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Poker Strategy – Edition #1: Overthinking in Poker (KISS)

Poker Strategy - Overthinking - LevelingWith the recent influx of poker books, training websites, and strategy forums, it’s become easier than ever for players to start thinking about poker at a high level while trying that triple-range merge, or whatever the hell it’s called.

But, there’s a downside to this strategy-saturated environment: many players poison their own game with overthinking. I will show you how to avoid this problem by using the time-tested KISS formula: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Thorny:  Master of Psychology!

One of the most egregious errors committed by poker players is something I like to call “Backwards Play.” Backwards Players are so determined to be “tricky” that they constantly check and smooth-call with strong hands and bet aggressively with nothing. Instead of keeping it simple (stupid), they do the exact opposite of what’s obvious. Because of this, they win small pots with big hands, and lose big pots with nothing at all.  This strategy hurts especially badly in low-limit games where the level of sophistication is quite low anyway.

Slowplaying and bluffing should definitely be a part of your game, but they should be the exception, not the rule.

Fancy Feast – Leave it to the Cats.

A close relative of Backwards Play is the condition commonly referred to as Fancy Play Syndrome. Sufferers of FPS plot elaborate courses of action through hands that are actually quite straightforward. They justify their unusual moves through a tenuous chain of assumptions about their opponents’ play.

While thinking of this sort will sometimes pay off; more often than not, it’s a recipe for disaster. Too many things can go wrong. Think of Occam’s Razor for guidance: all else being equal, an explanation with fewer assumptions is more likely to be right than one with more.

Emotions: Check them at the Door

It’s important to keep checks on your emotional state during play. Analysis should be cold and dispassionate, but too often players overthink a hand because they are frustrated. I can’t count the number of times that I, tilting wildly, talked myself into making a loose call. “He could be bluffing,” I’d say, over and over again. At a gut level, I knew I should fold, but instead of keeping it simple (stupid), I made a series of wild logical leaps that somehow justified a call.

This is overthinking at its worst.

Take it from me: when the right play is obvious, make it quickly before you can change your mind.

As you move up into more skillful games, the baseline standard of play becomes trickier, as all of the regulars have mastered basic poker tactics. So how can you tell the difference between a fancy play that’s legitimately brilliant, and a fancy play that’s motivated by tilt or merely a desire to seem brilliant? Keep a record of your hands to review away from the table (most online sites offer this functionality). Go over the hands by yourself or with a friend. In this more relaxed setting, removed from whatever was running through your head at the time, you should be able to easily spot Backwards Play, Fancy Play Syndrome, and emotion-driven play.

Back your poker game with solid fundamental thinking, and big profits will follow. Now that’s simple (stupid).

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