For those who don’t know me, I’m a full-time poker player and primarily play online MTTs. I love to play live but since I don’t live closer than 7 hrs in any direction from a casino, traveling can be a hassle and I honestly love being home with my dog and girlfriend.
I recently played a $2/$5 NLHE hand that I thought was worth talking about. It has crept in and out of my mind for a bit and at 1st the thoughts were, “How could I have played the hand better?”. But then after some time spent reflecting, the thoughts became more like “I need to be more focused…”. With that said, I’ve decided to take you through my thoughts so you can understand my mindset and see why some mistakes were made, but more-so why they are worth never forgetting.
Before I went to the game I was a little excited I’ll admit. Not excited like ‘I’m going to work’, but more like ‘I’m going to play’. For a recreational player this is a fine mindset, but for a professional it’s not great.
When I got to the game there was a rotation of regulars already playing. I sat down and played about 4 orbits or so before an aggressive player sat down with about 2k in front of him (no cap obviously). I had heard a little about this player and that’s how I knew they were capable of being aggressive. Since sitting down they played every hand and raised/3bet all but maybe 1 hand pre-flop. For the rest of the article, this player will be referred to as Villain.
I’m dealt TT in CO.
There are 4 limps for $5 and Villain raises to $17 in HJ. I decided to just call here because I wasn’t too sure what Villain was capable of, but I was sure of a few things:
1 – Players to act after me were likely calling if I didn’t re-raise – increasing my implied odds.
2 – Players to act after me were going to play very str8 up post-flop in this situation
3 – Villain was going to cbet a high % of the time regardless of the pot being Multi-way
4 – I wasn’t folding the flop unless someone else besides villain showed strength
We actually only had 2 other players call, so we saw a flop of:
FLOP – A68r
Pot = $75
Checks to Villain who c-bets $25, I call, the rest fold.
TURN – A68r, J (no flush draw came in)
Pot = $125
Villain fires again $60… Now that we are heads up I’m starting to focus on the body language going on and putting all the pieces of this story together. I’m already thinking this player is capable of barreling any turn, but I don’t want to solely rely on that thought. I’m looking for more justification as to how I should proceed. I noticed that Villain was blocking the side of their face that was towards me. At the same time, a side conversation, however only for a short moment, drew Villian’s attention away from our hand. I usually interpret this lack of focus on the hand as 1 of 2 things: 1) Some players tend to do this to seem like they aren’t worried about the hand (to seem strong/reverse tell) 2) Some will inadvertently lose focus because they have stopped thinking… in other words, not thinking about how to get value, but more so hoping to get a fold.
After these above thoughts became quite clear to me I decided Villain was capable and likely to be bluffing, so I called.
RIVER – A68r, J, J
Pot = $245
Villain fires AGAIN for $230.
Even tho I thought Villain was bluffing on the turn, and this river Jack doesn’t really change much, I wanted to re-evaluate my thoughts before making a final decision. As I previously noted on flop/turn, Villain still had his face blocked and avoided all attempts at any eye contact. By now I wondered, “Is this how he plays naturally?”, “Does he always have his hand over his face and avoid everyone?”. “I just called him on 2 streets in-position on a dry Ace-high flop. What hands would they still be comfortable firing with here?”, “Would they really just sit down with me, have minimal info regarding my play, and just fire 3 barrels as a bluff on this board?”.
As I progressed thru these thoughts, I looked down at my stack and calculated I would have about $120 left if I make this call. I began to think that if I lose this pot and Villain keeps playing this aggressive, I’ll be at a massive disadvantage. Also, banks were closed so I couldn’t take out any more money, which would mean if I lose this I’d have to play short stacked in this situation or bust shortly and have to go home. At this point, my mind started to drift off thinking about going home much earlier than expected (which was definitely unappealing at the time). Within these muffled thoughts I contemplated asking the dealer to spread the pot, but decided against it since I had already taken up so much time. I could tell people were getting antsy by their body language. By this point I lost focus on the hand, and began to focus too much on thoughts that were completely irrelevant to the actual situation. This was the root to my downfall. My mind got jumbled with garbage and during that moment of weakness, I vividly remember my last thoughts before folding; “They are so polarized, but I don’t think that enough players fire 3 barrels here so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”
My last thought, “…I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt” is one of the worst last thoughts you could have before making any decision in poker. It was my mind giving up thinking basically, and I can imagine a bit of that had to do with my initial mindset going to the game, and the cluttering of non-tactical thoughts during the hand. I laughed thinking back about this on the ride home, but I’m writing this article so at least I’m learning.
As I’ve started to highlight, my biggest mistakes in this hand and leading up to it were mental mistakes… made by not being in the right mindset and allowing myself to focus on the wrong things.
1 – I should have asked to see the pot size. I was getting about 2:1 on a call and in a spot where villain is really polarized and is likely to be bluffing in this case more often than value betting.
2 – I don’t think enough attention was drawn to the pre-flop sizing. If they had a big hand here, given the limp/calling type of table I’m sure we’d raise a bit more to build a pot, get some isolation, but also some might even do it to “protect” their hand.
3 – I became too focused on “being able to enjoy myself longer” and “I’m taking too long”. Neither of these 2 thoughts are important in coming to a logical poker decision.
4 – I went into this game with the mindset of “having fun” which in terms of poker I’d refer to as my “C-Game”. It takes awhile for most human minds to get warmed-up but by the turn in this hand, I felt like I made the call on my “A-Game” thoughts. As the pressure kept coming on the river tho, I began to lose focus on what was important and when it came down to it I needed my “A-Game” thoughts, but settled for the “B-Game/C-game” thoughts/decision.
5 – My biggest leak is not in my understanding of poker strategy but in my live mental execution from time to time. I need to elevate my mind so I can be operating at a much more consistent level.
In conclusion, I’ve realized when I’m on a trip to the casino for a week or 2 at a time, I don’t ever think or worry about anything else but poker thoughts and being in the right mindset. Looking back at other instances and reflecting upon this article, I discovered my “A-Game” is much more prevalent when I’m away, BUT, when I’m at home not in the right mindset there is a disconnect from playing profitable/smart poker and playing poker for fun. This type of mistake can be made playing live or online, but the key moving forward is to make sure I’m in the right mindset at all times, otherwise I’m not setting myself up for success.
I look forward to comments on this article, even if it’s about the actual hand involved, even tho it’s obviously not the focus. Thanks for reading.