Poker is a very simple game when you break it down to its core. There are 4 major cornerstones behind every play you make in poker, and if you always keep them in mind, you will make much better decisions. Players fail because they are either ignorant to these cornerstones, or they flat out abandon them when making real-time decisions. Whether you are new to poker, or have been playing for years…take a moment to drill the MALE System into your brain.

Math

I know, I know…nobody gets excited about math. But even the most ‘feel-based’ player in the world realizes there is some math in poker. There are the basic mathematical elements and there are also more complicated mathematical elements and formulas…but to be honest, you don’t need a PHD in math to succeed in poker. A basic understanding of pot odds, equities, and expected value will do just fine.

Most of the time we end up taking our assumptions, running them against the math, and then executing them if everything is logical and profitable. We’ll tackle the other elements in a moment, but if you are serious about becoming a solid player, consider picking up Hull’s new poker math book showing you all the math (and mental shortcuts for the math) you need:

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Assumptions

Since poker is a game of incomplete information, assumptions are the best we can do. We need to make assumptions about what our opponents are likely to do and what their ranges look like. Of course, this is much easier when we’ve played with someone for a long period of time…but it’s extremely difficult when we have very little (or even zero) information on a player.

That being said, we still need to make some sort of assumptions. Ed Miller wrote a great article lately about Bayes Theorem and how you can use that model. Personally I use default assumptions when I have no other information to use. For instance, if a new player open-raises from MP at a $2/$5 live table I ask myself “what do I think the average player opens from MP at a live $2/$5 table?” and go from there. Just make an assumption, stick with it throughout the hand, and revise your assumptions as time goes on and you gather more information.

Logic

Being logical is everything in poker. And by this I mean two things:

  1. Be logical in the assumptions you make
  2. Be logical, rather than emotional, when making decisions

The first point goes back to assumptions, but it’s crucial to understand. For instance, if a nit opens from EP in a 10-handed game and the board runs out: J♠ T♥ 6♥ 5♣ 3♦, it’s not logical to assume he has the nuts (74) since a nit wouldn’t open 74 from EP. This is why logic is one of my 3 L’s when it comes to hand reading:

The next point about logic relates to the mental game. So many players mistakenly make decisions out of emotion; be it ego, tilt, or something else. But at the end of the day, those decisions aren’t made using math, correct assumptions, or good logic. Focus on making sure all your actions are logical, based upon logical assumptions, and made from the correct part of your brain.

Execution

The final element of poker is executing the best play based upon the other 3 elements. It’s useless to develop the best play and then NOT execute it…just like it’s useless to execute the wrong play. Honestly, when players fail at execution it’s typically a mental issue. The common ones I see in students are:

  1. Fear of pulling the trigger
  2. Tilting in the form of self-sabotage
  3. Executing based upon incorrect logic/assumptions

Points 1 and 3 can often times be solved with studying. The more you study poker, the more confidence you’ll have in knowing the correct play. This ensures your assumptions are solid, that the logic behind your play is solid, and that the play itself would be solid if you pulled the trigger. The more you exercise your study muscles off the table, the easier it becomes to find and take the right plays.

Point 2 (along with other forms of tilting) is a mental leak that requires some attention. Get introspective and start asking yourself WHY you are making the plays you make. If you are naturally a logical person and you find the answers you are coming up with are illogical, you’ve uncovered an area that requires extra attention. Often times these are things are totally unrelated to poker…so fixing them would benefit not just your poker game…but your life as a whole!

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In an ideal world we’d be a master in all 4 of these elements, but remember that the assumptive element is always in flux. Things like math and logic are set in stone, and execution is just something you monitor and maintain as you grow as a person. But assumptions are in flux due to common ranges changing, common lines adjusting, etc. Work first on building core competencies in all of these areas, and then work on mastering them one by one. And if nothing else, before making any decision make sure you check that it passes the MALE System to ensure your plays make sense..

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