we have to focus on applying the things we have learned.|
|Phase 4: We know what we have to do without thinking. For example, you open raise Aces without thinking about it. You just know that it is profitable.|
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
If you are reviewing hands or preparing for a live-tournament, you are training your consciousness to tackle the step from phase 3 to phase 4.
If you conduct mathematical or database analysis, get coached or let a friend review your game, even phase 1 and phase 2 will be trained. Leaks will be discovered and solutions discussed.
The step from phase 3 to phase 4 will primarily be achieved by multiple repetitions. Imagine your brain like a cabinet full of drawers.
With consistent training and the repeating of various processes, each time a drawer gets opened bit by bit. In the course of time it will be opened by so much, that you can access its entire content without pulling it out. You can immediately execute an action without thinking about it and know that it’s profitable.
Be aware of these learning phases. If you are new in live poker, accept the fact that you won’t be able to read your opponents like a mastermind. Don’t make the mistake of trying to skip phase 3 like there is no tomorrow.
Despite this, still prepare yourself as well as you can and avoid major mistakes. However, work on your live presence and with time you will become more and more confident. Obviously, theoretical aspects are not to be neglected. Here I recommend the book from Zachary Elwood, Reading Poker Tells. It is not just for beginners, but also for advanced live poker players. From time to time your range of skills should obviously improve and you should start being able to notice a variety of tells and be able to interpret them correctly.
Especially in high pressure situations like a final table or if you are involved in a big pot, it is essential that we can rely on our strengths.
I experienced in first hand during my final table coaching with Kenny Hallaert the sheer amount of impact one such enourmus pressure situation can have on the behavior of a player. This didn’t necessarily affect Kenny as much as it did the other players.
Conclusion: Reflect yourself and stay calm
Not everyone is a talented “mind reader”. Especially in the world of poker everyone thinks that he can read everyone else like a book. But maybe it is exactly the other way around. Let go of your ego and show a high degree of self-reflection. Accept your weaknesses, but also be aware of your strengths. You will feel much more comfortable and be able to make better decisions. But don’t accept your weaknesses during your phases of training and studying! Keep working on them until the weaknesses turn into strengths somewhere down the road.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” J.W. Goethe