by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
In a game with only three options: fold, call, or raise— we sometimes find ourselves searching for what to do in any given hand. As the Rush song goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” When we’re in the heat of battle at the poker table, we’re forced to make a decision in all situations that arise.
One way to help root out indecision is to add an extra element of analysis to the decision; let’s call it filtering. By continuously adding extra relevant pieces of information to the equation, we have a better chance at coming to the correct solution. Think of it as an imaginary profitability scale inside your head that you move up and down along. This will aid us in our multi-stage estimation efforts. When we add another filter, or relevant piece of information, we’re able to slide up or down that profitability scale.
If we’re in a situation where we are short stacked, let’s say we have eleven blinds on the button with 10-9 offsuit. To keep it simple, we will assume that at first glance we don’t know what to do in this situation. Therefore, the next step of action is to keep filtering the equation, by adding relevant pieces of information. If the blinds are going up in three minutes and the tournament doesn’t have a very good structure (large blind jumps between levels)—the equation becomes more profitable, ticking us up the profitability scale.
If we didn’t know how to originally proceed, we will consider that zero on our profitability scale. Since we’ve found another piece of information that adds to the profitability of our equation (the increased immediate need to pick up chips due to a large blind increase soon to take place), let’s consider the play a 1 or 2 on our profitability scale. Let’s also assume that the small blind has five big blinds, what I’d consider a “half stack,” providing us less risk for the same reward. Now we’re risking half of our stack across the small blind and our entire 11bb stack against the big blind. Let’s go from 1 or 2 on the profitability scale to 3 or 4—you get the idea.
By doing this, we’re able to look at the tough decision through a quantitative lens. If we’re able to simplify the math by using multi-level estimation techniques, it’s more likely we’ll come to a firm answer as to what to do in a tough spot. Remember also that the math isn’t biased, so if you can take an honest look at the basic math, you’re less likely to fall into bad habits or natural tendencies that are contrary to your poker profits.
Keep in mind that in a situation like the above example, tight (biased) players will almost always fold, while loose (biased) players will tend to push all in the majority of the time. We want to get rid of our inherent bias when we approach a poker situation. Riskadverse players still need to make risky plays, just as risk-loving players need to find times to keep risk at bay. Instead of looking at the math in an adversarial vein, use it to help get rid of indecision.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and former No. 1 ranked online tournament player. David is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at TheMavenTraining.com