Around the midpoint of a poker tournament, I'm sitting in the cutoff position and, as Doyle Brunson dictates in "Super/System" (both of them, if you're wondering), I'm looking over the players acting ahead of me. The first three dutifully muck their hands and there's a raise from a middle position player. The player, who has been an active participant at the table, looks as though the raise is the last thing he wants to do however, which Mike Caro says is either screaming a huge hand or a truism that he is attempting to steal the pot. The rest of the table folds as I look at my cards for the first time.
I look down to find a measly suited J-10. My first instincts are to follow the others and chuck the cards into the muck when Erick Lindgren's thoughts race to my mind that early action can be helpful in building your chip stack. David Sklansky's kicking in my cranium, screaming that J-10 is the only hand that makes four nut straights. With position on the early raiser, I fire a re-raise into the pot.
The button folds down as does the small blind, but the short-stacked big blind (who had his stack devastated when his Aces were cracked when a 6-5 flopped trips) comes over the top for his tournament life. The early raiser takes an eternity to muck his hand and the action comes to me. Pot odds calculations race through my skull and the voices of other authors such as Mike Sexton, Dan Harrington (who's chiding me for even attempting such a move as I just did), T. J. Cloutier and Tom McEvoy are clamoring for attention when, just as I go to make my decision, my head explodes across the table as if I was in the movie "Scanners".
OK, this didn't actually happen. But it does go to demonstrate the thoughts that can race through your head if you are actually working on your poker game. You can improve your performance in other physical sporting activities by simply hitting the weight room or consistently drilling on a segment of the game. In poker, however, you can't lift weights to give yourself a stronger game (but it can increase your endurance, as Gus Hansen has shown us). You might be able to perform dedicated drills, but they are faulty in that you set up the situations and don't have the ability to simulate the variety of plays that may come up against you. Thus, working with poker simulators, reading the various poker strategy manuals and books and viewing the DVD-documented thoughts of the greats in the game today are the way that many add extra spice to their game.
I once said I would never read a poker book; I felt that my game was strong enough on its own merits and that reading such material would only taint my game. This had a good news/bad news effect. While I was able to beat the games in my early youth around my university, into the military and for awhile afterwards, I rarely showed any success in the casinos. This bothered me somewhat, but I was able to counteract this with the bankroll built from my small pond away from the glittering lights of the open ocean of the casinos. With the advent of online poker and the development of the players in today's game, however, that early edge I carried was quickly whittled away. With that in mind, I broke that long-standing rule of never looking at a poker book and started reading. I haven't stopped since.
Since the plethora of poker books that have come onto the market, I have read probably in the neighborhood of 100 poker books (many of which you have seen my thoughts on here at PokerNews) and viewed DVDs. I have plotted situations with software and exercised tournament strategies ad nauseam. With this valuable information comes the potential effect that many might be having when they view some of the material out there today: what do you do when your brain goes into overload?
It is something that can easily happen to anyone. With the diversity of the information that is presented by many of the best players and greatest minds in the game today, a newcomer or even a longtime poker veteran can get conflicting ideas on approaching different situations that occur in the progress of a ring game or tournament. It is at this time that many players forget some basic tenets that they should always remember when it comes to the game of poker as a whole.
First off, a player has to be in charge of their game. While you can have access to poker books, simulators and sometimes even the players themselves, you have to be able to incorporate the wealth of data into the style of game that you play. Without the knowledge of your style and approach to poker, you cannot even attempt to implement a new play or strategy into it. A comprehension of your approach to the game allows you to have a solid base to work from before you attempt to tinker with it.
Secondly, just because you have the arrows in your quiver doesn't mean that they have to all be placed in the bow. Many players make the mistake of trying to attempt to put everything they have into that single setting at the table, whether in a ring game or a tournament. While it makes for a confusing table image, it can also backfire when you cross yourself up in the play of one or a multitude of hands. This can have a devastating effect when you haven't perfected the plays that come from outside your general playing style.
It is better to test these theories, thoughts and styles in a setting where it can't damage your bankroll or poker mentality severely, such as a small buy-in event, freeroll tournament or play chips online. Through these practice methods, you can successfully and objectively determine where these new thoughts can be exercised, in what situations they actually may work, and which ones you aren't comfortable with at all. Although the styles of players whose books you read may work well for them, it may be something you find uncomfortable putting into your arsenal.
Finally, if you find yourself in that cranium-busting situation that I discussed earlier, perhaps it is time to put some of the books aside. Too much information can be just as destructive to a psyche as not enough. Knowing when to slow the flow of information down to allow the brain to catch up could be one of the more critical things that you can do to take your game to the next level.
Overall, there is no better time to be a poker player than in today's world. A newcomer can capture the knowledge of the old-time "road gamblers" through the reading of select tomes and even the most knowledgeable players can pick up their games through exercising some of what they read or watch. It is a fine line between filling in the blanks in your game and overloading the computer that is your brain, however. Find the comfort zone that works for you in your poker reading and be sure to attempt to stick to it. With that, I'm off to read what Antonio Esfandiari and Lou Krieger think my next poker moves should be...