Poker Decisions – 5 Tips to Making the Right Decision

Poker DecisionPoker is a game of skill and it is this fact that separates it from other casino games, which are games of chance where players have very little control over the outcome.

A large part of the skill in Poker comes from the poker decisions you make as a player.

To be a profitable poker player and win money you must try and ensure that you are making the correct decisions and to limit the mistakes that are made.

Mistakes can be both expensive and profitable…. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but look at it this way. Mistakes are expensive if you are the one making them. Mistakes are profitable if your opponents are the ones making them.

The whole philosophy of being a winning poker player stems from making the right decisions and trying to force your opponents into making mistakes which you can then take advantage of.

What is the Definition of a Mistake in Poker?

There isn’t really a better way to put this than the words of David Sklansky and his “Fundamental Theorem of Poker”:

Sklansky’s “Fundamental Theorem of Poker”

“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose.”

“Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

Basically, your aim in making poker decisions is to take the same decision that you would if you could see all the hidden cards on the table and try to get your opponents to make a different decision to the one they would make if they could see all the cards.

Now this is just theory and fantasy because the whole point of poker is that you cannot see your opponents cards and that is where the skill comes in. You need to be able to observe all the information that is being provided to you by your opponents and their actions and then process and analyse all current and past information.

By doing this you can then make an informed decision based on all the information available to you. There isn’t a magic formula that I can give you to ensure you always make the right decision, it is a skill that will be learned through practice and application. Mistakes will happen and it’s important to understand these mistakes and try to learn from it.

So let’s look at 5 tips on how you can improve you Poker Decision making process.

Tip 1. Don’t Try and Imitate Other Players

In this day and age Poker is very popular. Fans watch it on the Poker TV shows, some even idolize Poker Celebrities, professional players made famous by the TV shows.

You can learn a lot about the basics of Poker by watching it on TV or via other mediums, but sometimes you watch so much of this highly edited and summarized coverage that you can pick up bad habits.

It’s very easy to watch other players and see something working for them and then try and imitate their actions. What you must realize is that it only worked because of the situation of that particular game and you will not have seen the full picture behind that situation in the edited highlights.

Each time you sit down at a poker table will be a different situation and set of circumstances than the last and you must build your decisions based on those particular circumstances at that particular time.

Tip 2. Adapt your Decisions to the Environment

Playing the same hand against two different players may well lead to completely different decisions. In the same way, each table or tournament that you play at will be a different environment and you must adapt your decisions to those particular circumstances.

Even the same table can change over time. Imagine if a player leaves and another player sits down, but you soon establish that this new player is a very aggressive player. The table has now taken on a completely new environment and if you don’t adapt your decisions and play accordingly then you will very quickly suffer.

Tip 3. Don’t Focus on the Money

Poker Decisions can be tough, and some can almost make you feel sick. These are usually the ones where your opponent has put you to a really difficult decision for your entire stack.

The reason those sorts of decisions are making you feel like that is because of the money. Of course we are all playing for the money, and the aim of any good player is to be profitable, but you have to be objective when making decisions and you cannot let the money cloud your judgement.

Try to ignore the amount of money involved in a decision. Try to imaging that the bet is for $1, an insignificant amount and take your decision based on the information you have, without letting the money be a factor.

Tip 4. Don’t put Yourself in Difficult Situations

I see this time and time again, players getting themselves into all sorts of difficult situations and making mistakes that could have been so easily avoided.

Starting Hand selection is the whole foundation of a good poker strategy and the reason for this is that some starting hands have positive expectations of winning and others have negative expectations. For this reason you must be selective when choosing which starting hands to play and which to simply throw away and not get involved with.

Not only this, but there are some starting hands that are just asking for trouble. There is a great article on Poker Hands that can get you into trouble here.

Let’s take a look at two quick examples of difficult situations players put themselves in.

A. Some players will play any two suited cards from any position at the table thinking they will make a flush. Well let’s take a look at the reality of this:

  • Two suited cards will be dealt to you 23.58% of the time – so almost a quarter of the hands you are dealt.
  • The chances that you will make your flush is only 5.77% and that is reliant on you get to see all the cards which will no doubt give you a number of difficult decisions and opportunities to make mistakes along the way.
  • This equates to you being a 16.3 to 1 underdog to hit your flush and even then someone may have a higher flush!

B. Some players will play any hand that contains an Ace in any position. Again let’s take a look at the facts:

  • You will be dealt a hand containing a single ace about 17% of the time.
  • At a table of 9 players the chance that another player also holds and Ace is about 70%.
  • Most of the time you will have a weak card as the kicker to your Ace, so there is a high chance that an opponent holds a better kicker that yours.
  • What are you going to do if an Ace comes on the flop? It’s what you wanted, but you have put yourself in an incredible difficult decision situation and one that will more often than not lead to mistakes and money lost.

Tip 5. Focus on the Long Term

My final tip is also an important one. Sometimes you can absolutely make the right decision, read the situation and your opponent correct, get all your money in with the best hand and then BAM! A Lucky card comes on the river which gives your opponent, who made all the mistakes and was on his knees a moment ago, the victory.

Unfortunately this is Poker and from time to time this happens. It is a game based on odds and there is a chance element. All you can do as a good poker player is to ensure that the majority of the time you have the odds in your favour. If you do this then in the long term your results will be good.

So don’t get upset or depressed if one situation turns bad, or even if you have a bad run in the short term. Look to the long term and measure your results over time. Long Term results are all that matter.

Making the Right Decision

You don’t need to know the other player’s cards or have x-ray vision to be good at making poker decisions. It won’t be a skill that comes overnight, but if you approach each decision in a logical and structured way then you will soon find that you are processing all the information and arriving at correct decisions.

If you make a mistake, don’t worry. Go over the decisions that you made and replay the hand step by step to try and identify where you went wrong. Then try and avoid making the same mistake again the next time a similar situation arises.

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