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Is Poker Easier than We Think?

Is poker easier to play than we think? At the highest levels of the game, the answer is certainly no. Professionals bet their ranges rather than their cards and calculate complex equations to determine whether their plays are justified. GTO strategy is definitely not easy to follow.

The rest of us, however, play a different game in card rooms across the country. Not that we are unskilled, or our opponents weak (at least not at the rooms we have played). Here, the game is based more on fundamental knowledge of solid play, basic math, and a level of experience and instinct that guides our decisions. However, there seem to be a lot of players, even experienced ones, who make fundamental mistakes both in their general approach to the game and in specific techniques.

Mastering the ideas below will not make you a pro. But many unnecessary losses can be avoided by plugging easily fixable leaks. We’ll break these down into two categories: general approaches to the game and specific poker skills. Today we share some general approaches to make poker easier. Next week we will get into specifics.

General Approaches to Make Poker Easier

Play Consistently with Your Intent and Be OK with That

I think this is my biggest problem as a poker player, and one that plagues many recreational players. I want to serve two masters. On the one hand, poker is a hobby, and one of my primary vehicles for entertainment.  That leads me to seek good value for my poker dollar.  As a tournament player, that means I want to get in a few hours of play before I bust. Which leads me to err on the side of survival. The rare times I play cash, I play pretty tight and milk my stack.

However, I also want to be profitable when I play poker. That would require me to play a disciplined but  looser aggressive approach. In other words, I know the path to profitability, but I don’t want to pay the price. Playing profitably would lead to more early exits in tournaments (but conversely more top money finishes). In cash, I need to be willing to risk busting and reloading in order to execute optimal play.

Basically, players need to decide why they are playing and be OK with the ramifications of those goals. If you are playing for fun, trying not to lose too much, be happy with your tight, but limited approach. If you want to be profitable, you’ll have to open up your game, be more aggressive, and accept the risks of that style on any given day. But, you’ll actually have to commit to that style, and not revert back to tighter play at the first sign of trouble.

Poker Easier

Know the Player Type You are Up Against

If you have a favorite room, or small set of rooms, where you play poker, you should know the tendencies of every other regular there. In an ideal world, you would take notes on them, and understand the playing style of all of the better players. Short of that, at least be able to answer: how does this person generally play? Find a typology that works for you: using the traditional passive-aggressive and tight-loose dimensions to create four player types might be just fine. You might find a poker author who has a more refined system. Or make up your own. But have some easy typology to help you understand how you should approach each player that you see on a regular basis.

Or more simply: paying attention makes poker easier.

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Understand That Tournament Play is Different from Cash

This could make up several individual posts, so I’ll keep this brief. If you approach tournament poker decisions the same way you do cash play, you are making a mistake. In cash, calculating pot odds and equity of a given situation can often guide you to the right play. The value of any given hand is independent of the next hand or next hour of play. However, in tournaments, no hand sits in isolation. How you play each tournament hand depends on so many factors: the stage of the tournament, your stack depth, and most importantly what you must do to get to the money. Sometimes this will mean making lower equity calls than you would in cash. Other times, it means folding hands even when you have the equity to justify the call. Tournament and cash poker are really two different games, and the wise player will treat them as such.

At the highest levels, poker is clearly a challenging game. However, in the typical room, is poker easier than many of us think?Click To Tweet

Make Poker Easier on Your Heart and Soul

Nothing short-circuits your enjoyment of poker more than letting bad luck or other players get to you. Tilt is lethal to both your poker game and your personal well-being. Getting angry about another player calling a big raise and hitting their gut-shot straight has no value other than wearing you down emotionally. Learn to really embrace the phrase “that’s poker!” and you’ll find the game to be both more enjoyable, and easier to play.

As we have discussed recently, being physically and emotionally prepared to play is one of the key underpinnings of performing well. Being angry at the table is both physically and intellectually deleterious. When someone makes a ridiculous call and sucks out on your AA: make a note and charge them big for their draws in the future. When someone two outs you on the river, laugh about the craziness of that 4% chance coming in. Focus on staying analytic, calm, and pleasant to others. You’ll find a cheerful attitude makes poker both more fun and easier to play.

These are some general tips that will make poker easier to play. Next week, we will dive into some more specifics about the game. In the meantime, enjoy your time at the table and remember “that’s poker!”

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