Take responsibility. When you lose a hand or game, ask yourself where you could have played better. Yes, your opponents will often make Calls they shouldn’t according to the odds they are given. And when they make their hand by drawing out on you it can be tough to take.
But still ask yourself what you should have done differently.
Maybe you were semi-bluffing your own drawing hand against a player you know always calls, even if there are only holding bottom pair. Against this kind of player, it would be better to check. Especially if this player is not aggressive and unlikely to throw out a bet themselves. Check and draw a free card.
If you are so focused on being upset that your opponents are calling bets you ‘know’ they shouldn’t, you will not be able to see this was an option.
It’s better to ask yourself how you should have played differently.
When you win, ask yourself the same question. Recognize when you simply got lucky in spite of making a bad play. You may have won this time, but unless you acknowledge it was a bad play and make note to adjust your game, next time it will likely hurt.
Track your results. Some on-line sites will keep stats for you.
Of course our league standings help you to track how you finish in any particular game and how well you are playing over time.
To help improve your game it is also useful to have more personal & detailed information.
I’ve seen some players use quite sophisticated tracking sheets to record memorable hands, detailing the play, their thought processes, and the result. If it’s your nature to be very detail oriented this may work for you. If not, just use a small notebook with a couple of points jotted down. The trick is to do this straight away after finishing a playing session.
Most poker players will leave with 2 or 3 very memorable moments from the game. They love to tell the story to anyone who will listen after ward. It has made a big impression on them. Often this is a story of how their opponent drew out on them. Came from behind against very big odds and won the pot.
Deeper thought & analysis can often (not always!) reveal a mis-step on the part of the player who lost the pot. Make it a habit to consider whether you could have – or better yet, should have – played the hand differently. And then pull out a little notebook and jot down your thoughts about it. This stuff is gold. But you will likely forget about it by the time you get home. If you take a minute to jot down your thoughts I guarantee you will enjoy and benefit from reading it later.
And you will very likely start to see patterns. You are likely repeating the same flaws in your game over and over. This might jump right out at you from your little notebook. If you flop top pair but opponents keep sucking out on you by the River, maybe you will see you are betting too small, & allowing them to get there.
Or if you can’t ever seem to get paid off big time when holding the Nuts, maybe you will notice that you never check raise.
You will learn the lesson again one way or another. It might cost you a pile of chips at the table. A better way to remember the lesson is to read it in your own hand writing!
In poker, as in life, you are called a donkey for doing something stupid. Often a donkey doesn’t even know he has made a mistake.
In poker it’s OK to look like a donkey; you just don’t actually want to be a donkey.
Which are you?
There are no absolutes in poker. That is, there are no hard & fast rules that say you must alwaysplay a certain hand in a certain way. It’s part of the beauty of the game.
But there are conventions and plays that are considered ‘normal’, expected behaviour. If you have 3-5 off-suit in a multi-player pot it is normal to fold this hand, in any position (except in the Big Blind, if you have not been raised).
If you Limp in with this hand and then flop a straight, be prepared to be called a donkey. If you call a raise with this hand pre-flop and then make your straight, watch out! Your opponents may be frothing at the mouth as they are calling you donkey.
But looking like a donkey is not necessarily being a donkey. When you decide to play a hand like 3-5 off-suit, be clear on why you are doing it. There are more than a few good possible reasons:
You want to give the appearance that you are indeed a donkey! This can also frustrate your opponents, put them on tilt, and make them want to play hands against you
You are sitting at an extremely tight table and you intend to take advantage of this by betting with aggression
You are taking the opportunity to experiment with your playing style or to ‘shift gears’
You yourself have a reputation as a tight player; at the end of this hand you will show your cards, most especially if you are successful with a bluff, to keep your opponents guessing
It gives you a chance to observe what others are doing (a bit like playing your hand blind) & to look for opportunities to take advantage of –based solely on the cards on the board and the play of others
You use this type of hand as a way of randomizing your bluff. You could pick a hand like this to be a signal to yourself that it’s time to consider a bluff. This makes it unpredictable and unrelated to anything that has been happening at the table up to that point. Your opportunity to bluff arises solely on the basis of these two cards showing up in your hand.
Caution: you will consider bluffing but may still easily throw this hand away if your tight opponents are raising and re-raising the pot!
A final note: just because someone makes a play you don’t like or has the guts to call your bluff with a weak hand, it doesn’t make that person a donkey. In fact, if you find yourself constantly criticizing other players, be careful…you just may be the one who is the donkey!
Try very hard not to look back at a hand and say things like: “ahh I folded 4-6… if only I stayed in I would have made a straight”.
This thinking fuels a self defeating attitude and does nothing improve your play. Instead, take a moment to reflect on what happened and confirm whether or not you actually made a good decision.
Remind yourself that you based your decision on the information you had available at the time (for example, you had two poor cards or you weren’t strong enough to call a raise pre-flop).
Plus, it helps to know that you would make that same decision again in the future. This is a very useful and productive exercise. It will keep you from feeling sorry for yourself when your folded hand hits the board.
In poker you will very often throw away what would have been the winning hand. Learn to be OK with that. You made a good decision. Commit instead to a new habit:
Watch and take special note of how many times you completely miss the flop when you folded your marginal hands and weak hands.
If you are honest with yourself, you will see clearly that by folding your weaker hands you save yourself a lot more chips. Way more chips than you would ever earn with the occasional hands you fold that, with sheer luck, just happened to end up as winners.