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StrategyPsychology

Patterns in Poker

Introduction

In this article
  • your actions are dictated by patterns you have already learned
  • how you can use certain patterns to retain control
  • learning and using profitable patterns in poker
  • performance review - how to check on yourself

You have decided that you want to learn a strategy that will make you a winner at the tables. You have read the basic articles and maybe watched some videos but you still don't feel confident at the tables.

Maybe you have learned the basics and worked your way through some bronze and silver articles but you don't want to get stuck. Maybe you are struggling to actually use the content when it comes to in-game situations.

Why is it so difficult to spontaneously make the right decisions? How can the PokerStrategy.com coaches play four tables, explain what they are doing and answer questions at the same time? How do they know what to do within a split second?

The coaches have seen any situation a countless number of times, even the ones that you think are a real challenge. They have seen many similar hands in the past. They use their past experience to make their decisions.

Nobody can remember every single hand that they have ever played. The human brain is unable to store such a vast amount of information. This is why our brains have developed a neat trick: instead of remembering every single situation we develop patterns that help us to make the right decision.

From the first hand you have ever played, your brain has started to develop patterns, whether you like it or not. It would otherwise be impossible to deal with the information that accumulates during the 60 to 100 hands per hour on any single table (online).

For example, you will remember that a set (three of a kind, as a result of a pocket pair and one matching card on the board) is a very strong hand. The more you use this pattern the easier and quicker you will be able to recall it.

The basic procedure at a poker table is always the same. 52 cards are dealt with the same rhythm. You make decisions that boil down to answering the same questions every time: Do I invest money and how much? Am I better off staying out of the hand?

However, you are never aware of all factors that would be required to make the perfect decision. You rarely have the time to even consider all the information that you do have. You don't have a choice. You have to make your decision based on patterns that you have learned in the past.

The big question is: do these patterns make you win?

Your brain is very creative in recognising patterns. When trying to organise the apparent chaos into sensible patterns your brain can make mistakes. This leads to conclusions like: "You can't win with AK" or "If you try to get your bonus on XYZ-Poker you always get useless cards".

These errors are not always obvious. Maybe you have won a lot of money holding a flush in Texas Hold'em lately which is obviously a great experience. This might make you think that any suited cards are a hand worth playing. If you start playing any suited hands you will start losing money in the long run.

It's obviously not enough to just play a lot of hands in order to become more experienced. Many players lose money month after month. Sometimes they win money but usually they lose it. Granted, sometimes they learn a thing or two but they never make big improvements.

How to remember profitable patterns in poker

Professional poker players have learned that it does not matter whether you win or lose with a certain hand. You have no say in what cards the dealer will reveal on the board. The only factor you can influence is the probability with which you will win.

The obvious conclusion is that you have to use the patterns that maximise your chances of winning in any given situation.

You can only be a winning player, if the patterns in your brain follow a winning strategy.

This is where the strategy articles on PokerStrategy.com come into play. They are full of patterns that will make you a winning player. It is up to you to find them, study them and use them at the tables.

It's not enough to just quickly browse through the articles. You brain will not learn the patterns by just superficially reading the articles once.

Patterns describe similar procedures. Often articles introduce certain names for a given pattern. You really have to literally "get to grips" with what the patterns describe. It's not enough to take a quick look. Much like a child will grab, shake and even taste a new item it has found, you need to carefully inspect the patterns that you learn in the strategy articles.

Step 1: print the strategy articles

It is always preferable to have a hardcopy of any article compared to reading it on-screen. It means not only can you see the article, but you can also touch it. This massively improves the learning effect. Highlighters don't seem to work too well on computer screens.

Step 2: look for possible patterns in the article and highlight them

Almost anything that happens frequently at the tables is a useful pattern. Articles describe hand categories, possible paths a hand can follow, your position, the number of opponents, certain types of opponents, bets before or after the flop and much more. Use different colours to highlight different passages. If you notice something interesting or have your own thoughts don't hesitate to write them down in the margins. Using arrows or symbols can also be helpful.

Step 3: look for relationships between patterns and sketch them on an empty piece of paper
Especially in basic articles, relationships often follow simple rules like: if..., then... .
Example no. 1:

From the Fixed Limit article „Before the flop – The first betting round“:

„If more than one raise happens before you bet, you muck all your hands except for the very strong ones, like AA, KK, QQ, AKs and AKo. With these hands you raise even further, as they are top hands and you can use them to inflict maximum pressure.“

How could you illustrate this rule in a sketch or table?

Be creative! You can use colours, arrows and symbols. Think of escape route signs and tables. Maybe you have heard of mind mapping?

Any "then" clause does not necessarily lead to an action. It might lead to another step i.e. deciding whether your hand is very strong, strong or marginal. The results of your thought process on your next step might be explained elsewhere.

Usually you have to take several pieces of information into consideration. There isn't a single "if-factor" but a whole host of events that need to occur simultaneously or instead of one another.

Example no. 2:

From the No-Limit BSS-article „After the flop – you raised pre-flop“:

„You've probably seen this before, either on TV or while playing yourself. The continuation bet on the flop is a standard move.

It can be a bluff, but it can also be a strong made hand. You will often make a contibet when you don't hit anything, but to do so you need the right flop and the right opponents.

A bluff continuation bet against an opponent who doesn't like to fold on the flop won't get you far. There are good flops for bluffing and there bad flops for bluffing. The most important thing to avoid is bluffing on draw heavy boards…“

Even the short quote should be enough, to answer the following questions:

  • What do you need to take into consideration, to decide against a continuation bet?
  • Can you illustrate the basic conditions for a conti bet in a sketch or table?

The article looks at the conti bet on the flop for several pages. Your simple patterns will have to turn to elaborate structures.

Step 4: Revise your notes the next day

Put your print-outs and articles into a file with your sketches and notes. Look back at them a day or two after that and revise them again.

Can you explain the basic content of a strategy article using only your sketches? What would you have to add or change so you can?

Repetition is a basic element of learning. It's what deeply engrains patterns into your brain.

Step 5: You sit down at the tables and use the patterns you have studied

Although your sketches should be exciting, we all know that theory is boring. You have done a lot of work and learned a lot but your real goal is to use the patterns spontaneously when you need them. You won't usually have the time to get back to your notes.

Practice makes perfect! Using the patterns will help you to have them readily available whenever you need them.

Your goals will be different to the usual ones when you play in a practice session. It's not your goal to earn as much money as possible as quickly as possible. Sometimes it's a good idea to play lower limits when you want to practice.

  • You set your pokersoftware up to save your hand history locally
  • You play fewer tables than usual, maybe one or two
  • Take it easy! You use the new things that you have learned as much as possible without losing your mind
  • Keep your notes by your computer. You can use them to aid the decision making process if you have enough time
  • You highlight or note down any hands that you want to review later on (the appendix of this article will teach you how)
  • Write down random questions and ideas. Go on sit-out for a hand or two if you have to
  • There is no shame in making mistakes. They can help you if you see them and work on them.

Performance review– how to check on yourself

Good and bad decisions will be saved into your memory and saved as patterns. You will want to repeat successful ones and avoid the ones that failed to produce the desired outcome. You have learned important skills via the trial and error concept all your life. That's why you avoid sticking your hands into fire.

This principle doesn't really work in poker.

You have already learned that judging from one pot you may have won or lost can make you remember unprofitable patterns. You can bet all you want holding AA with another A on the board. It doesn't mean that some fish won't make the flush on the river holding 72 having played an awful hand. What matters is how often you will lose with a similar hand.

After you've played your hands, you need to check whether you stuck to your plan. Again your sketches will be very useful because they show graphically what you have summed up from the articles.

  • It's best to not analyse your hands immediately after you've played them. However, you should still remember what was going on during the game. Leaving a couple of hours or maybe days before looking back at them is ideal.
  • Revise all hands that you have highlighted during your practice session.
  • You can also add hands where you won a lot, lost a lot or hands that you find interesting for other reasons.
  • Have your printed strategy articles and the notes you made nearby.
  • Did you stick to the patterns that you have learned?
  • Where did you deviate from the pattern and why?
  • Where did you stick to the pattern but think that it might have been a mistake?

When you go through the hands you have played, you will most likely run into spots that you cannot completely analyse by yourself. PokerStrategy.com provides you with the opportunity to discuss those spots with other members. You can use the sample hand forums to have your hands looked at and questions answered by experienced members who will help you improve your game.

  • Post any hand that you are unsure of on the sample hand forums of PokerStrategy.com.
  • Be precise when you ask questions! You should have spent some time looking at the hand so you will know exaclty what you are looking for in the analysis. This will help to get an answer to the aspect of the hand that you're interested in.

Go to the No-Limit forums

Go to the Fixed Limit forums

Go to the SNG and MTT forums

How to continue

Learning patterns the way we have described it in this article is hard work. However, there is a great reward that comes with the effort you put in. You will gain greater insight into what's happening at the tables. You will be sure about the decisions you make. In return you will earn more money by avoiding costly mistakes.

Maybe you will even see a pattern in your opponent's game. This will help you determining his hand range which is a huge step in the right direction.

  • Make sure you use the educational content on PokerStrategy.com.
  • Coachings and videos can further help you find and understand profitable patterns.

You will be learning from successful and experienced poker players. Look for patterns in their game that you have already learned. They will often refer to these patterns by the same terminology which you learned in the strategy articles.

Sometimes you will notice that the coaches play differently from what you would have done. If they don't explain why they did it, it's up to you to ask them. During public coachings you can ask them right away. If you have a question about a video you can ask them in the comments. More detailed discussion of the videos will take place in the Coaching, Video and Hand Evaluation Feedback Forum.

Any exchange of ideas will improve your poker game. The hand evaluation forums can also be used to express your opinion on hands that other players have posted.

You progress will usually come in big leaps rather than being linear. Occasionally you will have an enlightening experience. Suddenly you will understand relationships between events that you didn't see before.

From time to time, it is worth looking back at strategy articles that you have worked on. After you have tried and tested the patterns that you have memorised, you will hopefully find new aspects in the articles that you haven't notice before. Revise your sketches and see if you can't extend or improve them.

Maybe you have been warned about schematic poker based on simple patterns („ABC-Poker“). For now you don't have to worry about this. Very rarely will there be players on micro limits that can read your game and adjust to it.

When you play higher limits the game will become more demanding. You will have to extend several concepts and learn new patterns.

Advanced articles will put less emphasis on simple instructions following "if..., then..." patterns. Finding a single correct answer will become more difficult. You will get introduced to new concepts that you should include in your game. However, they will still be patterns. You will build a repertoire of tools that you can use in any given situation.

As you progress with your game, you will start to consider more and more information when you make your decisions. In the initial strategy articles you will learn how to beat opponents that you are likely to face on low limits. When playing higher limits, especially when you play shorthanded, you will play most hands heads up against one opponent. Advanced articles focus on how you need to modify your strategy to win against any particular type of opponent.

You will also learn more about the basic concepts which explain the guidelines for beginners. This will help you to recognise situations where it is profitable to deviate from those guidelines.

Eventually you will learn how to mask the strength of your hand. The keywords will be deception and balancing.

The methods that you have learned in this article also apply to more advanced articles on PokerStrategy.com. It will still be about learning and using patterns.

Summary

You have learned that you will find yourself in reoccurring similar situations. You will see patterns that will help you to assess the situation and make the right decisions to maximise your winnings in the long run.

You have seen how you can be creative when studying and applying patterns in poker. Regular performance review sessions will help you to find mistakes and avoid them in future. You will see what patterns other players use and how, when you attend public coachings or watch videos.

If you put enough effort into it, you will be able to have a significant advantage over other players on low limits. You will stand out on the lower limits because you will know what you are doing and why. This will make you a winner at the poker tables. If you are a winning player already, try and improve even further.

Good luck and have fun!

Appendix – Marking a hand for review while playing

Recording and marking hands using the PokerStrategy Elephant

The easiest way to mark hands for review is to have a program running that records your hands. One tool which can do it is the PokerStrategy.com Elephant, which you can download for free and use without restriction for a limited amount of time. More about the program, the current version and the license agreement can be found here.

Even if you don't have the necessary amount of StrategyPoints to get the full version of the Elephant, you will have access to the features you need to review your hands. You can mark a recently played hand for review with one mouse click. The tab "Hands" will show you all played hands in an easy to read format. You can then activate a filter to only show marked hands. Using the Elephant it is easy to convert hands to a format that's compatible with the forums.

Recording hands using the Windows clipboard

This method works for all poker sites which store their hands in text. You can copy the text to the clipboard and paste them (CTRL + V) into a notepad file that you have already opened. This way you can save all hands that you want to review into one file.

Recording hand numbers

All poker sites assign sequential numbers to all hands dealt. Usually the number of the current hand and the previous hand will be displayed somewhere on the table. You can write down the number of the hand that you want to review later on. At the end of the session you can open the hand history on your hard drive and look for the number of your hand using the search function.

 

Comments (7)

#1 Jafreiteris, 12 Nov 09 19:10

Cammon, more articles in Bronze section

#2 ironmask92, 14 Nov 09 05:47

once you reach silver, you won't want any more articles, :p

#3 foolboydesire, 08 Jan 11 19:30

simple but awesome article !

#4 Pouserly2, 12 Aug 11 09:05

Very good article , worth the read!

#5 Gunn56, 22 Aug 11 17:47

great article ... never thought i could say this but starting to like reading esepcially if its about poker and can help me win more cash ...

#6 ojogojogado, 01 Nov 11 17:20

congrats! nice article..

#7 DougWatts, 28 Feb 14 07:40

Never knew how easy this was! <br /> Had a bunch of hands in the past I would of loved to do this with!