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Reducing Bad Decisions when Playing Online Poker


Online poker is a multifaceted game. You need to learn the strategy and basic math behind the game if you want to succeed. Most decent online players know all about hand ranges and patterns. So, what is it that separates the good from the great? Often it is emotional control and consistent rational decision-making that separates the two.


Poker is full of hard decisions, and consistently making the right ones is key to becoming a profitable player Poker is full of hard decisions, and consistently making the right ones is key to becoming a profitable player.


Avoiding Tilt

Let’s face it: Poker is a hard-hitting game and one that naturally evokes a lot of emotion. With each hand, there’s ups and downs, the constant bad beats and the lengthy downswings that can make even the toughest cookie crumble.

Once you know how to play poker, the ability to make rational, mathematical decisions all the time is key to long-term victory. Emotional states that affect your ability to make your best decisions are known as “tilt.”

Most players associate tilt with anger, but there can be other emotions involved too, such as sadness or even excitement. The key is not to get too angry when you lose hands and not get too excited when you’re playing and running well.

Before you even start playing online poker, check in with yourself and observe your emotional state. If you feel calm and collected, then you are good to go. If you feel irritated, tired, hungry, angry or upset, then you should consider whether you should play right now — one bad beat could send you on a rampage!

Of course, if you do want to play despite your emotional state, then take time to relax before starting your session. Meditate, take a stroll, have a bath — anything that will relax you.

If you find yourself “on tilt” while in the middle of a session, that is you find that your emotions are clouding your judgment, it’s best to take a break as soon as possible. Even if it’s only for a few moments, it will help you to come back to yourself, breathe and reassure yourself that it’s alright.

Game Selection for Optimal Decision-Making

The single most important decision for game selection comes with choosing the right buy-ins. You need to employ a steady bankroll management strategy, not only so that you avoid going bust but also, so that you are less likely to go on “tilt” — losing a small percentage of your overall bankroll will not hurt as much as losing half of it in one hand/game. So, be wise and play at a level that you feel comfortable.

Many online poker players multi-table. Pros might play 10 or more games at any one time to grind a profit. This can be lucrative at the lower stakes if you can handle it, but it’s best to work up to it gradually. Play one table until you can make near-perfect decisions, then build up to two or three. If you’re on tilt during a session, don’t fire up more tables, wind down to one or two until you regain composure.

Consider whether to play cash games or tournaments. Tournaments and even SNGs can take a few hours, and you don’t want to find yourself bored and restless toward the end. Only play them when you have the time and commitment to do so. Cash games allow you to jump in and out of games at will and can be a good idea for easier control of emotions. You can always sit out and exit games whenever you feel too angry or tired to continue.

Poker is a game that involves quite a lot of skill and focus, and so it is best enjoyed as a challenging strategy game. However, games like roulette and slots require little thought and decision-making, and so they are best enjoyed if you are not in the mood for thinking. However, this is a double-edged sword where tilt is concerned. Avoid playing games like roulette when already on tilt, as this could lead to more trouble both on and off the poker tables.

Making Rational Decisions

The single best mindset for poker is to aim to make the correct decisions at the tables based on what you have learned from the tables. You want to make decisions that earn you the right odds to gain positive expected value (+EV) in the long run. But know that bad beats will happen, so focus on decisions and processes rather than outcomes.

To make “correct,” rational decisions in poker, you must first learn all about starting hands, ranges, wagering and the basic math and strategy behind the game. With this knowledge, you can then analyze any hands you are unsure about after your session. Here are some additional things to consider:

• Don’t beat yourself up for bad beats — if you are beaten by a worse hand, this nearly always means that you’ve got your money in good, and in the long run, you will earn profits.
• Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes — recognize them, improve and come back to the next game with the lesson learned.
• Notice your own illogical thinking — “they always hit a flush against me,” “my aces always get beaten” and so on. These thoughts may seem harmless to you, but they can lead to poor decision-making. For example, you may become fearful of flush draws instead of extracting maximum value or you may undervalue your pair of aces. Reinforce logical thoughts like “they had a one in four shot of hitting their flush on the river, and I made them pay more than that to see the card.”


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