Take heed: committing chips when confused in a hand is a sure way to become (or remain) a losing player!
In this podcast, I help you handle things when confused and give you a great strategy for building your skills so you don't feel confused again.
Listen to this podcast as you follow along below:
I love the song “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John. Two lines stand out to me:
“Refried confusion is making itself clear
Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here.”
These two lines remind me of how I used to play losing poker.
I would face a river bet and I just didn't know how to respond. I was confused as to what my opponent had, I didn’t know how my hand stacked up against his range, I didn’t replay the action of the hand in my mind and I basically just thought about my hand and the board.
When I didn't know which way to go, I often ended up calling his bet. I didn’t want to fold and be bluffed off the hand, and I didn’t know if I should raise for value or as a bluff. So, the only logical conclusion was to call, right?
Well, calling is a bad decision when you’re confused about the situation. Committing chips when you don’t know what’s going on just gives value to your opponents and causes you to remain a losing player.
Confused Example Hand
Here's a not uncommon situation that can confuse us to the value of our once strong hand.
We open-raise with KK from UTG, everyone folds except the unknown BB player who calls.
The flop comes 5c 3h 2d. The BB check-raises us 3 times our cbet. We figure we’ve got a great overpair along with position and it’s just too early to fold, so we call.
Figure 1: Facing a 3x flop check-raise.
The turn brings 2h, making the board very draw heavy along with straights and full houses already possible. We hold a 2-pair hand. The BB player fires another bet of 75% pot and we decide to call with our strong overpair hand, because “Hey, I can’t fold Kings.”
Figure 2: We call a 3/4 pot bet with a strong overpair.
The pot is now 65bb’s and the 3d hits the river, making the final board 5c 3h 2d 2h 3d. It’s a double-paired board and full houses are even more likely and straights are still possible.
Our opponent fires the river for 32.4bb’s, exactly ½ pot. We reason that we’ve come this far and our KK beats bluffs and weaker overpairs like 99 and 88, so we call.
Our opponent tables the Ah4s for the flopped straight that went for 3 streets of value.
Figure 3: At showdown, we see he flopped a straight and won about 65bb's from us.
What's the Takeaway?
Now you might look at this situation and just chalk it up to a cooler. “My KK lost to A4 when they flopped a straight.” If that’s all you get from this, you’re missing out on an opportunity for growth and you’ll continue to call and lose with reasons like, “Well, I have an overpair. I’ve gotta call.”
Let’s go back to the river before we called.
Before any big calling decision, especially on rivers when mistakes are the costliest, do these two things:
- Remove your hand from your mouse or your chips. This gives you a little brain space to think more deeply about the situation.
- Replay the action of the hand as if you were a sports announcer. If you’re playing online you can do this aloud. In a poker room, mentally replay the hand.
Sports Announcer Commentary:
“He completed the action with his call in the BB, so he has a wide range. He check-raised me 3 times my cbet on the flop. That smells like a set, straight or 2p. Most other hands, including 44, 99 and AJ will often just call to continue cheaply, so he probably doesn’t have one of those hands.
“From OOP, he bet a hefty 75% pot when the board paired the turn. He’s obviously not scared of that 2h or it helped him. My turn call and not a reraise would signify I have an overpair or maybe a draw I don’t want to give up on.
“Then he fired a 3rd bet on that double-paired river 3d. Sure, he decreased it to just ½ pot, but altogether he’s committed over 60bb’s on this double-paired, 3-to-the-straight board. Does he do this with a hand worse than KK? I don’t know enough about him to know he’s capable of this ultra-aggressive line from OOP.
“I think he’s got me beat, so I fold.”
Replay + Logic = Understanding
When we replay the action of the hand like this and add a little bit of logic behind our opponent’s actions, it all makes sense. We should’ve seen that our once beautiful KK was crushed here and folding is the only play.
It’s critical that you develop the ability to replay the action of the hand to take you from a sense of confusion to one of understanding and certainty. This skill allows you to step outside of the action and your emotions and rationally view the situation to see the truth of your opponent’s holding.
The action of any hand is a puzzle. But, as you mentally replay it and think about the range of hands that logically fit his prior actions, the pieces come together and the picture becomes clear. This makes it easier to choose the right play.
You can work off-the-felt with hand reading exercises to help you develop this replaying ability.
Take Note of Confusing Spots
From now on, when you encounter a situation and you feel confused, realize that's a sign that you need to work on that area. I want you to tag these hands for study. If you’re playing LIVE, record the details in a notes app so you can review it later. If you’re playing online, tag the hand so you can easily find it for your next study session. Just create a new tag called “Confused” and start using it.
That leads me directly into this week’s challenge:
Here's my challenge to you for this episode:
For the rest of this week, tag any confusing hands you play. Confusion is a sign that your skills are lacking, so let’s work this week to build skills in confusing spots. If it’s river calling like my example hand above, what a great thing to realize about yourself. Review a ton of bad river calling spots. Find videos or articles on calling rivers to study and learn from. Ask your poker friends how they approach these river spots. Build your skills and lessen your confusion this week for a more fun poker journey.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
Support the Show
Huge thanks to these poker peeps who recently picked up my books, Preflop Online Poker and Post-flop Online Poker: Jaroslav V (go 'em both!), Patrick K, David A, Jeremy P, Damian S, Derek F, Arturo M, Nils B, Peter O, William J, Misel K, Timo D, and George W.
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