Mental Preparation

by Greg Cavouras

One of the biggest differences between good and average poker players is mental preparation and strength. Mental preparation and strength runs a gamut of concepts, but for now let’s focus on systems and confidence.
Many beginner poker players will do a lot of things right; they will consider pot odds, they will watch their opponent’s moves, they will read poker tips from the experts, but one very common mistake many novice players make is to employ a fixed “system”.

Poker, unlike many other games or activities, is extremely dynamic in nature, and to operate on a fixed system in a dynamic game is a recipe for disaster. This isn’t to say that it’s bad to have an idea of which hands you plan to fold and which hands you plan to keep, but you need to be aware of your surroundings; for example, a hand you might fold in early position, might be worth limping in with if you’re on the button and three players ahead of you have folded. A good player will have a baseline of strategy- this is basic game skills, but what I’m talking about is reading the situation. You sometimes will need to vary your play to respond to the varying conditions at the table, so you should be practiced and thinking about any possible situation that may arise. A top player is always reading his opponents, but he’s also aware of the situation at the table, with regards to the number of players, the size of the blinds, and his chip count; dynamic factors that can greatly influence the decision making process.

One of the greatest advantages top players have is confidence; if you watch one of the true stars of Poker (Daniel Negreanu comes to mind) you’ll notice virtually nothing shakes his confidence. This is because he believes in himself and his play, but recognizes that sometimes luck will interfere with otherwise great play. Greg Raymer said that the real challenge of poker “is that you can make all the right decisions and still lose”.

This is an understatement; only so much information is available to you at a given time when playing Poker. Bad Beats do occur, and if you can prevent this from shaking your confidence, or tilting you, you will have an edge. Confidence in your play also includes a degree of humility; if you do play a hand poorly, you need to be strong enough to step back and have a look at what you could have done better- one of the best ways to do this is to play online, and use the “history” feature- it will allow you to look at which cards provoked which action and so forth. This is the only way to improve, because everyone makes mistakes- the top players are the ones who learn from them.

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