20/04/2009

Decisions not Outcomes

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Three of the most powerful words that I have ever heard with regards the giving of advice in poker came from ex-world champion Greg Raymer in an article that I read of his. In that article he mentioned how playing good poker was simply about making a long series of correct decisions and that the ultimate goal of a player was to make good decisions and not worry too much about the outcome.

There you have it then... “decisions not outcomes”... it's so simple its brilliant. Those three little words encapsulate poker more than any other set of three words that I can imagine. You know a guy is good when they can reduce something to three words that it takes me an entire article to say.

But the process of making decisions is a far more complex one than it appears on the surface. We are also in the business of trying to affect the decision making process of our opponents as well as improve our own. Recently of course online players have used tracking software to help them make their decisions stronger but to also impact on the decisions of others.

There is an almost chaotic pattern to high level poker play where there is a constant ebb and flow to the ranges that are employed. Last year I started to use tracking software for the very first time (I always tend to be behind with technical things) and started using Poker Office. I found this sniffer easier to use than PokerTracker and have stuck with it ever since and have used it in ever greater frequency.

At the lower levels of play then the process is a simple one when using sniffers, you use them to correct flaws in your own game and to highlight flaws in the styles of your opponents. This enables players to gain a significant edge at low and midstakes levels. But I have long since been enthralled by the science of decision making and this is never more revealed than in live play.

Everything that you do at a poker table has the ability to impact on the decision making process of your opponents. Tournament poker these days seems to be populated by more and more aggressive players who on the surface have no fear. This kind of reminds me of the age old game of chicken. If you had two people driving towards each other at 70mph in a game of chicken then what would the optimal strategy be for each driver?

Well the optimal strategy kind of depends on the strategy employed by the other and their overall mindset. If you knew that the other driver was a rational human being who had no desire to risk their own life then the optimal strategy would be to keep on going without ever deviating (of course the really optimal strategy wouldn’t be to play this stupid game in the first place).

But suddenly the entire dynamic of the situation changes if your opponent knows that you know what their mindset is. Also what if you discovered that your more cautious opponent in this game of chicken wasn’t actually in control of the car and had no ability to alter its path? You would then have no choice but to be the one who swerved first.

Now we move onto another interesting dynamic, what if your cautious opponent acted in such a way as to let you think that they didn’t have control of the car. By getting their opponent to think that they had no control over their actions then they have dramatically altered the relative actions of their opponent who now has no choice but to step aside.

What has this to do with poker? Well actually an awful lot and especially in tough aggressive cash games or in tournaments. Have you ever been sat with a player who has raised blind... or defended their big blind to a steal without looking at their hand?

These actions are sending a message or at least attempting to and that message is...  “look... I will put chips at risk without even looking at my hand. I am capable of illogical decisions and I have no fear of losing my tournament life”... or something to that effect.

These types of actions are a deliberately calculated move to attempt to alter the decision making processes of their opponents, usually to try and make them more readable. But the game of chicken is actually played out in cardrooms and in online poker games the world over and is one of the oldest games known to man. But the dynamics of this game are as intricate as the game is old and can be carried out in numerous different environments.

Would you really want to get involved in a fight with a man who had no fear of getting hurt, going to prison or in losing his own life? The answer is probably no as this confrontation may end up reaching a stage that you are not prepared for or can accept. But remember that everything that your opponent does at a poker table (live game) is either being done on a conscious or subconscious level.

If your opponents are making conscious actions then the are doing so for a reason and that reason is often an attempt to affect the decision making process of their opponents. By understanding the dynamics of the game of chicken, you an actually get one step ahead of these people.

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