Self Control in Poker
With the popularity of poker on the television it is easy to look at what the pros are doing and think you should be doing the same. This of course is true. However there is one big problem. What do you actually see the pros doing? Big pots, Big bluffs, aggressive plays etc etc. This naturally makes for good television, but it can be a little misleading. You dont see the hours and hours of tight play. You dont tend to see the conservative nature, and the self-control and patience. These things are an extremely important element of their success.
People might see Tony G, and Mike Matosow talking some trash, or Phil Ivey pulling off one of the bravest bluffs you have ever seen, but what you dont tend to see is the laydowns. The hands they folded to get out of trouble. The 3 times they chucked AJ under-the-gun. That aspect of their game.
Really a lot of poker is about self-control. There is alot of waiting and biding your time. Fold, Fold, Fold, Fold, Fold, Fold etc. And then suddenly out of no-where comes a mix-up and players are scared witless. This guy hasnt played a hand for half and hour, now he is reraising me, and pushing heavy on the flop. I better get out of the way and fast.
In a standard, average size online tournament you may play 350 hands to win a tournament. At the face of it this may seem a lot, or not much, depending upon what mood you are in. Days may come when you'll get premium hands in 100 of these hands, and there is nothing in the world that is going to stop you going deep. Other days you may not see a hand for hours. But regardless of how hot or cold the deck is coming you need that self-control. How many players leading an online tournament in the first hour dont even make the money? A: A lot. Any man and his dog can play good cards and good boards, but can you get out of trouble 3 or 4 times in a row, and fold those pocket 6's UTG after not seeing an ace or pocket pair for 60 hands?
This is one of many aspects that separate the masses of mere mortals from the pros.
There are 3 key stages in a tournament when your control and disciplin needs to be at its greatest. Firstly, the early levels eg 15/20, 20/30. There is absolutely no excuse in the world for busting out at these levels unless you are facing a pre-flop all-in holding Aces or Kings (and they lose), or you get some sort of sick post-flop draw out when holding an absolute minimum of top 2 pair. No excuse whatsoever.
So you got knocked down to 700 chips in the first 5 minutes by an unfortuante beat? So what? That is loads of chips at 15/20, or 20/30. Gather yourself and wait. Dont go calling an all-in the next time you have A10 because "you need to double up". You dont need to. It would be nice to, but you dont need to at this stage. Keep a close eye on the big blinds in relation to your stack size and chose your spot carefully. Preferably when you can be the aggressor, not your opponent.
The second key time is just after the bubble. The masses will play this the wrong way around. They will play tight in the lead up to the bubble, and loose immediately after. What you need to do is the opposite. Aggressive and fairly loose before, and tight immediately after. Just after the bubble all sorts of craziness will be going on, as players try to gather some momentum to go deep. There is no need to get mixed up in this unless you pick up some decent cards to do so. Keep it tight, but naturally if you come up against an extreme shortstack dont be afraid to take some pot-odds based decision, as villain's pushing range is going to be massively diminished at this point.
The third key time is just after reaching the final table. You'll be surprised how many players can bust in the "period of relief" just after reaching the final table. If you have a mid-sized stack there is a pretty good chance of 3 or 4 people being eliminated without you doing very much at all. The blinds are often crippling at this point, and several players will often be looking to launch with fairly weak holdings. At the final table scrap any previous notion you had on M levels and inflexion points, you are in a war of attrition where the pay leaps for every player being knocked out are massive. Be controlled and patient. Once it gets down to around the final 4 you can start to take some more risky decisions. Of course use your judgement and if you only have a few big blinds left then of course you need to pick a spot quick. But dont get into too many battles at the beginning of final tables if you can help it. There is much play left in this game yet. Amazingly, perhaps to some, it is perfectly common to spend one third of the time of an entire tournament playing the final table. Your self-control and patience needs to be at its greatest here.
In summary, be controlled and thoughtful about every hand, and drop the notion that poker is all about aggression. Aggression is merely a side-kick to more important elements such as self control.