And then we have the endless math theories, coaches and training sites, software tools, "solvers" and everything in between. Honestly, it is enough to make your head spin.
I stopped paying attention to most of it years ago. I just listen to a handful of pros who I know and trust and often just discover what works and what doesn't at the poker tables myself.
But I know from talking and working with many newer players at the lower stakes over the years that many of them are very confused these days. They have been given so many different conflicting pieces of advice that they are literally just pressing buttons sometimes and hoping for the best.
All of this information overload has destroyed their ability to see the one little thing that all elite poker players do better than everybody else.
I Think, Therefore I Win
Logical decision making. Critical thinking. Finding the highest EV (expected value) play. These are all lost on many poker players these days.
People are so overwhelmed by all of this maniacal over-thinking and over-analysis of the game that they have completely forgotten (or perhaps were never even taught) how to actually think about the game correctly.
The first book that I ever read about poker over 10 years ago was "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky. This book was published nearly 20 years ago and pre-dates online poker. It is also largely about Limit Hold'em if I recall.
Still, there is a reason why it is often considered one of the best books ever written on the game and it is one of the only books that I recommend (besides my own of course). This is because it teaches you how to think about the game.
In fact this is the subtitle of the book: A Professional Poker Player Teaches You How to Think Like One.
I see it every day in the hands that people post on my forum and elsewhere. The #1 reason why many people have so much trouble beating even the very lowest stakes these days is because they simply do not know how to think about the game correctly.
And by this I mean assessing a situation and quickly being able to determine the highest +EV decision. I see the wrong decisions being made in very simple spots again and again and again.
A Winning Poker Strategy is Very Simple
When you really think about it, winning poker is very simple. You always have just a handful of options in any given situation.
Let me give you an example from a hand that was posted on my forum the other day.
Now just to be clear here I am not making any assumptions about the person who posted it nor will I even name them (it is from a private member's only part of my forum anyways). I am just using this hand as an example because this is the type of thing that I see all the time at the micros.
PokerStars No-Limit Hold'em, $0.05 BB (8 handed)
Hero (Button) ($5.50)
Preflop: Hero is Button with Q, Q
1 fold, UTG+1 raises to $0.15, 1 fold, MP2 raises to $0.46, 1 fold, Hero raises to $1.05, 3 folds, MP2 calls $0.59
Flop: ($2.32) J, 4, 3 (2 players)
MP2 checks, Hero bets $1.15, MP2 raises to $2.30, Hero folds
Total pot: $4.62 | Rake: $0.19
So hero gets dealt QQ here and there is lots of action in front of us with 100bb+ effective stacks. Happy times right? Of course! We have the 3rd best hand in Hold'em! This is a great spot to be in. What's even better is that we are in position as well.
So raise it up right? After all we very likely have the best hand here. Many people would go ahead and make this play without even thinking about it. And that is fine. But let's look at this situation a little bit deeper first.
We have QQ on the button and there is already a raise and a 3Bet in front of us. If we go ahead and cold 4Bet here this basically screams from the mountaintops, "I have a monster."
Versus any two reasonably sane opponents this is going to force them to fold everything but the absolute nuts. So basically they will only give us action with their AA, KK or AK.
You can probably already see what a disaster this is by now right?
We get every hand that we crush and want to play against to fold and only get action from hands that we flip with or which absolutely crush us. Lose/lose.
From a logical perspective the highest expected value decision in this spot is instead to simply flat the 3Bet especially given the fact that we are on the button and get to play the entire hand in position.
If I was going to cold 4Bet here I would rather do it with either the absolute and total nuts (KK+) or with a bluff (Ax blocker hand). I would not want to do it with an amazingly strong hand like QQ but which can't stand huge action preflop or postflop.
Now once again, I am not trying to shame this player in any way. I understand the reason why he played it the way he did and this is a mistake that anyone could make. I have done it many times myself especially if rushed.
I am using this hand instead to illustrate why it is so important that you forget the math, the odds and every little theory you have been told over the years and just simply assess each situation in poker for what it is.
Simply ask yourself this: What is the best play right here and right now?
What play is going to yield the highest return/profit for you in the long run? This is what a winning poker strategy is all about.
There is usually going to be one specific decision that yields the highest EV in any given situation (even if it is a negative amount). If you make this decision on a regular basis, you will without a doubt absolutely crush the games.
This is the big "secret" that all elite poker players already know about.
Mathematical Analysis Paralysis
One of the biggest reasons why I believe so many people fail to find the highest EV decision on a consistent basis in a spot like this is because they are too caught up trying to turn poker into one big math equation.
This works in a game like Limit or maybe Pot Limit but in No Limit Hold'em with deep stacks, endless bet sizing possibilities and sometimes crazy implied odds, it simply doesn't work this way.
No Limit Hold'em, especially with deep stacks, is much more art than science. It is more logic than math. You can't just look at the equity or the odds like in the hand above and make a decision from there. Because the mathematically correct play is not always the EV correct play as we just saw.
Too many people these days are becoming robots who can't even think about the game properly anymore because they are obsessed with studying advanced mathematical theories, equity tools and trying to play like their favourite high stakes hero.
The problem is that most of this stuff has little to no value at the lower stakes where you are often playing against very weak competition with large imbalances in their play. You should be learning very basic strategies to exploit their weaknesses instead.
The other reason why this stuff will harm your poker career is because it leads to mass over-analysis of the game and ultimately paralysis. How can you ever make any money in this game and become successful if you don't even play it?
Beyond the basic math of the game (which you should definitely know and which you can learn in an afternoon on Google or in an article I wrote right here), the key to success is endless trial and error at the poker tables.
I don't know any top player who hasn't played millions and millions of hands. Because this is how you learn how to think about the game. Much like you learn how to speak a new language by the relentless use of it, not by studying textbooks.
Continuous application of a very simple strategy is how you learn to understand poker on a deeper level. This is when it starts to click and you don't even need to think about common spots anymore.
You just know.
The big "secret" to a winning poker strategy shouldn't even be a secret at all. There is so much noise and over-analyzation nonsense out there these days that many people have simply forgotten how to even think about the game anymore.
Winning poker at the lower limits is not a math formula and there is no secret theory or guru that is going to show you the light either. It is really just about assessing each situation as it stands and thinking logically about what the correct play is.
This becomes much easier the more you do it because you have seen the same situations over and over again. If you put in millions of hands and thousands of hours like I have, you can literally just play this game in your sleep.
There is almost always one decision that is better than the others. In the few cases where it is razor thin (these are most of the hands that people post on forums and squabble about), it really doesn't even matter. Flip a coin.
If you want to know the very simple strategy that I have used to create some of the highest winnings in the history of online poker at the micros make sure you grab a copy of my free poker ebook.
Let me know your thoughts below. Do you think that good decision making is the key to a winning poker strategy?