Today I am going to talk about one of the mental issues that I am working the hardest on in my poker play, impulse plays. Impulse plays are hard to describe, some may call them something different, for me, its any play I make and immediately regret. Acting on impulse is different than being results oriented, as I find myself regretting the decision immediately before the opponent even acts. This is a flaw in the decision-making process I’ve made, or in most cases, failed to make. Today we will discuss a few things including the decision making process, and how to fix these impulse plays.
Starting With Your Mental Space
I’ve talked about the decision-making process before, but let’s revisit it. I like to compare poker to golf as I see tons of comparisons on the mental side. In golf, a professional relies on their golf swing. The golf swing is everything to them and the money maker for themselves. How they conduct the takeaway, the transition at the top of their downswing, their follow thru etc. Players with more fundamentally sound golf swings almost always make more money, as long as they can execute that swing under pressure. The last part is the key and where poker is at an equal in my opinion. In poker, having vast knowledge of the fundamentals of poker is what makes you money. Knowing proper continuation-betting strategies, three-betting, knowing minimum defense frequencies etc. All of this knowledge in incorporated into your poker game. The players with the best and more accurate knowledge make the most money, as long as they can perform under pressure.
Pressure is where the decision-making process comes into play for poker players. Having a sound decision making process allows you execute under pressure in a calm and organized fashion. In a tough decision, you will have tons and tons of information to process about your opponent, his range, your range, past studies etc. Being able to organize and make a proper decision in a timely fashion is your golf swing. You want to be able to rely on this process to not break down under pressure. You want to have this process so ingrained, that the money involved never affects your process. Just like a golfer tries to execute his perfect swing every time, it needs to be so ingrained in his body that it is automatic.
The Steps To Take
My decision-making process, which I am constantly refining, looks something like this:
- What does my opponents range look like?
- What does my range look like?
- What does my specific hand want to do?
- What does theory dictate I do?
- What deviations or exploits can I make in this situation?
That in a nutshell is my decision-making process. It seems long and complicated, but thru practice and repetition it can often be performed in a matter of seconds.
Where does impulse come into play? I myself notice that when performing step 1, maybe I’ll analyze my opponent has a weak range. Sometimes I’ll randomly skip step 2 and say well my hand wants to bluff and my opponent has a weak range so I jumped straight to step 6 which is make a decision. I’ve skipped multiple steps of information and made a decision I’m not comfortable with. Not minding each step can easily lead to over bluffing and poor range construction. In trying to stop impulse plays, I am trying to ensure that I hit every step of my process before making a decision. Lots of this process starts before it is my turn to act. I am always thinking ahead in decision making. Most of this process happens near automatically. I spend so much time studying range interaction that when the turn card comes out, I am immediately analyzing how it affects both ranges.
The Learning Process
Fixing this decision-making process is extremely difficult and tedious, just like a golfer and their golf swing. It takes endless hours of practice to refine and perfect your decision-making process. Like golf, everyone’s will be different, no 2 golfers have the same swing, but they have the same fundamental properties in their swing. You need to practice, even in the most simple decisions, going thru this process. Get comfortable with this process. Make an effort and goal to work on your decision-making process so you have a framework you can trust in important decisions. I’ve seen countless poker players get caught “Deer in the headlights” because they do not have this process to fall back on. Most importantly, you often don’t realize flaws in your decision process until high pressure, or high money, situations are presented to you.
Best of luck at the tables