Asking yourself the important questions will improve your poker game

January 10, 2017 3:00 AM


Seated at the poker table along with eight other players (plus the dealer), I know how important it is to focus my attention on the game – on every hand dealt. Poker is a game of “partial information.” You will never get all the information you would like – nor can your opponents. But, you can garner more info than they do, giving you a distinct advantage – and edge. That’s a great skill. Information is power!

As the hand is being played, you can “talk to yourself” without uttering a word. But, if it helps, you can mumble or make noises – indiscernible to your opponents at the table. Caution: Some may regard these sounds as tells; so it is probably better to remain silent.

Recent research by psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Univ. of Michigan, suggests talking to yourself is a biological mechanism that better enables humans to siphon off stress, solve problems, reason through difficult decisions, and concentrate with greater accuracy. (Ref. Psychology Today; June 2015).

I might add: Talking to yourself helps to reinforce and to remember things that may well be important in helping you to make the best decisions. 

It also helps you to focus your attention on the game underway, and observe your opponents as they play their hands.

It is always prudent to better understand an unfamiliar concept by using an example: You are in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game with a full table. In a middle position, you are dealt Q-Q in the hole – pocket Queens. After two opponents limp in, you raise to thin the field, so it is less likely an opponent will draw out on you, and your pocket Queens will have a better chance of staying in the lead. The Button and several others call to see the flop along with you.

The flop shows three unsuited medium/small cards: 10c-7d-4h. The betting is checked to you. Thereupon, you unhesitatingly make the $4 bet. The Button and Small Blind call your bet – no raises.

The turn card is the 4d, putting a pair on the board. Convinced you hold the best hand, after the Small Blind checks, you bet for value – $8. The Big Blind hesitates. 

He must be thinking of mucking his hand. No way! Instead he raises it to $16. The Small Blind folds; now it’s your turn to act.

Here’s where you talk to yourself, asking yourself several relevant questions, and listening to your silent response to each.

“What hands could he hold? What do I think he caught when the 4d fell on the turn? Could he have made a set of 4’s? That seems to be what he is trying to represent. 

What kind of player is he? I think he is quite tight and not likely to call my preflop raise with a small pair of 4’s. More likely, I think, he has two overcards to the board. Is he deceptive, and likely to bluff? Absolutely.

It was just a few hands earlier that he was caught trying to bluff out an opponent who called him with two-small pair against his failed Ace-high flush. 

Yes, I think he is likely to be trying to bluff again. Perhaps it’s a semi-bluff. That seems quite reasonable if he has two overcards.”

So that’s what you silently say to yourself. And, on that basis, you decide to call. 

The river card is a blank. Because you do have some doubts as to the accuracy of your silent-talk analysis of his hand, you check on the river. After a short pause, he too checks.

Your pocket Queens take the pot, as he mucks his hand – face-down – and mutters angrily at you. It pays to talk to yourself.