The Perils of Poker Autopilot
There are still rich pickings in poker, if you can keep your wits about you. There’s no room for complacency though, gone are the days you could sit down barely focused and hammer out an easy profit.
Now it takes study away from the table, and grit and dedication at the felt to make it in the game, and it is all too easy in a long online grind to let that slide in one way or another.
In this piece we’ll look at why autopilot is a big part of this problem, as well as figuring out how it is that we tend to fall into autopilot mode, and what happens to our game when we do so.
Of course we won’t leave you hanging on this one, we’ll also set you up with some killer techniques for avoiding or eliminating most of the harm of autopilot mode in-game.
What is Autopilot?
Autopilot is a notion strongly related to drift in poker - when we stop taking conscious focus and responsibility for our decisions in the game, we switch into a default mode of play which treats every decision as “standard” and doesn’t stop to consider the nuances of a spot, we usually lose precision as well and end up with a decayed version of our best poker game.
As our focus lapses, autopilot kicks in and our game degrades from our “A game” to at least our “B game” or worse. When we are on our A game we are executing everything we understand about the game to the best level we possibly can - we are on point, deeply focused, not allowing our emotions to undermine our play, and “in the zone”.
When we are on our B game we might still turn a profit, but our play is more automated, less thoughtful, less engaged, and more liable to error or poor and unexamined assumptions. We might be more liable to misclick or misread the situation, or fail to take good stock of a piece of pertinent information.
We might misjudge a line plan or become overly optimistic or disheartened without noticing our emotional involvement, or we might just fudge our figures a bit too much when estimating our implied odds. We may make rounding errors, inattention mistakes may creep in, or we may begin to simply play too fast and not allow ourselves time to properly take authority over our own decisions.
A Universal Issue
If any of this sounds familiar, I’m not surprised. This is a universal affliction, and really part and parcel of being human. Happily there’s much we can do to improve our relation to autopilot. Still, the very fact of it, the fact that we can’t always be in deep focus mode, is natural enough.
Human beings get tired, and they lose focus. They are highly intelligent creatures but this also includes the intelligence to fool themselves, and to studiously ignore a nagging feeling they don’t want to listen to. The voice saying you’d be best off taking a break, or that you’re clicking your decisions too fast. That’s a voice worth listening to a little more.
Autopilot isn’t all bad however. In fact, there are some plus sides to being able to go into autopilot mode, as we’ll explore next.
Why Does Autopilot Happen?
In our ability to learn and advance in our skill sets, it is highly useful to be able to internalise and make certain learned skills “second nature”, there’s even evidence that the processing of certain well-learned skills passes out of the frontal lobes to another area of our physical brain once we have learned it well enough.
Take the example of driving a car. When you first learn this skill, it requires a tremendous amount of conscious attention to master, and you must focus on several disparate skills and areas at once, including shifting gears (if driving manual), the road before and behind, the speedometer, pedals, etc.
However, once you have learned to drive, you are able to make this combination of highly skilled judgements about relative velocities and distances rapidly and accurately, even whilst tuning the radio or having a conversation with a passenger.
You have internalised these consciously learned skills, and that’s a good thing as it allows your conscious mind time to focus on any particular new elements which get introduced, such as the appearance of a hazard on the road.
Thus the internalising of learned skills is an important part of how we learn and improve, and of how conscious, focused learning and our honed instincts in the form of in-game intuitions can interact and work together.
On this analysis there’s nothing as such wrong with autopilot, if this relates only to certain areas of our game, such as the rapid intuition of direct pot odds or outs which we’ll gain after a certain amount of study and play. This clears space in our conscious mind for consideration of more nuanced aspects of a hand, such as precise range analysis across the streets of play.
Where Things Go Wrong
Autopilot becomes a problem when that is all or most of what is happening, rather than one level of our play. If we aren’t actually engaging with conscious attention, that’s when autopilot takes over the operation entirely, and our game lapses to some kind of basic botting of what we know how to do.
All finesse, creativity, self-checking and detailed observation and decision-making is pretty much lost when this occurs, not to mention losing the ability to consciously track our emotional state and whether frustration is starting to drive our decisions.
And believe me, autopilot and tilt is a super expensive combination.
What Triggers Autopilot and How Can We Avoid It?
A really wide array of elements can factor in to exactly when and how autopilot can end up taking over our grind.
First and foremost we have simple tiredness. It has been scientifically demonstrated that our optimal periods for intense focus are around thirty minutes, and that short breaks from this focus can aid us immensely in maintaining that over longer periods.
So how we structure our grind, and how we use our breaks can be essential in extending the period for which we can play our A game.
Getting away from the screen, even glancing away from it during play can help.
It will also surely help to keep a good healthy exercise regime and social life / time spent outside. These are all key to a sustainable poker career.
A big part of the solution also lies in setting our intention and clearly and consciously trying to keep track of where our head is at in-game. If we notice we’re lapsing into autopilot, it’s much easier to correct if we catch it early.
Poker is a game full of high IQ people making a limited number of tough decisions per hour. Of course their attention will sometimes lapse. There are some nice tricks to staying engaged in-game which we’ll explore towards the end of this article.
Sometimes autopilot can be induced by something a little more pernicious. There are times when tilt is somewhat to blame. Sometimes we just don’t want to take responsibility for our decision-making, and we pass the buck to autopilot. This comes up a lot with my poker students, especially those who like to click their decisions rapidly.
At times they don’t allow themselves to think through a spot, in the heat of the moment they just click, and doing so is a way of absconding from responsibility for the discomfort of making those decisions, even if it might be an illusory escape. This is a sort of autopilot mode setup as a proxy for avoiding responsibility, rather than a drift into autopilot thanks to exhaustion or lapsing focus. Sometimes these things can be too close to see clearly.
In-Game Remedies for Autopilot
We’ve spoken about how to support your grind by setting up your life right, but what about how to avoid or recover from autopilot mode within a session?
You can start out by staying mindful of your intention to play your A game. Remind yourself every 20 minutes or so that you are planning to stay focused, attentive, to enjoy the game, and to think in-depth about the details of each spot, be it the range of your opponents in the hand, your own image, your line plan for the rest of the hand, or other material factors.
Stay in the game, don’t allow boredom or inattention to take your edge away, or take away your pure enjoyment of the challenge of what you’re choosing to spend your time doing.
One great trick for staying focused in poker is to pay attention to the hands you aren’t involved in. Try to keep track of the players’ decision points in hands you are merely observing, having already folded, and consider their ranges across the streets.
See if any showdowns match up with the ranges you had in mind. Think about what takeaways you can draw from any observed action about the contestants’ thought processes and competencies or leaks. Build a profile of each player as the orbits proceed.
A famous speaker, Baba Ram Dass once said that boredom is merely lack of attention. There’s always something interesting to think about if you know how to look at the world. This is absolutely true of poker too. Don’t let yourself off the hook, and find a way to stay engaged.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about how to understand and get beyond autopilot here at PokerDeals, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on this tough cookie.
Good luck on the grind!
Ever feel overwhelmed by choice? The modern online poker player really does suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to game choice in the online scene, and we're here to help you narrow down your options (as well as your opponent's range). In this instalment in the guide series we'll walk you through all of the most popular forms of poker being played today, and indicate which of these are available across multiple types of poker beyond No Limit Hold'em. We'll also dip into some variants within each format, where applicable. Our aim in this piece is to give you the very best start in choosing which formats to settle on for your own grind, so in each case we'll try to give you a thorough sense of the pros and cons of each one for your average grinder. Cash Game Poker Let's start as simple as it comes with cash games. These are the original deal, games where you can sit down and stand up as you wish, there's a minimum and maximum buy-in, blinds are fixed and chips is chips, what you sit down with is what you play with. Typically players will sit with 100bbs, so for a $1/$2 blinds cash game, you'd usually sit with $200. This is the max at many cash game tables. The minimum buy-in for cash tables tends to range from 20-50bbs, and short stackers are often frowned upon as they will often "hit and run” a table by doubling up and then leaving. Deepstack cash game (200bb+) is the most complex form of poker out there, and is available on some sites, as are capped tables where only short-stacks may play. A popular format within cash is zoom, or fast-fold poker, in which players are entered into pools and reseated on a new table with players from that pool as soon as they've folded their hand. This makes for much faster play and many more hands per hour. Zoom tables are often capped at 4 maximum, but grinders of regular speed cash tables have been known to play anywhere between 6-24 cash games at a time. Rake is an important consideration in cash game poker, and rakeback is a big component of regulars' income at the tougher games (rake is also generally higher in the lowest stakes). See our poker sites review page for more info on how we can help secure the best rakeback deals. Six-max is now surely the most popular form of cash game online, although you will also find games running Heads-up (2-handed), 8-handed, and 9-handed. Cash games available online span a huge range of buy-ins, from $0.01/$0.02 games where you would sit with $2 for 100bbs, up to $5/$10 where you'd sit with $1,000 for 100bbs and even higher stakes running at times on certain sites. Cash games are available on certain sites in almost any format including 8-game, but the most popular by far is NLHE, followed by PLO. You can also find various variants, in particular Omaha Hi-Lo and NL 6+ are somewhat popular on certain sites. Another twist you might find on certain apps is a straddle, which is a third blind (twice the size of the big blind), or certain games running with antes of different sizes. This tends to boost the aggression of the action in-game, since there's more to be won in the middle. Cash game play is well-suited to anyone who likes to study the intricacies of postflop poker, who wants to work with a bankroll of around 50 buy-ins, who likes the prospect of putting in hundreds of thousands of hands of play as they progress up the stakes, who wants to play against tougher opponents as they progress and who prefers to play poker in instalments of a few hours at a time. The main benefits of cash game poker are the low variance relative to other formats, the significance of rakeback for your bottom line, and the convenience of the flexible hours it offers. The main downside is that it is relatively tough compared to some other formats, and that some players find it less engaging due to always playing at the same stack depth. Tournament Poker Tournament poker subdivides into several formats, but first a word about the overall grouping. Tournaments are essentially any game into which you enter with a fixed buy-in amount for which you receive chips, and then cannot exchange these chips for real money again until you place in the tournament. The blinds go up in fixed increments at fixed time intervals, forcing players to elimination as stacks become shorter in big blinds. outs usually go to roughly the top 12-18% of finishers, or up to 30% in the case of small sit and go tournaments (SNGs) of 6-9 players. In big field multi-table tournaments (MTTs), the lion's share of the payouts goes to the top three finishers, making for a game format with extremely high variance but potentially life-changing reward. Multi-table Tournaments (MTTs) Because of the huge prize money on offer tournament poker, particularly big field MTTs, have remained one of the softest poker formats in existence online, and will likely be the softest remaining format in the future, aside from new formats which may emerge which no-one yet knows how to play or study. ICM is a model used to estimate the relative value of different stack sizes in terms of their potential to cash for different amounts in the payout structure. Multi-table tournament (MTT) poker is well-suited to anyone who loves the thrill of a deep run and attempting to come out on top despite the long odds, who is interested in studying different ranges needed for different stack depths, is interested in how the payouts affect ranges, who is prepared to play for long sessions of 8-10 hours or more and who is able to stand the psychological pressure of huge variance and big down and up swings. The main benefits of MTT poker are the softness of the games, the interest value of the dynamic nature, with stack depths changing often, and the sheer fun of taking a big title in a headline event. Naturally the big payouts on offer for the top spots are a major draw as well. The main downsides of MTT poker are the crushing swings possible in a format with very high variance, and the sheer time outlay required. MTTs tend to run for NLHE and PLO, but rarely for other formats except during major series. Some MTTs are freezeouts, meaning you cannot re-enter if you bust out. Some are re-entry, and allow either a fixed or unlimited number of re-entries within the late registration period. Others are rebuys, meaning usually that you can buy in for multiple stacks at the start, and at several points during the late registration period, as well as adding on chips at the end of that period, for an additional fee. Now you're well equipped to play almost anything, what will you choose? Let us know over at our PokerDeals Discord ! by Lucky Luke
If you missed the premiere, you've got to catch this awesome podcast we put together with champ and gentleman Greg Raymer . With some serious wins under his belt including shipping the WSOP Main Event back in 2004 for a sweet $5 million first prize , the Fossilman (as Raymer is better known) has crushed the tournament circuit for decades as well as being a very successful cash game player, specialising in Limit Hold'em and HORSE (a mixed game format). In this special extended 100-minute podcast, Raymer talks us through his experience in cash game play, and how he got started in the beautiful game. He also goes into a fascinating account of how he gathers live reads in poker, and how to avoid tilt . Raymer explores some very interesting areas of poker strategy in this podcast, including how to use randomness to improve your game, as well as his views on poker intuition . Of course, we round out the interview as usual with our fun quickfire round of questions, bringing to a conclusion this excellent installment of the PokerDeals Podcast! For those of you who prefer to listen in without video, you can also catch the show on Apple or Spotify at the click of a button! Be sure to hop in our Discord to let us know what you thought of the show, and tune in next time to catch us chatting with poker legend Jeff Gross ! By Lucky Luke
Crack out the popcorn and settle in for this one because this much-anticipated face-off did not disappoint. Unexpectedly, often chill and relaxed podcast host Doug Polk , though obviously enjoying some moments of the pod, found himself on the back foot for others. A pumped-up and caffeinated Bilzerian fired back somewhat coherently with accusations of misrepresentation by Polk . To be fair, Blitz ap peared to have a point , as it emerged Polk had clipped quotes of him to essentially state the opposite of what Bilzerian had said about his own sources of funds in poker. This, Blitz maintained, went beyond Polk 's pretty arguably weak defense of it having been " a joke ”. No stranger to controversy, many might view Bilzerian's social media offenses as far more egregious (his own favourite word in this podcast!). He has a history of outspoken misogyny , having referred to Vanessa Kade as a " hoe ” in response to her own innocuous Tweet, and being outspokenly sexist in multiple other high-profile interactions online on the daily. Whether this behaviour could possibly be defended as being merely an " online persona ” or not was another facet to a fascinating debate between these two larger-than-life characters. Hate to love or love to hate him, Blitz did argue his corner pretty well at times in debate with Polk , and at other times merely bewildered him with his bizarre attitudes, for one reason or the other leaving the usually cheery host a little lost for words at times. On the money front, who will ever know for sure, but Bilzerian's claim that he had action in some top players in extremely soft private games over the years, as well as his acknowledgement that his wealthy background, whilst not propping up his bankroll directly did help to get him in some amazing High Stakes games by dint of reputation , combine to go some way to explaining his explosive claim that he is up over $70 million from poker. This nosebleed-stakes live cash account is more believable than his claim to have been one of the best players online in his day (2005 upwards), but Bilzerian did invite Polk to check his online results, so perhaps we'll see a follow-up on this one. Other highlights include Bilzerian's claim that he once wagered $3.5 million by flipping a quarter . Come tell us what you made of it all in the PokerDeals Discord , where you can get the best on poker news, deals and entertainment every day. by Lucky Luke Original image from Doug Polk's podcast
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