I have a new tool for the tables, something I put together recently that I hope will help me more than some random good-luck charm or card protector. It’s a white disk, about the size of an air-hockey puck or dealer’s button, with “THINK” slothoki printed on it in big red letters.

It’s a bit silly and I’ve already gotten a few comments, but I’m hoping it’ll buy me those extra seconds that can mean saving or not missing a bet, seconds that remind me that poker is a game of the eyes and the brain, not the hands and heart.

Two quick examples:

In middle position with King-Jack suited, take the flop five-handed. The flop comes KT5 rainbow, checked around to me, I bet. There’s a fold and then the rock on the button raises. It’s folded around to me and I immediately call the bet.

Had I taken five seconds to think about the situation I would have thought: this guy is a rock’s rock, one that makes other rocks change tables, the kind of guy who last tried a bluff during the Carter administration, it didn’t work out, and hasn’t tried since. What did I think he was in the hand with, forget throwing in a raise? K9? K8? About the only worse King I could even imagine him having is KT, giving him two-pair. The only conceivable draw would be QJ, and if that, why raise? If he had AA, AK, or KK he would have raised preflop, so the most likely hand is…KQ, which I proceeded to pay two large bets in order to see after the river.

Now, I suppose even knowing all this I might have still called his raise (even though the odds weren’t really there) to see the turn, but the point is that I was on poker-autopilot and none of this entered my mind until I reverse-engineered it on the showdown. My failure to take five seconds to think cost me at least two big bets.

Here’s a happier example. I raise pre-flop in early position with two red aces, get two dangerous loose-aggressive callers who have been part of about 90% of the hands, plus the big blind. The flop comes down AT9 with two clubs, great but still dangerous — one of these guys could easily have two clubs, QJ…hell, they could have 87. I bet out only to see it raised and then, after a quick look, reraised! What the? The big blind folds and then with my best Olivier pained expression I call, as does the middle player.

There’s a lot of cards I don’t want to see, but the turn is a beautiful, board-pairing ten. Checked to the three-better; bet, call, call. The river is a complete non-flush, non-straight blank (unfortunately), the four of diamonds. I figure that drama class is over and I don’t want to risk losing a bet through a check-raise attempt, so I bet out. The middle guy, obviously drawing, folds, leaving my heads-up opponent to raise me. I immediately reraise him, but before the words have left my mouth he has his own reraise on the felt.

Now, what I should have done right there is stopped for a second. Maybe two. Thought about the situation.

Instead, I panicked, while the alarm in my head started screaming QUADS! QUADS! QUADS! Instead of assessing the situation I threw in my call, said “I can’t beat quads” and turned over my hand (which he, as the aggressor, should have done first, had I given him the opportunity). He did not have the quads (he mucked his hand, but said that he had T9), and I both missed at least one big bet and instantly erased the strong image I had been trying to build.

Now, had I taken five seconds at the right moment, I would have asked the following: if he had pocket tens, would he have three-bet pre-flop to thin the field, as he had been doing all night with big, and even not-so-big hands? Probably. If he hit his set on the flop, would he have three-bet, possibly knocking my, say, AJ out? Probably not. Then, if he miraculously hit quads on the turn, would he have bet, indicating at least trip tens and possibly scaring away the flush/straight draw? Again, probably not. So given all of this, did he have quads…almost certainly not

All of this only came to me midway through the next hand, though, since I let my hands and mouth take over my play, not giving my brain a chance to work. It’s easy to get caught up in a big hand, with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, fear, and adrenaline fogging even the most analytical brain. It’s too easy to forget that most important word at the table: THINK.