Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

Poker Strategy With Bryan Devonshire

Work Smart, Not Hard


Bryan DevonshireMalcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, stated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to attain mastery. I’ve played poker with plenty of people who have played poker themselves for ten thousand hours and are still awful. Poker is an exceptional activity where participants will not improve unless they are actively trying to get better. A person can expect to improve simply through repetition and observation at most things in which one participates, but in poker, doing and observing does not yield improvement by themselves; improvement in poker requires active thought and pursuit of knowledge.

People get ideas about poker from many places, and most of them are wrong and laughable. A guy forfeited a heads-up match on the bubble in the third round by the third hand because the dealer was left handed. Many players believe in lucky seats. They’ll actively bounce around the table looking for their lucky seat. If a player is in a lucky seat and then moves, then they made a mistake. I once saw a fistfight erupt over one of these freshly vacated seats. Can’t win a pot? You should probably ask for a scramble first. If that doesn’t work, then ask for a setup. Scramble those cards too if things don’t change quickly, and if you haven’t won a pot halfway through the down, then it’s clearly the dealer’s fault. If you are sitting at a table with one of your unlucky dealers, then this is your cue to take a break until that dealer gets pushed.

People with decent poker minds say things that are just as foolish about poker all the time. At a bar the night before a final table, I’m approached by these two dudes, one of whom I recognize as one of six finalists and another I’ve seen around. They want my insight into a question they’re debating. Say tomorrow at the final table, before anybody busts, somebody raises, another person goes all-in, they cover you, and you have pocket aces. What do you do?

I blinked a couple of times, dusting off my sarcasm detector, trying to determine several whiskeys in whether or not these boys were toyin’ with me. They stared in giddy anticipation like the “Bobs” in Office Space waiting to hear what Michael Bolton’s favorite Michael Bolton record was. They were as serious as a four-hour erection. After I said something like I would high five the dealer and call as soon as possible, the antagonist then admonished me, using advanced terms like ICM (Independent Chip Model) and TV time and a claim that Daniel Negreanu himself said that he would fold aces in that spot.

Then there’s all the people that think that they can beat decent players better than they can beat the baddest. Too many see the flop, my hand never holds, and I can’t ever get them to fold! I know that guy is a winning player, but I prefer to play against him because he folds when I bet. Speaking of betting, why’d you bet so little on the flop? You let them call and get there. I don’t care if his call was bad, if he had folded then you would have won the pot. I don’t ever want them calling and sucking out on me!

Both schools are missing out on the whole goal of poker: Win the most chips. Win bigger pots, lose smaller pots. Figure out what your opponent has. Figure out if your opponent is thinking about you. If they are, then what are they thinking? Are they thinking about your hand, and if so, what do you think they think you have? Do they think you’re thinking about what they have? If you can fulfill these tasks, then you will win at poker.

For example, it folds to us and we have a hand that is better than the remaining unseen hands, so we raise. We usually have the best hand, so we want to put more money in the pot. We don’t want to let the big blind see a free flop nor do we want the small blind to get a discount, we’d rather win that blind money without a fight. Folding is obviously bad, and calling isn’t as good as raising. The big blind calls, and we flop top pair on a dry board. Check or bet, and if we bet, how much? It’s a mistake to make an opponent fold a hand that’s worse than ours, and it’s also a mistake to bet so small that our opponent has the correct odds to call. What do we do if we get raised? What about checking? It’s hard to get three streets of value in this hand without improving. We could get them to bluff at this pot twice with hands that they would have folded to our flop bet. We save money when we’re behind. We don’t make as much when we improve or when we could have gotten three streets of value though.

If you’re thinking about poker hands like this, then you’re doing it right. If you’re still making decisions like call preflop or bet the pot on this flop, then you’re doing it wrong, ignoring the fundamental goal to win the most chips. Anybody can go to the driving range, hit golf balls every week, and improve without trying. But the guy who talks golf with his buddies, gets somebody to look at his swing and critique it will improve the most at the range. In poker, this is the only guy who will improve. Do things smart. Talk to poker players who are smarter than you and listen to them. If something’s broken in your poker game, don’t blame it on outside factors, analyze the situation with other people. Maybe you chose correctly and actually were unlucky, but usually you made at least one mistake along the way.

Every single decision should be refined by this approach. Every single incident should be analyzed under the lens of optimal decision-making rather than results. Think deeply about every situation you are in, always remembering the goal to win the most chips. Plan ahead, and have answers to why you choose what you choose. Then analyze those answers, and if they still sound good to you objectively, then run with it unless you can think of something better. After doing this for 10,000 hours, then you will be a master of poker. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.



over 7 years ago

Fun read Brian. You put in terms of what I see everyday at the tables. Think I could give you a good golf match also!