Learning to think outside the box

outsidethebox_fullpic_artworkIf you ever hope to become an excellent poker player, you must embrace the fact that you do not know the answers to numerous questions that constantly come up in poker. If you do not know something, as an active, engaged learner striving to improve your game, you should try your best to find the answer.

Most people simply read articles, books and poker forums, hoping to stumble upon the answers. While this is a reasonable initial step, it will not take you too far. In order to actually improve, you must find a group of like-minded peers who genuinely want to discuss your thoughts and questions. You should also hire a poker coach who can give you concrete answers to your problems. Once you figure out how excellent poker players tackle a problem, you should be able to notice where you lack knowledge and also learn how to figure out the answer. What makes an excellent poker player is not someone who thinks they know everything, but someone who has a broad base of knowledge coupled with the ability to solve almost any problem they encounter.

While it is true that the knowledge base in poker is constantly growing at a startling rate as we discover more about topics ranging from optimal strategy to exploiting specific player types to psychology, if we are practicing conscious ignorance, we also learn what we do not know. The absolute best players are constantly challenging even the most basic assumptions about the game and improving at a much faster rate than their peers.

Take, for instance, the simple act of figuring out how much to raise before the flop when the action folds to you before the flop with a 50 big blind stack in the middle levels of a poker tournament against reasonable competition. As far as I know, the initial open raises of the 1970’s tended to be between 3 and 5 big blinds. Players eventually adopted the assumption that raising to 3 big blinds before the flop was both standard and good. I know this to be the case because when I first started playing poker, every book I read said, as if it was a fact, that any raise size before the flop other than to 3 big blinds was suboptimal. In today’s game, most world class players raise to between 2 and 2.25 big blinds, although they mix it up based on the effective stack size and opponent tendencies.

How and why did this change occur? What probably happened was the best players realized they could raise with a wider range with the intention of folding to any sort of aggression from their overly tight, passive opponents if they raised to a smaller amount. They also noticed that if they minraised, they would induce more calls from the players in the blinds, which is an excellent result, as taking a flop in position against an opponent’s  wide range is a favorable situation to be in.

While the best players in the world tend to be innovators, everyone else simply follows the leaders. A few years ago, I noticed the biggest winners online minraising as their standard opening raise once the stacks became somewhat shallow. Sadly, I was a touch slow to adopt this adjustment. Once I experimented with a bit, I realized how this simple adjustment can instantly raise your win rate as well as force you to learn how to play well after the flop.

While I like to think of myself as an innovator in today’s game, I still look to my peers for inspiration. Current strategic adjustments you will likely see in the near future, if you haven’t already encountered them, are smaller 3bet and 4bet sizes, which in turn will result in smaller bets on the flop and turn. These small postflop bets will lead to both smaller and larger river bets with wider ranges than you are probably used to seeing. I suspect you will soon begin to see many players leading into the preflop raiser, both in single-raised and reraised pots. You will also see a greater awareness of the psychological aspects of poker.

ppDr. Patricia Cardner and I recently wrote Positive Poker: A Modern Psychological Approach to Mastering your Mental Game, which I think will become a classic in poker literature. Ten years ago, I was totally ignorant of the fact that being in shape and staying mentally sharp could help my poker game. I was an overweight kid who sat in a chair and played online poker all day. I don’t quite know how mental and physical fitness got on my radar, but once they did, my life totally changed for the better. I am now in great shape and can think clearly for many more hours than before. I imagine many poker players are still oblivious to the fact that many aspects of poker take place beyond the felt.

Dr. Cardner and I will be sharing with our students many skills that must mastered if you want to have a strong mental game in a FREE upcoming webinar on 4/25/2016 at 7pm EST, which you can sign up for here.

Once you know how to go about figuring out what you do not know, you will be well on your way to becoming an excellent poker player. I suggest you push the boundaries and do not accept conventional wisdom as the undeniable truth. As your skills and knowledge base improve, make a point to look further and see which questions remain unanswered. You will likely find that the more you know, the more you don’t know.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please share it with your friends. Also be sure to sign up for the FREE webinar Dr. Cardner and I will be hosting on 4/25. I’ll be back next week with another educational blog post. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Learning to think outside the box”

  1. This is my first time posting and I’m not sure if I’m doing it right but here is a hand I think I played right but lost. $1-3 NL I’m on the button with $360 chip stack. Pretty active table people are playing with marginal hands. I’m dealt AA everyone folds to me and I bet $60 SB folds BB calls. Flop is Qs,Jh,4c BB checks I bet $120 he calls. Turn is a 6D i push all in he calls and shows 66 river is a J I lose. Was this just a bad beat or was I wrong for not going all in after the flop. I was trying to keep him in the hand.

    1. I am unsure what is happening in your hand. Are you saying you open raise to 20 big blinds? That is much too large for most games, although it works out for you this time, given your opponent called with 66. I would likely bet smaller on the flop to ensure junky hands call, although again, your opponent stuck around drawing nearly dead. Given you effectively cut off your opponent’s implied odds with your gigantic bets, it is fine to pay your opponent off when he beats you.

  2. I study like 10-15 books, watched videos and read some articles but i cant beat the micro cash games, i feel good with my game i know the theory and stuff but still cant win, i gave up for a month and now want to play again any tip what to do? I can win live poker easly small stakes 1-2. Just joined this blog seem pretty nice

    1. It is important for you to discuss situations with other good players to see where your opinions differ. Also, you likely just have holes in your game. Work hard to improve them!

    2. I tried micro a few times and also found I had much more success playing 1-2 and 2-5. I think one of the problems with micro stakes is you don’t see a lot of large pots which makes the effective rake % much higher. Over time that percentage really adds up. I think there are other differences (I have much more success live than online in general) that made a difference for me but that was definitely a big part of it.

      If you are online you should be using a HUD program which has stats on the other players. If you don’t then you are at a huge disadvantage since a lot of the other players are likely using one.

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