Poker Strategy

Why You HAVE TO Be Yourself At The Poker Table

Why You HAVE TO Be Yourself At The Poker Table

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a game where every player, coach, and professional has a different answer to the question of “what’s the right way to play?”, there is a wildly underrated piece of advice:

Be Yourself.

Let’s explore what this means from a functional perspective by taking a look at two key areas that make up who we are and reflecting on how to adapt our game to our unique strengths and skill sets.

Cognitive Framework – GTO vs Intuitive

What was once referred to as being either a “math” or “feel” player has since evolved to taking either an intuitive or “GTO” approach to the game.

GTO – or Game Theory Optimal – applies to an approach heavily dictated on mathematical discipline and an ingrained lack of exploitability. It involves studying and memorizing a wide range of scenarios and the optimal plays for each. Conversely, intuitive play focuses on reading opponents, understanding table dynamics, and leveraging the breadth of one’s poker experience to make gameplay decisions.

When it comes to Being Yourself at the poker table, it’s critical to align your gameplay with your cognitive framework and natural talents. Logical players who excel at systems and complex problem solving might be best suited for a GTO approach, while empathetic players adept at reading people and situations may be better suited for an intuitive approach.

Of course, the question shouldn’t be “either/or” but rather “to what extent.” Meaning that regardless of how intuitive you are, there is no excuse for not mastering the basics of poker math. Conversely, focusing only on math without paying attention to the players at the table or specific situation at hand can be equally as destructive. Again, not either/or, but to what extent.

Emotional Framework & Risk Tolerance – TAG vs LAG

Although LAG (loose aggressive) play means something wildly different today than it did a decade ago when you could just indiscriminately smash the bet button and be rewarded more often than not, there is still ample room along the aggressiveness spectrum for both LAGs and TAGs (tight aggressive).

Generally speaking, TAGs have a lower risk tolerance and adhere to a more structured emotional framework while LAGs are more willing to take risks and be better able to withstand the increased variance inherent within this approach.

Thus, Being Yourself at the poker table requires understanding where you fall on the risk tolerance spectrum – as well as how well you manage your emotional reactivity. Can you handle consecutive bad beats for your entire stack? Can your ego adapt when you have to slow down and allow an opponent with a bigger stack to outLAG you on the bubble? Are you patient enough to employ the more conservative strategy required at a 10-handed cash game table? Whatever your natural and unique inclinations are at the poker table, make sure to swim with the current and learn how to optimize them in your favor.

In a game where strategies and playing styles are as diverse as the people who play them, the only sure bet is being yourself. The goal then is to align your natural talents and emotional resilience with your gameplay, and in doing so, find a profitable strategy that is unequivocally yours. By leaning into your authenticity, and practicing continuous self-reflection and self-correction, you not only improve your odds as a poker player, but also your connection to the person you truly are.

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