Going With Your Gut in Poker

Although poker is a game of math, odds and optimal strategies, sometimes it all comes down to a feeling. Being able to trust that instinct and go with your read can be the difference between being a good player, and being a great player. Let‘s look at a hand I played during the recent World Series of Poker Europe.

The blinds were 100/200 with a 25 ante and at my table was a pro whose name escapes me. I was sitting on about 45,000 in chips and he had a little bit less with about 30,000. The action was folded around to me in fifth position and I made my standard preflop raise. The person in the cutoff called, and so did the pro that was on the button. The flop was 10-10-6, and although I missed it I felt that my opponents most likely missed as well, so I bet 1,600. The gentleman in the cutoff folded, and the pro on the button just called.

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As soon as he called my bet, my gut told me was floating. For those unfamiliar, floating, is calling a bet with absolutely nothing on the flop in hopes of either picking up a hand, or a draw on the turn or also to simply try and outplay their opponent, in this case me, on the turn or river.

Assuming he was going to play back at me no matter what the turn was, I decided to check raise before even seeing the turn card, which was an off-suit deuce. As I anticipated after I checked my opponent bet 3,000, a little smaller than a pot-sized bet and I raised it up to 10,000 total. My opponent than did something I was not quite expecting and put in another raise, making it 17,500 and leaving himself with 10,000 behind. Even though I had nothing in this situation, my instinct could not get past the initial feeling that he was floating the turn, and I decided to move all in causing my opponent to quickly fold his hand and watch I as I flipped over my ace-high with a seven kicker.

Playing this type of poker can be very stressful, as if you do get called a lot of the time people will give you odd looks and question your sanity. However when you do go with your gut, and it‘s correct it can give you a huge deal of confidence, which can help you focus even harder at the task at hand; winning the tournament.

Here are some tips to help you get your poker instincts finely tuned:

Don‘t be afraid to fail:

So often you will here “I know your bluffing, but I just don‘t have a hand.” or I‘ll let you get away with it this time.” Instead of giving up, why not put your opponent to the test and go with your read. Sure there will be times that you are wrong, but that‘s OK. It‘s all part of the process of getting better as a player. Play some lower limit sit-n-go‘s or MTT‘s on Ultimate Bet and practice following your instincts. You‘ll be surprised at often your opponent will fold.

Understand the Situation:

Its easy to get caught up in the moment when you are deciding to go with your gut, but be aware of all the factors at hand. If you move all-in, does your opponent have enough chips behind to fold, or will he have to call you? Is the player tilting due to losing a big hand just prior to this? Are there softer players at the table to pick on? Analyze everything, because although your read my be dead on, there are times when no matter what your gut says your opponent will call you, and his junky hand may even be ahead of your junky hand..

Mix it Up:

Utilizing moves like this with no hand is extremely dangerous, because you can then use a similar play, or move when you actually have a monster.. In these cases, you‘ll still be using your instincts, but instead of feeling out if a player is weak, try and feel how strong he is. If you get a sense he can‘t get away from it, put him to the test, you‘ll happily take some huge pots on occasion.

It‘s ok to fold:

Some times going with your gut means folding. We‘ve all been there wanting to just stick it in with aces, knowing full well our opponent out flopped us, but we still make the crying call. Stop it. If you think your beat, fold your hand and wait for a better spot. There is no reason to go broke when every ounce of you is screaming “Fold!”

Becoming a winning poker player does not happen over night. While using your instincts is an imperative part of the game, like anything else you need to practice and hone in on your skills before putting them to use on the biggest stages. So get out there on the tables and play, but remember to use some of that time to work on new ways to improve your game and if that means going with your gut, then go for it.

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