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‘Playing Deep’ | ‘The Course’ Skill #9 | Podcast #34


Sky Matsuhashi

on February 15, 2016

Playing deep leads to a common fear that many poker players face: the fear of losing.  I help you figure out what's causing your fear at the tables.

In case you missed it, in episode #33 I dissected how to recognize when an opponent is likely making predictably aggressive plays and gave you ways to exploit them through skill #8 in Ed Miller’s book ‘The Course.’

‘Playing Deep' and Fear in Poker

Podcast Mission

My mission for today is to give you strategies to avoid fear or to deal with fear while you’re playing so it doesn’t negatively impact your decisions.

7 Step Process for getting the most from Skill #9: ‘Playing Deep'


  • Title: Skill #9. Playing Deep
  • Great chapter; 9 pages long.  No strategy but some important considerations for when you’re playing deep or when you’re up against a table of deep stacked opp’s.  Ed Miller considers deep stacked being 300 BB’s or more.  He also dispels some deep stacked myths that people believe.
  • Headers:
    • Not a Totally Different Game
    • Deep Stacks, In Practice
    • Final Thoughts – sums it up with, “the way to win deep-stacked is to be “better at poker” than other players.” Good 5 point summary of deep stack considerations.

Set a Goal

Now that we have a basic understanding of the chapter, we want to read productively and effectively.  To do this, I’ve devised 3 questions, and finding the answers to these is our goal while reading.

  • What skills can I learn from this chapter? We’ll learn some consideration when playing with and against big stacks, which is a great cash game skill.
  • Why are these skills important or relevant to my game? As a cash game player, I’m always hoping to be up 3-4 bi’s on any one table, so learning how to play when I get there will help.
  • How can I implement these skills in my game? Let’s read and find out how we can exploit aggression at the tables.


Another great Ed Miller chapter.  He discusses lots of big stack considerations and he dispels many of the myths surrounding deep stack play.

I’d like to focus on one thing that Ed Miller said:

  • If you’re afraid of getting stacked, you won’t succeed. Do not play deep unless you’re comfortable with the idea of getting stacked two or three times, even.  Of course, no one wants to lose.  But you can’t play in fear of it.  Even a whiff of fear will come through, and you’ll make exactly the errors your opponents expect you to make, which is obviously a bad situation.

That’s such a great point about fear.  Let’s dive into this and look into fear at the poker tables.

Summarize and Analyze

  • Fear leads to loss.
  • To expand this a bit: Fear leads to bad decisions which lead to loss which leads to tilt which leads to more loss.

Why does fear lead to loss?  Before we answer this, think about your own play.

We've all encountered spots where fear of loss, fear of looking stupid, fear of making a mistake, or a fear of losing a tourney stopped you from making plays you knew were +EV.

One spot where fear has led me astray many times is when I’m OTB in a tourney with sub 15bb’s.  A LAG big stack opens from the HJ, CO or BTN, and I look down to see A-rag off-suit.  I know that my Ace blocker along with my 3bet shove will get him to fold most of the time and I’ll just add his bet, the blinds and antes to my stack.  But then I start thinking about  the fact that I’m so close to the money, that this guy might fold but anyone else yet to act might wake up with a big hand and KO me from the tourney.  So then I start rationalizing something like, “I’ll just wait for a better hand and even if I don’t catch one I should be able to squeak into the money.”  I’ve worked hard to ditch this fear in these spots, but occasionally it comes back and hits me when I least expect it.

So, why does fear lead to loss?

Fear overrides your logic centers and emotion starts to take control of your decision making.  Your mind can just go blank and all you think about is what will happen if you lose this hand, stack, tourney, whatever.  The fear can be debilitating as well and you begin to feel weakened, like you aren’t the player you should be, like everyone at the table is better than you, they’ve got it all under control, and that the decisions you make are all incorrect.

This loss of logic and feeling weakened or inferior to your opp’s will lead to bad decisions.  You’ll play hands you shouldn’t, throw away hands you should, play in spots where every move you make choreographs your exact hand strength to your opponents, and even play hopeful poker.  This is where you only think about hitting the flop, turn or river and that’s all you’re concerned with: your cards and the board.  You forget to think about your opp’s range, bet sizing, the action on each street, the opp’s you’re up against, everything.  You just know your cards and the board, and this leads to big mistakes, which leads to losing pots.

How can we stop this fear from taking over?

The first step to this is figuring out what we’re afraid of, and why we’re afraid of it.  We need to break it down to its simplest form.  To do this, we need to play the why game.

I said earlier that I sometimes get fearful of busting out of tourneys OTB.

Why is that?  Because I want to win money.

Why?  Because I don’t want to lose my buy-in.

Why?  Because it’s a big portion of my bankroll and to win back that buy-in will take a lot of work.

Do you feel this way about smaller bi’s?  No.

Why?  Because losing those is no big deal as it’s such a small part of my bankroll.


So for me, the bigger the stakes, the more fearful I am of losing that part of my bankroll.

Resolution to Fear

There are three ways to deal with this:

  1. Make a Change – it can be as simple as just making a change in the stakes I play. If higher bi’s are causing the fear, then maybe I should only play lower bi’s until my bankroll is enough to make me feel comfortable.  I feel this is only a short-term fix, but it could lead to a better understanding of the fear so that it will have less of a hold on me later as I move up in stakes.
  2. Dive Right In at Lower Stakes – The plan here would be to put yourself in these fearful situations at lower stakes and remind yourself that this is the same as at the higher stakes. For my fear of bubbling, it would be to remind myself, every time I’m on the bubble at the comfortable stakes, that this is exactly like at the higher stakes.  I’m still playing against other players, we have X number of BB’s, the logistics of poker still remain the same, I know the math and the best plays, and we’re so many spots away from the money.  Those circumstances never change based on the buy-in.
  3. Fight Through the Fear – be prepared for the fear. Stay at the same stakes and don’t make any changes, but prepare for these spots in your warm-ups and have some logic statements or affirmations at the ready to help you think calmly through the fear.  Here’s a few for you to use:
    • What’s the worst that can happen, I lose a buy-in?
    • Without some failure, you can’t learn what’s needed to achieve greater success.
    • Real failure only happens when you give up.
    • I guarantee Ivey or Negreanu wouldn’t feel fear in this spot.
Here are some other common fears that players face:
  • Fear of Failure
  • Mistakes
  • Bad Run
  • Losing Money
  • Going busto
  • Looking like a blockhead

Take Action

Now that we’ve done some analyzing, it’s time for step 5, the most important step: taking action on what we’ve learned.

During your next warm-up before you play, be aware that your fear will strike at some point.  Actually, count on the fear hitting you.  Have a plan to deal with it, and this could include playing lower stakes or using affirmations and logic statements to control your thinking.  Have a notepad in front of you to take notes on any fear you experience.

At the end of your session, answer the following Q’s:

  • How do I feel about the session played?
  • How did I like employing the skills learned?
  • Do I think this skill has some value and does it merit further review before fully integrating it into my repertoire?


When it comes to working on any aspect of your mental game, and fear is definitely a part of this, you shouldn’t wait until the next day.  Write your thoughts in your poker journal (get my free 21-page Poker Journal here). Journaling helps to crystallize them and allows you an additional way to reflect on what you’re working on.  It’s interesting, but writing keeps the left side of your brain occupied, so the right side is more free to think random thoughts and make associations you never thought were there.  In your journal you can write down how the fear came about, how it manifested itself in your game, what you did to overcome the fear and how successful you were.

Rinse, Repeat, Review

Now that you’ve taken action and made this initial assessment, it’s time to take action again in another session and work on exploiting aggression.  Just repeat steps 5-7 here for as long as it takes until you feel you’ve got a great grasp on this concept.

Use your journal entry in your next session’s warm-up to help you prepare, once again, for that unavoidable fear that will pop-up.  If you do this enough, you’ll work through the fear, I guarantee it.


Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Figure out what your own fears are at the table.  Play the why game and get to the bottom of it.  Make a plan and review your plan in your next warm-up before you begin your session.

Purchase your own copy of ‘The Course'.

Check out the rest of the episodes in this 11-part series:

  1. How to Learn from Poker Strategy Books
  2. Play a Simple and Effective Preflop Strategy | Skill #1
  3. Don't Pay People Off | Skill #2
  4. Assess Your Hand Value | Skill #3
  5. Barreling | Skill #4
  6. Evaluating Board Texture | Skill #5
  7. Making LIVE Reads | Skill #6
  8. Emotional Numbing | Skill #7
  9. Exploiting Aggression | Skill #8
  10. Playing Deep | Skill #9
  11. Taking on the Pros | Skill #10


Sky Matsuhashi

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