The Deal is a pivotal time for any poker player; however it is clear that the amateur reacts the strongest to the play.
The most effective way to handle the play is to think purely logically, use experience and use it as a scene setter for the subsequent bets. If the deal is bad, the game need not be over and players should wait to see what the Flop holds.
When the flop is dealt, the beginner and expert players are in a state of automation, with the beginner relying on an emotional response to guide their decision, whilst the professional uses a mixture of logic and emotion.
Brain activity in the expert is considerably higher; however changes very little between each play, suggesting that the player has played so many of these hands that the required action is almost always the same. It is with the amateur that we see a concentrated peak of Alpha activity, which indicates that the player is considering the play more carefully than the other skill levels.
Avoid becoming agitated or excited when the Flop is dealt – treat it as though as you have seen hundreds of Flops like the one in front of you. Let logic dictate your next move and don’t let your judgement be clouded by other players.
As with the Flop, players remain in a state of automation when the Turn card is dealt. The amateur tended to rely on emotional decision-making and if they had ‘a good feeling about the cards’; this was true also for the expert, however they also relied on a great deal of logic to determine the best course of action. The increased brain activity of the professional demonstrated that it is vital to actively process the situation, even if still acting with automatic responses.
The Turn card has often been seen as a relatively insignificant play in poker; however it is an important strategic point, particularly when deciding to commit yourself to a hand. Whilst an automatic response is somewhat expected, players should think ahead to the River card and how this may further guide their decision.
It is during the River card that brain activity universally spikes across all skill levels, with each showing high levels of Beta waves. The real variance can be seen with which side of the brain is dominant, between beginner and expert players.
The beginner player has a strong peak of activity on the right side of the brain (suggesting emotional instincts), whilst the expert is heavily left-hand side dominant (suggesting logical determination). The amateur is bilaterally active so uses a mixture of these.
From the data it is clear that a play on this hand should be highly logical and carefully considered – whilst an emotional response may help beginners and amateurs strike lucky, the expert players have acknowledged the riskiness of this and rely on logical decision-making.
The Check play elicits little brain activity from any of the skill levels, as each relies on a state of automation. The only notable variance is left-hand dominance in the expert player who is using logic to determine if the play is actually worth even playing a Check.
A check should simply act as a signifier of the player wanting to continue play without any real strategic consideration; hence the low brain activity. Amateurs and beginners should avoid relying on a check too often as this may lend itself to experienced players reading your overall strategy.
During a raise, all players will see a spike in Beta activity, demonstrating that no matter the skill levels, this is still a decisive play that forces others to respond. As the skill level improves, the level of activity decreases, suggesting that the Expert will be less threatened by such a move and able to read the play more effectively.
Players should avoid being led by their emotional reaction and instead utilise their logic to determine why they should raise (or another player has raised). A raise should signify to other players that you have a strong hand and is a strong strategy to psyche out players during the Flop. Additionally, the raise should be used to successfully demonstrate a powerful hand before it is utilised as a bluffing strategy.
The Call can often be one of the most surprising plays in a poker game, demonstrating that the player is confident and keen to go head-to-head with the competitor. Whilst this may spook a bluffing player into making the wrong move, it can also be a weak move that creates no added decision points for other players. As can be seen by the brain visualisations, overall activity is relatively low and decreases with improved skill levels. The dominance of Alpha brainwaves demonstrates that players’ alertness is increased, with bilateral activity further showing that players are carefully considering this move.
Whilst calling can often quickly bring a play to its conclusion, it may also reduce the potential to build a larger pot. A call is typically the safe bet in a game of poker, but also closes off opportunities to read other players – it’s key to use calls sparingly and only when you are keen to close the betting (ultimately for a confident win).
The All In is the most confident play in a game of poker and signifies that you are prepared to bet everything on your hand. However, this can also be a costly bluff if you do not effectively read your fellow players. As expected, this generates the highest peaks of brain activity amongst the three skill levels. In particular, the beginner sees Beta activity throughout the whole brain, suggesting that they are stressed and potentially not thinking clearly. The expert player had lower levels of activity and seemed to rely on experience.
Don’t let yourself be scared or threatened by the All In play; if another player tries to force your hand, you need to be confident that your hand will be a winner. If, however, you are the one playing the all in, never use it as a last-ditch attempt. Simply survey the community cards, evaluate the amounts that fellow players are betting and try to understand their emotions (and brain activity!) to ensure you make the right call.