I have many challenges facing me as a poker player but one of the toughest, for me, is folding "great" or even "very good" hands when either
1. my gut tells me something is up  or
2.the other guy is suddenly acting "crazy"  and I'd better slow down my mental victory lapping and try to read the table more carefully in order to understand his behavior.

Regarding point #1: In one of the several poker books I have, the writer (all my  books are by pros)  says "You can never be a great poker player until you can fold great hands."

And he doesn't mean once in a while. He means over and over again, with iron discipline, when you "know" you probably should.  And in another book the authors state, "Listen to your first gut instinct about a hand. Your gut will be right 95% of the time."  Which if you think about it, is pretty good odds.

Okay, so I often find myself in situations where I have a great hand (e.g. a full house) but now my gut alarm is going off.  Deep down I just "know" I'm in danger but I find it very difficult  to fold.  I end up staying in, and usually losing, for one of the the following reasons:

a. What it will take to beat me is a low odds situation -- something like four of a kind -- and even though the other guy is betting like he has 4 of a kind, I just don't want to believe it. He must be bluffing. Uh, he's not.  He has 'em.

b. I'm guessing I'm beat but I want to know for sure, to see if my instincts are correct, to boost my confidence in my future folding decisions. In situations that don't really matter to me (for instance a micro-freeroll that I don't care about staying in) sometimes I think it's a good idea to gather such information.  But let me tell you, by now I've  gathered plenty of such information. Maybe it's time to give up this excuse.

c. This jerk has been bullying the table and sometimes when he gets called on it he has junk. I'm not going to humiliate myself by folding to this jerk. Ha ! Instead I'm going to humiliate myself by giving him all of my chips!

Rearding point #2 -- reading the table
There are way too many times  I just don't read the table carefully enough. Somehow I don't see the straight or full house possibility that's shaped up. I find straights the hardest to spot, particularly when the flop to the river is a rainbow (no flush possibility) and the little cards and big cards are interspersed. You know, something like


I just don't see that 2-6 straight coming unless I really focus, slow down and ask myself why the guy is suddenly betting so heavily. I'm certainly not expecting him to be holding  

So besides listening to my gut alarm, I need to develop the discipline of asking myself, hand after hand, "What is the nuts based on this flop / turn / river ?"  I need to do it over and over and over until it is automatic. Right now I do it too sporadically.  And lose because I'm just not seeing what's there.

By the way, there are two types of staying in all the way I feel good  or okay about:
1. My gut is telling me  that my opponent is bluffing or that I have him beat and he doesn't see it -- no doubts, no quiet voice saying "fold! fold!"  I read the opponent corrently and win. Feels great.

2. I just was in a tournament where my flush lost to a full house. Now not only did I have a King high flush, I had 3 kings, so I felt pretty confident. No little alarms. But my opponent had a hidden set of nines, so the innocent little 9 on the table brought me down.  And the way the betting went, we were equally aggressive from start to finish. I wrongly figured him for 3 kings as well. 
It was a mistake but it wasn't about refusing to listen to my inner voice --- my gut was using up some of it's 5% wrong quota. 

If I can get my overall folding mistakes down to 5% I believe I'll start doing much better at the tables.
It will just take zen-like patience, iron discipline, laser-like focus (and mastering poker math, but that's another blog...).   You know, if I even try to pull it off, I  think I'm in for an interesting journey. (Maybe marathon training will help....hmmmmmmmm).    More later!