Life in the Streets
By Vincent Olmos
This time of year brings some of my favorite events. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) marks the start of the religious fast known as Lent and Fat Tuesday is the big “feast before the famine.” The last day to eat like pig or party like it’s 1999.
The point of Lent is to exercise discipline through fasting or conversely start a new, productive habit for 40 days. For example, my mother will usually give up all sweets for Lent and will usually celebrate Easter by having the best Almond Joy ever.
No, it isn’t the weird stuff you find in your pockets, and Lent doesn’t necessarily have to be a religious fast.
For a poker player, it can be a great time to implement improvements to your game. It’s always good to self-analyze and reflect upon what you’re doing right as well as what’s not so hot. I suggest that everyone devote 40 days, a month, or even a week to trying something new to help win more money at the great game of poker.
For the beginner, I have a great suggestion—pay attention between hands! One doesn’t have to analyze every single hand movement or chip sliding gesture, but keep track of the big stuff, like how hand values are played on different streets and bet sizing.
Try to get inside the head of your opponents. It if helps, start with just one player. The person on your right is a great start. They are usually the most immediately relevant to you because they act just before you. Learn how they think, and how they play weak hands, strong hands, and everything in between.
It may be tough and boring at first, but it will eventually launch your game into a different atmosphere. Bonus Lent points for conversing with a friend after the session to see if they have similar observations.
For the more astute player, I suggest counting every single pot you see. Whether you are involved or not, keep track of the number of players in the hand and a running tally of how much they have invested. You will quickly notice how it affects their decisions throughout the hand. It also tells you a lot about the player and how they play the game.
If there has been one raise to $20 preflop and four players have called, player Z may decide to ship his remaining $150 into the pot on any street or from any position. From there you can see many other external factors. Do they keep their position in mind? Will they fold after putting a considerable amount of their stack into the pot? Maybe they’re not paying attention to the pot size at all! So much can be uncovered, and with some practice you’ll be able to predict the action of your opponents in Daniel Negreanu “amazing reads on YouTube” style!
All students of the game can benefit from taking better notes. Wins/losses is 100 percent critical for all sessions. If you’re not doing this already, try it. I’d heavily suggest diving in deeper. For example, one could resolve to keep track of all their all-in pots for the next 40 days. Write them down or make notes of them after your session.
From there you can keep track of your equity in the hand to see if your big pots have been well advised. Was I getting the right price to call all-in with a naked flush draw? To go even deeper, you can consider both your and your opponent’s ranges. Over 400 big blinds deep, how well do your A-K, K-K, Q-Q, and J-J hands stack up preflop against the all-in octogenarian with the fishing hat?
Perhaps you make no technical mistakes and are a living calculator of optimal decisions. If so, great! You can still work on other aspects of your game. Are all your decisions truly best on game theory optimal planning? Perhaps you go off every time you see someone donate their chips because you were already counting them in your stack.
Never underestimate the power of a bad beat. Are you truly unaffected? Or do you regularly three-bet Jd-4d (the Flat Tire Hand) from UTG +2 in a nine-handed game when the “feeling” is right. Maybe part of your 40-day discipline will be to look at those decisions.
One of my favorites is when an otherwise solid player who raised preflop loses their mind after being “donk bet” (led into) on the flop. This hilarious phenomenon has been responsible for the decimation of many solid chip stacks. Don’t waste a good opportunity to evaluate your game! If your forehead doesn’t hurt a little after your session, the game’s too easy or you’re not thinking enough. There’s nothing wrong with putting in work at the poker table—that’s how we all grow. Strive to be the best you can be and do it big today!