When you hear talk of a poker “professional” many things may come to mind. In my view, a poker professional is someone who is proven to be a long term winner, manages a bankroll correctly, doesn’t let emotions factor into decisions, shows up with his or her “A” game every time, is brutally honest with themselves and never EVER is satisfied with their play, there is always room for improvement. A lot of players aren’t even close to being on this level, hence the reason why 90% of people who play poker are long term losers. To be in that elite 10% of winners, you have to make the commitment to getting better through study, evaluation of your own play, and playing a large volume of hands to gain experience. I think experience is the biggest part of being a professional. The more hands you see, the more situations you come across and after a while many decisions at the table will become automatic. For me, playing 24 tables at a time may seem absolutely crazy but 95% of my decisions that I make are now done at a subconscious level, I already know what I am going to do before it even happens and when it happens I act automatically almost like an autopilot feature. If you are willing to put in the time and commit to getting better, there is no one stopping you from achieving success in poker.
Now that we have defined what a poker professional is, I would like to share how a poker professional thinks during a hand. Before the hand is even dealt, it is important to evaluate the table schematics. What position will I be in? What are the effective stack sizes? Who may be on tilt from losing a big pot in previous hands? What are people talking about between hands? An observant professional evaluates the emotional state of each player at the table and makes inferences about their skill level. Judging by the way some people talk about the game, we can begin to deduct what kind of player they may be. In many live low stakes games, a majority of the players are absolutely atrocious in their play. A lot of players come to the casino just to gamble and have fun. For me, it is all business and I am here to make money and make the best decisions possible while eliminating any distractions. When not in a hand, many players will fiddle with their phones, check the scores of games and chat with their neighbor. I on the other hand am watching the action very closely to see how each player is playing and I develop strong reads which I can use later to punish these players. Showdowns are very rare, and when I get a chance to see what cards each player is playing, I don’t want to miss that opportunity. Staying alert and focused is ESSENTIAL if you want to have any kind of success at this game.
We have developed so far what a poker professional is and how they think at the tables when not involved in a hand. Now we will move on to how a professional evaluates a hand as it is being played out. First, when each hole card is dealt from the dealer I am watching closely to see if the dealer exposes and cards as he deals. I sit very low and comfortable in my seat at a casino just to catch a glimpse of any cards a dealer may expose by dealing to high above the table. After having the chance to catch some free looks at cards, I neatly place my two cards in front of me without looking and begin to observe the rest of the table as they look at their cards when it is their turn. One thing I focus on if I am in late position is what the small blind and big blind are doing. A lot of times, the small blind and big blind will telegraph if they have a strong hand or not. Strong hands are usually indicated by placing a chip on their cards and weak hands are usually indicated by a player not seeming very interested in the hand and he might look somewhere else or fool around on his phone. If it is folded around to me in late position and I know the blinds are weak, I will raise with any two cards regardless of what they are. I cant tell you how many times I have stolen blinds with hands people would snap fold if they weren’t observant of the blind’s weakness they are showing. Once the cards are dealt and bets are being placed, I begin to run through all the information I have on people involved in each hand. If a player is raising a lot pre-flop and I am in late position, look for me to start attacking those raises with re-raises even with weak cards. A lot of times those players will fold and I can pick up the pot right there. I choose to re-raise or “three-bet” with a certain variety of hands which I will discuss in further articles.
The effective value of each poker hand is almost completely decided by the flop. After the betting round pre-flop, the flop defines what will happen the rest of the hand. This is where different levels of thinking come in. Professionals think on many different levels while amateurs may think on one or two different levels. The first level being something like this, “Okay, I have a pair of aces, how much is the bet?” This first level of thinking doesn’t entail what our opponent might be holding. We are only concerned with our hand and the value of our hand regardless of our opponents holdings. This is an extremely weak level of thinking and many players have trouble moving on to new levels of thinking. The second level of thinking entails what our opponent may be holding. We can deduct our opponents holdings through flop texture, past hands we have seen him play in, how aggressive or passive they are, and the sizing of their bets. A lot of aggressive players play a lot of different hands for raises and re-raises while passive players will simply check or just call bets without raising. Passive players are people I LOVE to pick on constantly. They play so weak that I can re-raise them with nothing a lot of times and they will fold to my aggression. This is why controlled aggression is so profitable, I will discuss this also in further articles. When they do call or throw in that occasional river raise, I can fold for cheap and I already have most of their money from other pots I have muscled them out of. The third level of thinking involves thinking about what your opponent thinks you have. This is something you need to be aware of because your opponent is trying to win the pot as well, and you need to bet and act according to what your perceived holdings are. I like to really mix things up with people I know that think on this level. I don’t want them to know what I may have but through my hyper-aggression I can begin to deduct what they have. Further levels of thinking go something like this: What does he think that I think that he thinks that I think that he thinks that I have, and so on and so on. When playing against very good aggressive regulars, the levels of thinking really expand and it becomes a mental warfare which I love. I love having to make tough decisions and I love putting people at tough decisions for every chip in front of them. I base my game off of sheer aggression and I would rather be the person putting someone at a decision than have someone put me at a tough decision.
In the end, a professional’s decision making during a hand will be the decision that will net him the most profit in the long run. If I need to bluff to win, and I am reasonably sure my opponent will fold to my river bet, I am willing to lose my stack to take that chance. Because I play with a very conservative bankroll I can afford to be SUPER aggressive with my chip stack. I believe this is the most profitable way to play poker. Aggression that is controlled based on the opponents I am playing against and a variety of other factors addressed before. Many people are scared to lose their stack, but I don’t even care about losing, its part of the game and I know I have an abundance of buy-ins behind me to keep playing the game. A lot of the things discussed in this article may come as a shock to some people, but I have studied the game extensively, played over 1,000,000 hands of poker and have learned how to play against almost any type of opponent effectively. I am still learning and plugging leaks in my game but as for now I am happy with how my game has developed and look forward to the new challenges ahead as the game continues to change with the times.