Bear with me. This is indeed a post about poker, but first I want you to “look at this image (below). Imagine this is you. Imagine that the unthinkable has happened and random asocial violence has found you. What would you do? Really think about it. What’s your first move?”
The image above and the statement about imagining your first move came from a book I recently picked up at the local library. The author is Tim Larkin and his tome is titled When Violence is the Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Stake. It’s a fascinating look at danger in society. It argues how those of us unaccustomed to violence in our daily lives often react poorly when faced with actual life-or-death situations. We end up as victims because, well, we let ourselves be. We simply have the wrong mindset when confronted with violence. Let me explain how this relates to poker…
”I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” – Denzel Washington
The word “luck” is thrown around a lot at the poker tables. Just the other day, a friend of mine lost four buy-ins in a high-dollar cash game and bemoaned his luck in an email to me. “Mark, everyone is luckier than me. I never win. I’m cursed with bad luck.” When I pushed back on this statement, my friend got angry with me, accusing me of “not understanding what it’s like to have bad luck.” He claimed that my win rates are nothing more than “dumb luck.”
Uh, sure. Keep thinking—and acting—that way, I told him, and you’re going to stay unlucky. You’re going to stay “dumb” forever.
There are a lot of quotes like Denzel Washington’s above that come from successful people. More importantly, you never read quotes about these folks having bad luck. In writing about business success, entrepreneur Jack Canfield famously said, “I believe that people make their own luck by great preparation and good strategy.” And you know what? These words are just as applicable to poker, too. Let me explain…
You are in a $5/$10 no-limit cash game that is 7-handed. You are loose, passive, and you generally play badly. You and the tight player in the BB both have $3000 stacks. It is folded to you on the button, where you hold As-6s. You make a standard $40 raise and the BB calls. The flop is Ac-6d-Jh. The BB leads out for $80. You call. The turn is the 7s. The BB bets $200 and you raise to $400. The BB re-raises to $800. You call. The river is the 2s. The BB moves all-in for his last $1900. What should you do?
Poker is chockfull of bad beats, coolers, and variance. This happens to you, it happens to me, it happens to everyone. I don’t care if your name is Danny Negreanu or Danny Nobody—you will lose hands. Lots and lots of hands.
Separating actual bad play and decisions (that you control) from just the variance of the game (that you can’t control) can be challenging for a new player. But it’s something you need to work on. You can lose and whine, or you can lose and learn. Let me explain…
Are you better off now than you were twelve months ago? Did you achieve everything you intended to in 2017? Anything you intended? In life, love, work… and poker? If not, why not?
One probable answer to falling short of last year’s New Years goals is simply due to the fact that you’re not SMART. Or more accurately, you’re not S.M.A.R.T. At least not in the right way. And, no, this is not one of those generic Specific, Measurable, Achievable Blah-Blah-Blah SMART blog posts. Well, sorta. Uh, let me explain…
There’s usually only one moment in a Hold’em hand when A-A is the nuts, and that’s preflop. After the three flop cards are dealt, and unless you hit top set or better on a dry and disconnected board, your pocket rockets are rarely the best possible hand anymore. Accept this fact now and be willing to fold. Don’t get married to big pairs postflop. Be willing to get divorced. Think of the children.
[Note: this is an excerpt from my upcoming book on poker hand reading.]
“When the opponent expands, I contract; and when he contracts, I expand.” —Bruce Lee
Most good poker players understand the adage that to win at poker you have to “play the player” and not just your own cards. They also understand that you can’t bluff a bad player.
To make another player fold a better hand than yours, the villain first has to be aware that they might be beaten. This means that they actually have to be putting you on a hand range themselves, or they will be oblivious to your bluff and can/will blithely call you down with weak made hands. This is why value betting is so important at the low-stakes games; the opponents at these stakes are typically playing only the absolute strength of their own cards, and are unaware of what cards their opponents are holding. Trying to convince them that they’re beaten with a bluff bet is usually fruitless—and costly.
The same type of logic applies to hand reading.
There is no need for you to worry about what hand range a villain is putting us on, or how that might affect his or her play (and therefore their range) if that villain is not actually hand reading themselves. In fact, it’s counterproductive to do so. Let’s see why this is so…
“If you suspect your opponent is bluffing more than one-third of the time [on the river], you should call every time. If you think your opponent is bluffing less than one-third of the time, you should fold every time.” —Ed Miller, The Course
This breakeven percentage value of one-third that Miller cites for villain bluffing frequency derives from an assumption that the villain has made a full pot-size bet into you on the river. For example, let’s say you flopped a set, but now the board has four-flushed on the river. Unfortunately, you don’t have the flush, so you’re either way ahead or way behind (WAWB). The villain’s bet is representative of a strong made flush–or he’s bluffing. You’ve seen the villain play mostly straightforwardly for the past few hours at the table, but you’ve also seen him make a few bluffs, too. So, should you call?
Well, like most things in poker, it depends. In this case, it depends on how likely you think it is your opponent is bluffing in this situation. If it’s greater than a third of the time, you should call. If it’s less, you should fold.
So this means you should almost always fold. Let me explain…
You’re in a $5/$10 NL full-ring 9-handed cash game. Everyone has about $1000 stacks. You raise UTG with Js-Jh. It is folded to an expert player in the SB, who calls. The BB folds, and you see a flop heads up, which is: 2s-2c-Td. The SB leads for $80. You raise to $250, and the SB re-raises you to $650. Your image is tight-aggressive, very tight in EP, and you rarely bluff. What should you do?
- Raise all-in
- Call and fold the turn if he bets again
- Call and get all-in on the turn if no overcard hits
- Call and get all-in on the turn regardless of the turn card
A few years ago I was showing a family friend how to play online poker. My friend dabbles occasionally at poker, but he doesn’t believe that the online games are beatable. It’s rigged, he says. It’s filled with ‘bots. And any kind of poker–live or online–is all about hot streaks and lucky runs, anyway. You can’t beat a random chance game in the long-term. So why study and read about the game? Worse, why write a damn blog about it?
My friend is so sure of himself, that he basically calls me a liar whenever I point out that I make a decent hourly wage at this online “hobby,” and thereby fund the occasional large discretionary purchase in my personal life through my winnings at the tables. Well, he doesn’t actually use the word “liar,” instead choosing the less inflammatory, “You’re so full of sh!t” term of endearment.
Anyway, in my long-running effort to convince him that he’s the one who is full of sh!t, I opened a couple of micro-stakes fast-fold “Zone” poker games when he had stopped by to visit with his wife. Here’s what happened: