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Learning No-Limit From Scratch: How To Make Better Decisions

Roy Cooke Explains Why Your Edge Is Defined By Your Decisions


Most players don’t analyze the methods they use in their poker decisions. But your poker edge is defined by your decisions. How you approach and devise the thought process leading to your decisions will dramatically affect your game.

Poker is both an art and a science. After you learn the science, the art should follow with familiarity and focus. Approach poker scientifically; learn all the strategies and tactics. Become skilled at picking up and storing a high level of useful information and knowing the precise situations to utilize the correct tactics. Train your mind to operate efficiently, discarding useless information and emotional thoughts. Have a mental system to compartmentalize your considerations. Use all your available mental energy to focus on what’s important. And no, that’s not the cocktail waitress.

How do we improve our decision making process? Like the thousand mile walk, one step at a time. Done well, the benefits to your poker thought process will be mind-blowing. First, you need to be self-aware of your current thought process. Where do your poor decisions come from? Is it from incorrect information? A deficient level of information? A faulty evaluation of the current situation? An incorrect calculation? Emotionally reactions? Poor habitual thought processes? Are there steps that you fail to keep in mind? Steps you overemphasize?

Most people overemphasize the areas they best understand and underemphasize their weaknesses (and that’s not just in poker). Are your personal biases influencing your decisions? A risk-avoider sees threats when a risk-seeker sees opportunities. People wishing to believe they’re unlucky will focus on the unlucky segments of their game and dismiss the fortunate scenarios. Is your thought process skewed by any combination of these issues?

Writing out a flow-charting thought process that fits your thinking and game style is a great first step. Systemize your thought process. An example might be: Determine the range of opponents calling in front of you; consider the texture and probability of likely events to transpire behind you; evaluate the different ways your hand can currently play. Once you’ve done this, memorize it; make it habitual so that it’s an unconscious thought process. Processing the system even when you’re not in the hand will hasten the habituation, create a better hand reader and improve your strategy and tactics. Once habitual, your conscious mind will be freed to analyze situations deeper, creating better decisions.

Some poker theorists put their opponents’ tendencies into “buckets” or design four-corner graphs in order to compartmentalize their opponents into strategic lines to take. They have a loose-aggressive bucket or graph area, and a tight-aggressive, loose-passive and a tight passive bucket/graph area also.

The graph methods allow for wider variations within an opponent’s texture type by allowing for varying degrees within the individual compartments of the graph. The advantages of these bucket/graph methods are there is less to memorize. The disadvantages are that the thought process tends to be shallower. That said, the majority of times, different logical techniques will arrive at the same answer. But when a deeper thought process provides a better answer, you’ll increase your edge.

Another poker thought-process method is to place your opponents’ actions into ranges. What is your opponent’s calling range? Raising range? Folding range? Check-raising range? Value-betting range? Rather than trying to identify all the given hands, put them in ranges. His river value-betting range might be A-A+, his folding range might be K-10 or worse. By lumping them together, analyzing how many hands within that range he would have gotten to that point in the hand, you can define your opponent’s actions into select hands that he would have played that way in the current situation. And that will be quality information to base your decisions on.

Most players catalog their opponents by assuming a baseline or “default” provision and making adjustments to their play line when conditions become non-standard. I utilize my play standards as the baseline. I note when players make a different play than I would, then analyze why my opponent thought differently, and contemplate any necessary adjustment of play lines. I find this effective. There is little to initially learn, I already know how I play, and it makes it easier to retain information and adjust to player tendencies.

Other players use GTO (game theory optimal) as a baseline. GTO designates mathematical percentages vs. ranges along with strategies to prevent your opponent’s from exploiting you. It has value in many situations, and its knowledge relates to many poker decisions. If you’re going to learn GTO anyway, systemize a thought process that uses GTO as a base guideline and adjust your play frequencies accordingly. If an opponent’s correct bluffing frequency is X percentage, consider if the opponent bluffs more or less than correctly and adjust your calling range appropriately. That said, you must consider all factors including board texture, your opponent’s range and mood, and so forth. to calculate the correct frequency.

All that said, while much of what I’ve stated involves systematic thinking, you’ll make better decisions if you understand the motives behind why a play is correct. Understanding poker conceptually will help you think precisely through any situation, particularly non-standard ones. World-class play isn’t about memorizing situational responses like in blackjack. You’re going to need to think through some complicated situations and formulate an accurate resolution.

So, analyze how and why you think the way you do. Can you alter your thought process to be more accurate? Will systemizing your thought process make it easier, provide more instinctual proficiency and better recall? Learn the concepts of poker, discover how top players think through situations, and design a thought process to that knowledge.
And if you can do all that, you’re on the path to greatness. ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke



almost 2 years ago

Great article, Roy.


almost 2 years ago

very good read