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Unclog Your Brain

Get rid of anything that is a negative thought or useless information

by Todd Arnold |  Published: Apr 11, 2007

In most every poker book, article, or conversation, all you read or hear is what to do and how to do it. There is a good reason for this. The reason is that the only thing you should be thinking about while playing poker is what the best decision and/or reaction is to a given situation. Knowing and understanding what factors are used to reach each decision is another topic entirely, which I and many others have written about often. A different perspective is what this column is all about. Let's look at the game and the decisions that go along with it as what not to do and what not to think about. Maybe some of these things will hit home with you if I actually address them. When I am coaching my players or just simply listening to conversations outside the poker room, I hear many negative thought processes and meaningless statistics spouted from the mouths of too many players. I wrote a column about a year ago titled, "Train Your Mind." It can be found at, and it discussed controlling your own psychology. Not mentioned in that column, but equally as important, were examples of what you should not be thinking. It's time to clean out your brain and stop wasting precious brain cells with garbage that just flat-out does not matter.

First, let's look at statistics. I will list as many that come to mind, followed by my responses. If these things, or any like them, are in your head, get rid of them. How often are you likely to be dealt aces? Once in every 212 hands? 220? 221? Who cares! It doesn't matter, and it has no bearing on the game. You are all in with your opponent on the turn and you are a 96 percent favorite; a 70 percent favorite; an 84 percent favorite. So what! You've already made your decision; there's nothing you can do about it now. Oh, my God, he hit his one-outer! Oh well, get over it. You play online and use some statistics tracker program. You analyze it and find that you win 63 percent of the time with K-J from the cutoff position, you always lose with A-Q, you play about 300 hands per hour across three cash tables, and you average playing 6.74 hours per day - blah, blah, blah. Lose all of this information from your computer and from your mind. You see what I mean by now. Stop letting useless numbers fill your brain. This statistics stuff makes a player think he knows the game and is learning everything about it. While this is admirable, it is counterproductive. Focus your attention on learning to make perfect decisions all the time, reading your opponents, controlling your temperament, recognizing situations and opportunities, taking advantage of any edge, attacking weakness, and observing and analyzing your opponents' patterns, habits, tendencies, and capabilities. That is enough to keep your mind plenty busy without jamming it with stupid numbers and probabilities.

Here are some other negative thought processes that will only hurt you rather than help. "I always lose with jacks, so I'm just going to limp in this time and fold to overcards." Do not let past results affect your future decisions. If you played a situation correctly, it's a huge mistake to allow negative results to change how you play that situation next time. "I'm sick of everyone always stealing my blind; I'm just going to shove next time." Do not let ego affect your decisions. If you have a good reason to reraise based on real factors, go ahead and do so, even if you have 6-2, but do not let your ego be one of the factors in your decision. "I am playing so well right now and keep going deep, but I just can't win! I always get outdrawn late, when it counts." You must believe that if you are truly playing well, the wins will come. Keep getting deep and keep making good decisions, and eventually that drawout won't happen. It's a numbers game in tournament play. Just because you played perfectly doesn't mean you will win. You do, however, greatly increase your chance of winning by playing perfect poker. Get to the final table often enough, and wins will come. Find solace in the fact that you played your best even when your kings got beat by fours for a first-place pot with seven players remaining. You don't have to like it, but just understand that it's the way the game works. "I can't believe that guy called me with that! What was he thinking? What a donkey!" Don't get angry with the poor play of your opponents; instead, do your best to exploit it. These are the people who make poker very profitable in the long term to a good player like you. Luck hurts you only in the short term. "I love this hand. I hate that hand." This game is not about hands; 7-2 offsuit could be just fine for one situation, and A-A could be the worst hand to have in another situation. Stop thinking so directly about what your holecards are in no-limit hold'em. They are a variable in the decision-making equation only, not the solution. "I am so card-dead!" There is no such thing as card-dead; you must be completely "situation-dead" to be truly in trouble. OK, I guess you get it by now. Get rid of anything that is a negative thought or useless information, and focus on what is important. Your brain will thank you for it, and your game will improve. spade

Todd Arnold is the trainer and co-creator of, and a private coach for online and live players. For private coaching information, visit his site or contact him at