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Gut Instinct At The Poker Table

Gut instincts are often misunderstood, especially by weak poker players and those who are superstitious. I’ll preface this article by stating I am no psychologist and everything I write today is from my experience and discussions with Jared Tendler, a highly regarded mental performance coach.

My inspiration for this article stemmed from being at the table and consistently hearing weak players, and even strong players, chime in with “I should have trusted my gut” after a hand. What exactly does this mean and what exactly is your gut instinct?

More Than A Feeling

The gut isn’t any magical instinct or sense that your body has. In its simplest form, your gut instinct is you instantly analyzing the situation and providing an answer. In psychology terms, it is your mind’s unconscious competence kicking into play. Basically, these are things you know so well that your mind does not need to think any more and does it subconsciously without your knowledge. One example of this is looking down at 7-2 offsuit and instantly knowing to fold. You don’t have to think about it, your mind just knows.

Back In The Day

My first introduction to gut instincts was in school while test taking. A piece of advice teachers always give is to go with your first instinct, AKA your gut. The reason for this is exactly from the above, our mind has instantly processed the question and dug through its resources and provided an answer. You are taught to go with your first instinct because you are answering with information ingrained in your head. Now, that doesn’t mean that information is correct, but it is what you have studied and your brain knows as correct. Unchecked, gut instinct can be a problem in poker as it can lead us to repeating the same mistakes over and over without noticing.

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Going Against The Gut

One thing that I have been working on in my game is not trusting my gut, but instead confirming my gut. I recently wrote an article on impulse plays and how they are a problem in my game. Sometimes this comes from incorrect information in my gut. My gut is instantly processing information and spits out that I should raise for example. One thing that I think is tough for the gut to analyze is adjustments and information at the table. By slowing down and confirming my gut instinct through my decision-making process, I strengthen my decision making at the table.

Continuing the above reasoning on why you need to confirm your gut is because of bad habits. Over your career as a poker player you develop bad habits that become ingrained in your game. You do them subconsciously and they are difficult to break. For me, it is being over aggressive in spots. My gut has naturally adapted to generating aggressive decisions. It becomes important for me to confirm these instincts rather than act on them as some of my bad habits are still formed in instinct. It takes a lot of practice, study and dedication to fully correct subconscious bad habits.

Learn to recognize what your gut instincts are. Practice a decision-making process that confirms your gut, rather than instantly acting on your gut. Recognize when your old, bad habits are creeping into your game and that you have not fully corrected them.

Best of luck at the tables,
Matt

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