When we reach a certain level of expertise in any field, we often get so hung up on details and esoteric ideas that we forget our fundamental lessons. This phenomenon is common among poker players, and most of the students I have coached over the years have lost touch with the basic mechanics of the game in some way.
To break this habit, I begin with a reminder that every good poker decision is the end product of a simple process, beginning with the most important step: making a read and sticking with it.
A student of mine who primarily plays six-handed $1/$2 no-limit hold ’em online recently asked me to review one of his hands. He began on the button and was dealt Kc Js – not a terribly exciting hand, but one that anybody is likely to play from late position.
Action folded to the player seated directly to his right, who opened the action with a raise to $6.
Our hero felt that his opponent was generally weak and conservative, often folding under pressure, and decided to reraise to $18. I like this move a lot, since it is a bluff with a decent backup plan. Our hero is capable of making a couple of high pairs.
After the blinds folded, the villain just called, and the two players saw a flop of 9c 5s 3c with $39 in the middle.
As expected, the out-of-position player checked, and our hero opted to make a continuation bet of $20, roughly half the size of the pot. He was called, and the 3h peeled off on the turn, the pot now at $79.
Another check from the player in the cutoff, and our hero decided to give up. He checked behind, and both players also checked on the 10s river.
Tabling 6c 6d, the villain won the pot.
I asked my student to explain his thought process. Like many others do in such a scenario, he reached two conclusions: (1) He could not represent many hands when a blank card came on the turn, and (2) his opponent was likely to have a strong hand, since he called two aggressive bets out of position. These were two sensible, logical thoughts. I disagreed with both points.
Sensible or not, neither of these thoughts was relevant. He started the hand with a read that his opponent was a pushover, but when my student got the chance to swing his sledgehammer, suddenly he was scared that it wouldn’t work.
If the opponent is weak and cautious, it hardly matters whether you represent a lot of hands. Your all-in button represents fear. If he folds too much, you needn’t care whether he has a strong hand. He’ll start to feel weak once his whole stack is on the line.
My student abandoned his read halfway through the hand, and as I explained this, I could tell that he was remembering our Day One discussions.
In the end, I reminded him that he should always strive to make razor-sharp reads and stop trying to be a logic machine or supercomputer. With great reads, anybody can make a killing at the poker table. It is the most important fundamental skill to be learned in a poker player’s training, and if you neglect it, you’ll struggle to come out ahead.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.