To win at poker you need to make correct decisions

Playing and winning at poker is all about making the right decisions

One of the side effects of being on TV is that people recognise you when you’re out and about. Of course, most of those who recognise me are poker fans. These fans often like to ask me about a recent hand they played – usually one that they lost. Often, these just turn out to be bad beat stories in disguise. However, sometimes the fan honestly doesn’t see it that way.

They think that since they lost the hand, they must have done something wrong. They put their money in while way ahead in a hand, but then lost so therefore must have played it badly. Or, even if they know they didn’t do anything wrong, they think that maybe there was a better way to play the hand that didn’t result in them losing as many chips.

In poker, there are smart decisions and right decisions, and being able to distinguish between the two is very important if you want long-term success. When you make a decision it may turn out to be right or wrong depending on what happens at the end of the hand. If you win the pot it was the ‘right’ decision and if you lose it was ‘wrong’. But it may also have been a smart, or a not-smart decision. Actually, enough of that, let’s just call it a dumb decision if that’s what it was.

However, not all smart decisions turn out right, and not all right decisions are smart. A simple example is calling bets to the river in a multi-way pot with a pair of threes, when it is obvious from the actions and the exposed cards that you’re up against a higher pair or better. The hand should have been folded long before the river was dealt, and calling this far was almost certainly a dumb decision.


However, if the river is a 3 and you win a huge pot, it clearly was the right decision to play on. Conversely, folding a weak hand early is usually a smart decision. However, when the hand is over and your 7?-2? would have made a full house then you clearly made a smart, but wrong, decision.

The best anyone can do, unless they are truly psychic, is to make smart decisions. No one knows what is going to happen in the future. However, if you make smart decisions, you have done the best you can towards making right decisions. In the long run, those who make the most smart decisions are also those who make the most right decisions.

Don’t blame yourself when a smart decision turns out wrong, and don’t pat yourself on the back when your dumb decision turns out right. Do learn from your results so that you can better estimate which decisions are smart in the future, and that’s the best you can do.

Overall, don’t worry about whether you made the right decision. The rightness of a decision can only be judged in hindsight, and nobody gets to make decisions using hindsight. Instead, focus on making the smart decision, and let the results sort themselves out in the long run.

GREG RAYMER is the 2004 WSOP main event champion and team PokerStars pro


Read more from Greg and other great poker pro’s in your free copy of PokerPlayer magazine here 

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