Trusting your instincts vs. analytical play Part 1
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- Published June 26th, 2012 in Poker Strategy & Tips
One of the most oft-repeated mantras in the world of poker is to be detached from your emotions while you are playing; in fact I have espoused this myself for many years. Today I’m here to tell you that I was wrong, dead wrong, on this matter, and in this two-part article I will explain why your emotions are every bit as important at a poker table as your ability to reason.
The emotions produced by your brain (perhaps a better word to use here is intuitions) allows you to quickly draw upon your experiences to make a lightning-fast decision: Your analytical brain does just the opposite; it overrides your feelings and instincts, forcing you to look at things from a completely logical perspective.
Imagine a squirrel that happens across a cat. The squirrel has a number of choices to make:
- Stand still and hope the cat doesn’t see him, or simply doesn’t care to bother with the squirrel
- Run in the opposite direction
- Look for safety in a nearby tree
Fortunately for the squirrel, nature has provided the emotions needed to make a split second decision based on the proximity of the cat, the cat’s posture (which tells the squirrel a lot about the animal’s intentions), and the environment. If the squirrel were to try to logically arrive at the safest decision, he would do so inside the cat’s mouth. The squirrel simply doesn’t have time to work out the distance to the nearest tree and compare this to the precise distance between the cat and himself, as well as the running speed of both animals.
The same holds true for experienced poker players; most of the time the answers will come from our emotions: a sudden pang of fear, a feeling of satisfaction, and so on. You may not even know why these feelings have surfaced, and that’s fine; what matters is that you pay attention to them. Chances are your brain picked-up on a movement by your opponent, or a particular pattern that your brain correlates to a certain emotion based on your experience.
Emotions don’t necessarily mean you are on tilt, emotions can be subtle, and it’s these subtle shifts in emotions you should be paying particular attention to. When your opponent bets out of nowhere and an alarm bell goes off in your head, stop and listen, it may just save you at the poker tables. You may not have noticed it, but your brain may have picked up on a very subtle cue by your opponent that it has seen 1,000 different times in the past from other players, and every time your brain has logged this information (or the overwhelming majority) you have lost: This quick sense of danger is no different than a rustling branch to a squirrel; a squirrel that is experienced enough to know the difference between the wind rustling the branch and a potential predator.
Squirrel’s don’t ‘freeze’ every time a branch moves, but they do when the branch is rustled by a predator: It’s the environmental cues that sets off the alarm bell inside the squirrel’s head: The branch makes the same noise, the same motion, but something is different, and the squirrel’s brain knows it, even if the squirrel doesn’t.
In part 2 of this series I’ll take a look at what situations call for a player to use an analytical approach to the game and what situations a player is better off leaving up to the instincts.
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