Now that you’re armed with an understanding of this breakdown of deci- sion making, you can begin to improve the process. Analyzing your deci- sions at the table is always easier than analyzing your decision-making process as a whole, since the latter requires more awareness. There are no statistical programs or simple formulas for calculating the quality of your decision-making process. Over the course of a long online session, thou- sands of decisions are made and it’s impossible to analyze every single one. While playing live, the number of decisions are considerably smaller, though arguably more complex since there are more factors to consider.
There are generally two dominant styles of decision making for poker players. One is routine, where they think in the same order through every decision that isn’t automatic. The other is tailored, where they think through all of the important factors in an order that is most suitable to the
hand. For example, a player that uses a routine style would always ask these questions in order:
• What is my opponent’s image? • What is my opponent’s range? • What is my perceived range? • What was the previous action? • What is my table image?
• Will a worse hand call or will a better hand fold to a bet?
Using the tailored style, in a hand with an inexperienced player, you might put the questions about your perceived range and table image at the bottom of the list, as they probably won’t be considering it too exten- sively. In a table where you have been playing a lot of crazy hands, you might put the same questions at the top, given that the table dynamic is likely to be informing the action much more.
The first step in training your decision making is to determine how you personally make decisions. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What factors do you consider in a hand?
- What questions do you ask yourself in a hand?
- Do you consider these factors or ask these questions in the same order every time, or are they in an order that fits the hand?
- What factors do you fail to consider when your mind isn’t as sharp?
How you make decisions should mirror your strategic reminder from the second chapter, since it’s your way of reminding yourself how to get back to making quality poker decisions when you’ve fallen out of the zone. Use this section to refine that strategic reminder. If you make a decision by considering factors or questions in a specific order, write them all down in that order and highlight the one(s) that most often goes missing. If you opt for a style more fitting to the hand, then you can either write down all the factors to consider or just the ones that tend to disappear. Combining this with your A- to C-game analysis will allow you to recognize spots where your deci- sion making tends to break down and know immediately how to improve it. Regularly forcing yourself to properly think through hands at times when it’s most challenging makes you much stronger at decision making.
There are two major types of mistakes in decision making that you want to be looking out for in your game:
- Mistakes that happen when you forget to consider a vital factor that you usually know quite well, for example, when you play a bad hand out of position. Even if you’re positionally aware, a breakdown in your decision making caused you to fail to consider the importance of position in the hand.
- Mistakes that happen when you outlevel your tactical knowledge. This happens when you try to force a decision, think too much about factors that you have little knowledge of, overweight the importance of one factor, or think too hard about a new concept when you’re tilted.
No matter at what level you’re performing, your decision-making pro- cess should always be aligned with the tactical knowledge that is accessible to you. Having a clear A- to C-game analysis makes this easier to accomplish and also helps you to avoid making the previous two types of mistakes.
Professional golfers know before their round starts how aggressive they can be with their shot selection. On days when they know that their game isn’t as precise, they’ll play more conservatively and try to max out what- ever they do have on that day. In essence, they’re trying to play their absolute best B-game. You can do the same in poker. On days when you are not performing at a high level, it’s a mistake to force decisions that require access to high-level knowledge. Without access to the full range of your skills, you can outlevel yourself and arrive at incorrect conclusions. Instead, concentrate on playing your absolute best B-game, where you adopt more of a locked down ABC style. Yes, you might be giving up edge compared to your A-game, but that A-game isn’t avail- able to you. Sticking to solid B-game decision making while playing your B-game means you are more likely to get into a flow, at which point you may naturally begin to build up to your A-game.
As you improve as a player, your decision-making process must upgrade as well. This is what poker players talk about when they discuss 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-level thinking. You will have likely experienced this already many times as you moved up the ranks. At first, you only thought about your hand; then as you improved, you started thinking about your opponents’ hands; then later, you considered what your opponent thought about your range, and so on. By the same token, sometimes it is necessary to downgrade your decision-making process when the opposition demands it. Even some elite players make the mistake of thinking too hard when they play against recreational players. They give them too much credit for things like metagame and combinatorics, when a standard ABC style would work the best.
One way to really train your decision-making process is to just practice and repeat it a lot. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is through hand his- tory reviews. Whenever you are reviewing a hand, ask yourself the same questions you would ask yourself if you were playing in the moment. Use your strategic reminder if you get stuck. The more practice you get rehearsing your ideal decision-making process away from the table, the more you will train it to show up during play. You can also pick out spe- cific hands where this decision-making process did not show up and try to determine why.
PANNING FOR GOLD
Successful poker players become successful in large part because of their ability to ignore the things that are irrelevant to their success. Their ability to find quality data among the irrelevant is a lot like panning for gold or the CIA monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists. There’s a lot of dirt and meaningless chat- ter that has to be filtered out in order to find what’s truly valuable. Similarly, in a poker hand, there’s a ton of information available to you and a lot of it will only help you find a way to lose. Knowing what not to focus on in a hand is a skill that poker players often undervalue. If you were told the information that mattered and didn’t matter before the start of a hand, your decisions would be easy. Of course, that’s not how poker works. One of the benefits of playing in the zone is that you are able to easily filter out irrelevant information so your mind can stay focused on the information that really matters.