Thinking at the poker table is much different than thinking in normal life. Going about your daily affairs, you may think about your schedule for the day, your emotions, enjoying your communication with someone you like, something that happened earlier, looking at your environs or mundane physical matters like food, drink, bathroom, etc. When you sit at the poker table, you must put aside all of these thought processes and focus on the task at hand. Here is an example of thinking at poker.
It’s my second hand dealt in, sitting at a $1/3 No-Limit Hold’em cash game. I’m in the small blind. One player limps in early – I see no deception as if they are hiding a big hand. A woman in mid-position, whom I know from previous play never raises pre-flop without a big hand, raises to $10. The player just left of the button, one I have already pegged as a loose player that will play a wide variety of starting hands in late position, with intent to steal (based on demeanor, dress, age, earbuds, etc.) calls. I find 44 as my starting hand. The woman who raised has about $450 in her chip stack – bigger than my $330 stack. I figure it’s a great opportunity to mine for a set as I might be able to double up if she has Aces or Kings. I call; and the early limper calls.
Flop comes 10-5-4 with two diamonds. Beautiful! With both straight and flush draws, and to hide my set (who open bets big with a set?), I bet $35 – close to pot size. Woman calls and others fold. I’m thinking about what hands she might have to make a call. There are only three possibilities: pocket fives or tens for a bigger set that she is slow playing, and I don’t think she would have raised pre-flop with pocket fives, so it’s more likely tens; an overpair to the board, which I think she would probably re-raise to my bet; or the flush draw with big cards – most likely AK of diamonds.
The turn is a deuce of clubs – a safe card for my hand. The only hands that would help against me are 6-3 or A-3, and those are definitely not hands she would be holding, having raised pre-flop. I bet $125, to make the flush draw pay if that’s what she holds. If she holds the pocket tens, then oh-well, she got lucky and the money is going all in. She just calls.
Normally, I would expect a raise from her here with a set of tens, but there is a high-hand promotion going on so she could be slow-playing to see if she hits quads for the high-hand. Still, looking at her, I don’t see the anticipation that goes along with such. Instead, I see a wry wrinkle at the corners of her mouth – as if there is some evil plan at work. Eighty-percent plus, she is on the flush draw in my estimation.
Before the next card comes out, I check blind. If a diamond comes, I’m going to check anyway – and might or might not call a bet, depending on how much it is and my read. Without a diamond, she’ll only call my bet if she does have me beat, or the hand I have already mostly ruled out – an overpair to the board. So, the most likely way I can get more money out of her is with a check, whatever comes. The river is another ten. She bets about $100 and I call. She turns up AK of diamonds, and I win a lovely pot with lots of “nice hand” and “well played” remarks from the other players at the table.
My hands are shaking as I stack my chips. It’s certainly not life-changing money and nowhere near a record profit for me. It’s just the adrenaline release after the intensity of my concentration. I was focused. I was poker-thinking. I didn’t notice the busy room, the races on the TV monitors or the waitresses in skimpy outfits. It was just the table, the players, the dealer, the cards and the play.
Like any competitive endeavor, it takes mastery of concentration and thought to master this game. If you converse at the poker table, do it to gain information about your competitors or to portray the story about yourself that you want them to believe. Don’t watch the game on TV or play when you are distracted by other life events. Everything you do, you say, that others say or do, at the table is part of the game. If you aren’t the one observing and thinking, you are the one being observed and dissected.