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Switching From Online To B&M Poker

Develop Four Neglected Skills - Part II

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Nov 16, 2011

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Alan SchoonmakerPart I said that relying on software had made online players neglect four important live game skills:

Acquiring information
Retaining it
Retrieving it quickly
Seeing relationships to other information such as drinking

You need these skills to evaluate and adjust to your opponents and read their cards. These skills will also help you to evaluate and improve your own play. The following steps will help you to develop these skills.

Understand and work within your limitations.
Beware of your biases.
Play shorter sessions.
Use many information-acquisition techniques.
Hesitate and look left.
Take good notes.
Use checklists.
Exploit mutual reinforcement.
Constantly look for patterns.
Take enough time.
Narrow your focus.
Practice when you’re not in the pot.
Separate information from conclusions.
Propose, and then test hypotheses.

Understand And Work Within Your Limitations

We all have limitations, including ones we don’t know or want to know. Your motives create limitations that bias your perceptions. Even if you work hard, your biases will prevent you from noticing important information, your selective memory will make you forget certain facts, and other limitations will distort your perceptions.

Nobody completely understands and works within his limitations, but the more you do it, the more rapid your progress will be.

Beware Of Your Biases

When you played online, software gave you unbiased statistics. When you play live, your biases will affect what you notice, how you perceive it, how well you remember it, how quickly and accurately you retrieve it, and how you relate it to other information.
Even if you work hard to reduce your biases’ effects, you can’t completely eliminate them. But the more you understand them and their causes, the less damage they will do. You’ll be most affected by:

• Recent information: The previous hand will have much more impact than one played two orbits ago. You won’t remember most hands played last night or even one hour ago. Note-taking will reduce, but not prevent this bias.

• Hands played against you: You’ll remember them more clearly than ones played against others.

• Types of action: You’ll usually notice and remember bluffs more than anything else, especially if they include a raise or check-raise. Raises (especially check-raises) have more impact than bets (if the amounts are equal). Bets are more noticeable than calls, and you’ll ignore most checks and folds.

• Cards you see have more impact than ones you don’t see. If a showdown was necessary, the impact will be greater than if an opponent showed his cards voluntarily.

• Subjects you find interesting are more noticeable and memorable than ones you don’t care about. Math-oriented players notice and remember math mistakes, but minimize tells. Psychologically-oriented players have the opposite pattern.

• Your attitude toward risk will distort your perceptions. If you dislike taking risks, you will overestimate the dangers and underestimate the profit potential of ambiguous situations. If you love to gamble, you’ll have the opposite pattern.

• Large pots have immensely more impact than small ones. They may even distort a player’s entire image. For example, if someone wins a gigantic pot with weak cards, you may believe he’s loose and lucky, even though he’s usually solid. You may not notice or remember that he got a free or cheap play in a blind or had the button, and six players had limped.

Play Shorter Sessions

If you play too long, all these skills will deteriorate. This point should be too obvious to discuss, but we’ve all made the expensive mistake of playing when we were too tired to think well.

Most reasons to continue playing while tired are questionable, and some are really dumb. Being desperate to get even is the stupidest, especially if the game is tough. If you really want to keep playing, you’ll probably see the game as softer than it actually is.
The amount you can play well depends upon your age, physical condition, and other demands upon you. You can’t change your age, but it pays to stay in shape and make sure before playing that you’re well rested and not distracted by job or family problems.
Then monitor your play. If you’re too tired, emotional, or distracted to play well, don’t pretend that a walk or cup of coffee will restore your A-game. Make the only smart decision: Go home!

Use Many Information-acquisition Techniques

The more techniques you use, the more you’ll learn. I’ll briefly discuss three basic techniques.

Observing is the most valuable because bets and body language are the most important information. So constantly watch the action and body language. Tune out the distractions and concentrate on observing.

Listening is a neglected skill everywhere, not just at the poker table. Most people would rather talk, but since talking gives away information, while listening gains it, listen more and talk less.

If you listen carefully, you’ll be surprised at how much information people give away. For example, bad beat stories, discussions of other people’s hands, and strategy “lectures” may tell you how opponents think and play.

Probing is taking actions to elicit informative reactions. Questions, probing bets, or body language can get information you wouldn’t get passively. For example, you can raise on the flop to see whether someone three-bets. Or you can ask questions about why a player made a certain move. Or you can move your hand toward your stack to see how an opponent reacts.

If you’re too obvious, many people will resist or resent your probes. For example, don’t ask, “What did you have last hand?” People don’t want to tell you, but, because they want to be understood, they may answer questions about how they played cards they have already shown. For example, you might say:

“I’m surprised that you called with that hand.”

“I wonder why you didn’t check-raise.”
“Why would you bluff such a loose player?”
“Nice move.”

Gentle probes will often cause someone to explain how he thinks, which is much more valuable than which cards he held.


Occasionally, someone will object to your probing. So what? Getting information is like panning for gold; it takes a lot of work to get a little bit of it. But it’s worth the effort.


My next column will discuss other ways to acquire, retain, and use the information you need to make good decisions. ♠


Do you often wonder, “Why are my results so disappointing?” Ask Dr. Al, alanschoonmaker@yahoo.com. He’s David Sklansky’s co-author for DUCY? and the sole author of five poker psychology books._