Mailbag: Getting Away From Hands

Thinking Poker MailbagQ: I have a recurring situation that is driving me crazy. You speak to it around the edges quite a bit in the blog, I’d be interested in hearing your direct take. I win many small pots in a session then lose a big pot that I should have been able to get away from.

Recent examples: $170 Bounty Tourney, second level. I’m in the cut off with AQ, I raise 3x, small blind completes.

Flop is AJ8 rainbow. SB (who is a weak player, in fact he said before the tourney that “He was really bad” during some table talk) bets, I min raise, he calls.

Turn is a blank, he bets, I call.

River is an 8, he makes same bet, I call.

He turns over A8 for a boat. I was thinking A with a smaller kicker.

After the fact, I can see all the signs that I needed to fold, but can’t seem to do it in game.

Second example is set over set, where I overlook multiple signs to fold, and don’t.

So after the session, I can see it plain as day – but in game I can’t seem to stop and ask myself “What hands can I beat?” when he starts to pile money in the middle.

Any suggestions on a technique to change this behavior would be appreciated.

I’ve tried the ol’, “Just do it you idiot. You know what to do…” type of thing – but you know how that works.

A: My first piece of advice would be to change the way you think about hand reading. Thinking about your opponent’s cards isn’t something to do only when you have a big decision. Literally every decision you make, from whether to bet to how much to bet, should be informed by what you think your opponent has. If you’re looking at it that way, it’s not something you can just forget to do. It would be like trying to drive a car with your eyes closed – it wouldn’t take you long to realize that you didn’t have some pretty critical information! I have some short articles that include advice about hand reading and how you can use that to get more value when you think you have the best hand (which is a closely related skill to realizing when you don’t have the best hand). For a lot more detail and examples, you can see my Tournament Poker Edge videos on the same subjects.

The second thing I want to say is that you may be a bit results oriented in your analysis. It’s certainly a problem if the pots you lose and consistently smaller than the pots you win, but losing a big pot doesn’t necessarily mean that you did something wrong. Not every session is going to be a winning one, while it’s easy to say after the fact “I would have been up if not for that one big loss!”, the truth is that some of those big losses are just part of the game and not something you can avoid. Trying to avoid them can actually lead you to miss out on good opportunities to win big pots.

It’s hard to say for sure, because in the one example that you give you do seem to overplay your hand. Among other things, it’s not clear to me what you’re accomplishing with the flop raise, and you should be on alert when your opponent continues to bet into you after you’ve raised. Depending on the size of his bets, though, calling down is not necessarily a mistake.

You also cite set under set as a situation where you tend to lose a lot of money, and though there are exceptions, that’s generally a tough spot to get away from. The upside is that when you have set over set, your opponents probably aren’t getting away either. That line is what made me think you might be being a little too hard on yourself with the benefit of hindsight.

Hope that helps!

Do you have a question for the Thinking Poker Mailbag? Please leave it as a comment below!

8 thoughts on “Mailbag: Getting Away From Hands

  1. Hey,
    Thanks for answering my question. Appreciate the insight.

    The one thing I didn’t add now that I’m reading it on the blog is that I get this feeling of momentum when I flop a “monster” and it seems like my decision making and tempo accelerates. I’m trying to figure out how to slow down and make better decisions when all the chips are going in the middle.

    It’s almost like I get some kind of tunnel vision – “I’ve got a big hand, I can never fold” type of thing. Even though I’m far from the nuts.

    Anyone that’s solved this issue in their game – I’d love to hear how you did it.

    I’ve recently been trying to keep notes at the table (advice from Jonathan Little) and that seems to slow me down a little.

    But once the train has left the station, it’s really hard for me to hit the breaks.



    • I have big doubts if Andrew advice can help you.His advice help people whose decision process is located firmly in the realm of deliberate practice.
      It looks that your problem is in different realm.
      It might have something to do with the two minds that govern decision: the instinctual unconscious mind (the realm of relaxed concentration) and the thinking mind (the realm of deliberate practice).
      The problem often starts as early as preflop stage when you see “AA” or “AQ” in your hole Your instinctual unconscious mind creates some expectation.
      In this particular example your problem starts on flop.You hit TPTK and you have positive expectations.
      Your optimistic expectation are morphed into gradual frustration.The injections of hormones accelerate you decision process. Your action is subject to competing contingencies, and without conscious awareness.
      The final decision in your case is NOT TRANSPARENT for your conscious mind.The decision is in different realm.
      The end result just did you a long term harm because is validation of your earlier frustration.You need to answer one question: Who are you? Who clicked ‘call’ button?

      • I think you’re right Andy.
        It’s the process of being able to slow down and reveal that to my conscious mind that I’m interested in.
        Obviously good and great players had to have gone thru this stage in their poker maturity.
        Maybe it’s as simple as playing millions of hands – you just desensitize yourself to it and eventually
        your mind just disconnects.

        I was hoping that there was a way to short cut the process…


        • I am software engineer I did many software gadgets to block (call,bet,raise button)for n seconds in case call or bet is bigger than N bb.
          But this is bull when your body-mind is rushing ahead.You should not force yourself. Humble attitude is great.
          I asked you question who are you ? you should answer this question to yourself. Because your identity is entity which interact with different energies at poker table.At some point of your game you should be comfortable to make this calls and feel good about regardless outcome.
          You should feel good when you know who and why you clicked this buttons.
          You can lessen once more interview with TIMEX and get idea.The interview gives glimpses who is TIMEX as identity.You can compare yourself with his ego.
          (How you will behave if you win millions when you are teen?.Will you play donkaments and keep low profile?)

        • Nick Wealthall offers some advice for helping to detach from the emotional connection to your hand. One of his methods is to visually picture yourself on the rail watching yourself play. A third person experience kind of thing. He postulates that when you are watching someone play, you can see the mistakes they are making because you’re not in the hand nor emotionally attached to the cards under their hands. It is an ongoing process to train myself to be purely analytical about the situation and consider all factors as if I was watching myself play from the rail.

          • Sure there are millions of methodologies out there to cater to your consistent non-acceptance of whom and what you are in this moment and your desire to change this moment into something else by desiring the ‘self’ experience something other than what it now experiences.
            Egocentric humanoids rely exclusively on the chronic non-acceptance of the moment as it is.

          • I’ve watched a lot of Nick’s stuff… I’ll try that technique again.
            It’s hard to hold all the stuff you know in your head while playing… 😉

            Andy, you’re getting a bit esoteric for me at this point.
            Thanks for the input thought, a bit beyond where I’m at in my life…


  2. UPDATE:
    Actually had a pretty good weekend taking some of this advice to heart.

    Up about $1000 with a 2nd place in a tourney and a cash session.

    Folded pocket Kings in the face of serious action with an A high flop. Not easy for me.

    Did make one major spew with AKs into a super LAG and he ended up having some kind of weird two pair like 84o or something…
    But I could and should have gotten away from that hand…

    Oh well, I’ll choose to look at the glass being half full.

    Thanks for the advice!


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