Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scared, Fat & Stupid is No Way to Play Poker

It’s going to take me a while to get to the point of this post.  Sorry.  I know that in this age of instant gratification, you’re really supposed to catch the reader’s attention in the first sentence or two—especially on the internet, when it’s so easy to click to something else.  So I hope that I have built up enough credibility with my regular readers that they will bear with me as I explain how I got to this post.  For those who I have no credibility with (either because they’re new or because they don’t like my blog but stop by anyway—to torture themselves, I presume—well, I hope they will scan down through this post until they find something that may catch their attention or interest.  For many of those folks, I suspect the word “naked” will be it.
Last night I started a post about my winning session at The Bike yesterday.  I didn’t complete it before having to retire for the night.  I hadn’t gotten very fair, and as I was writing it, I was still debating in my mind whether or not I was going to include the last hand I played that “ruined” the day for me, or leave it out and make the post entirely positive.  You see, even though I won $200, that last hand cost me some money, and I obsessed over that one hand instead of the positive results of the rest of the day.  And frankly, there was no way I could discuss that last hand without embarrassing myself.  So I thought about ignoring that hand.  I hadn’t decided when I went to bed.
But this morning, after some blog reading, I decided not only to talk about it, but to use it as a public lesson to myself, a public lecture to myself, even, and to discuss a bit about my progress as a poker player.  And also to devote one entire post just to that hand, rather than add it as a downer afterthought to an otherwise positive post about a nice day of poker.
You see, this morning I read Lightning’s latest post about the recent struggles of fellow blogger TBC.  I’m sure almost all (if not all) of my readers are familiar with both Lightning and Tony, they have both been blogging a lot longer than I have.  I won’t go into Tony’s current problems, you can read Lightning’s post for that (or Tony’s own blog, of course).  But in the comments section there was a comment from yet another famous blogger, Poker Grump.
Anyway, Grump (aka “Rakewell”) made a comment basically giving a link to the posts he’s made on his blog about Tony.  I figured I had read all those posts, but just for the hell of it, I went ahead and checked those posts on Grump’s blog anyway.  And I am very glad I did. 
Reading Grump’s older TBC posts was quite enlightening.  For one thing, I discovered an absolute gem of a “woman said” story that I hadn’t heard before.  For those of you who like the “woman said” stories I post here, I urge you to read this old post of Grump’s that can be found here.  I won’t repeat it here myself—that would be plagiarism—just go ahead and click on it, it should open up in a new window and you can read it when you are finished with this post.  As an enticement to check it out, I will tell you that, had I been there to witness the story he told, and had I decided to blog about it (and there’s no chance in hell if I had witnessed this that I would not have blogged about it), I would have called that post, “Were you naked?”
At first I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t heard that story before, but then I saw the date.  It was from June, 2011, before I started blogging and before I had spent much time in the poker blogosphere.
But that’s not the reason I was so glad I read those TBC posts of Grump’s  No, it was because in reading those old posts of Grump’s, I found something where Grump was talking about Tony’s game that totally relates to mine as well.  Yes, I confess, Tony and I have something in common (yes, I know, straight-line of the year).  We have the same hole in our poker games, and Grump did a great post about it.  And even better, it totally relates to the last half hour or so of poker I played yesterday at the Bike.
The post I’m referring to is this one here, entitled, “Playing Scared.” I believe I should read this post daily until I remember every word.  Because although he was talking to Tony, he was really talking to me.  I should have already remembered that post and committed it to memory.  It was from early in the year, right after I had switched to NL, and I actually noticed that I had commented on the post at the time, saying I needed to learn that lesson!  But I didn’t.  One of the reasons I’m doing this post is that, hopefully, by taking the time to do it, this time it will sink in.
Grump talked about a hand Tony had posted about where he played way too timidly (in Grump’s estimation) because he was ahead for the day and wanted to “book the win.”  He wanted to leave that session a winner, he had made a nice profit at that game and was dedicated to not losing his stack, or even a significant portion of his stack.  So, according to Grump, he didn’t make the optimal play, and not only lost a hand he might very well have won had he played it “right” but made a play that was –EV in the long run, which is all that really counts (for those of you less familiar with poker terms, that means a negative “expected value.”)
I confess, this is what happens to me regularly.  Simply put, I am a much better poker player when I am losing at a particular table than when I am winning a “significant” amount.  Once I get up, say, $100, I can’t get it out of my mind that I can, and will, and should, leave the table a winner for this session.  I completely ignored the rule in poker, “it’s all one session.”
Grump makes some excellent points in his post (as he usually does) and also quoted noted pro Antonio Esfandiari about how a poker player has to look at “poker money” totally differently from “money outside the poker room.”  The chips in front of you at the poker table are tools of the trade used to make money.
Grump was talking about Tony with this line, but he could have been talking about me.  “If he is doing well, he will often go into lock-down mode, playing in a miserly fashion because he doesn’t want to put his winnings at risk.”  Guilty as charged.
Now, truth be told, I’m not a professional poker player.  Never professed to be.  I don’t consider myself a great player or even a good one.  “Decent” is what I aspire to, for the time being.  I started playing poker not as a means of making money, but because I found I enjoyed it more than playing the table games I was playing when I visited Vegas.
I actually found that playing poker was generally a more socially enjoyable experience than those table games were.  Especially playing 2/4 limit, as I did for many years.  A high percentage of those 2/4 players were nice people, friendly, fun to play with (my thoughts on this were expressed here).  Also, I did find it more mentally stimulating than the table games, where it was just a matter of memorizing basic blackjack strategy or a betting pattern.  And of course, those table games are stacked against you, in the long run, you’re gonna lose money.  In poker, if you’re good enough, you could be a long term winner, or at least a long term break-evener (there’s that pesky rake to deal with).
So I had fun with the social part of the game, and got a lot of stories out of it.  So much so that I was encouraged to start a blog to relate them (see here).  Originally this blog was mostly people saying or doing outrageous things at a poker table (or in other parts of Vegas).  Poker itself—and any strategy—was fairly minimal.  That’s because I was playing 2/4, having a lot of fun and laughs, and not taking things too seriously.  Now that I’ve been playing more “seriously”—i.e, No Limit—there’s actually been more “real” poker content here.  I’m sure some people miss the silly stories.
So if you’re playing 2/4 and you’re there mainly to socialize, you don’t have to worry too much about protecting your wins.  There aren’t any.  When you do have a good session and get ahead, it usually takes a long time to dwindle that away in a low limit game.  I was playing tight anyway so I didn’t have to play any tighter to secure those winnings.  When I lost a bit too much of my profits, I usually had played enough to satisfy my poker itch and could take most of my winnings with me.
But then I made the switch to NL.  No limit is so different than low limit that they should really have different names.  They really are totally different games.  So for someone like me who spent around six years playing low limit almost exclusively, it’s really difficult to retrain myself on certain things.  I’m not talking about poker strategy, although that is one obviously a huge difference.  I’m talking about the way I think about poker, about what I’m playing poker for.
In my mind, I’m still playing poker for social interaction more than for making money at it.  Since I’m not a professional player, I suppose that might be ok.  But if I really want to make some money at it—and why not?—I have to change my thinking.
Of course, I want to have my cake and eat it, too. Especially when I’m in Vegas, especially when I’m playing at BSC.  I want to socialize with all my “pals” there—the dealers, the floor persons, Prudence, the other regulars who I’ve come to know a bit.  After all, when I return to BSC after being away for awhile, they practically treat me like they treated Norm whenever he walked into Cheers.  But I also want to make some money at the game, “book” those winnings and minimize the losses.  Can I do both?  It might be hard.  I may have to pick one.
But yesterday at The Bike, I wasn’t there to socialize at all.  I was there to work on my game, and yes, to try to win some money.  So I have absolutely no excuse for what happened in that last hand. 
And I want to talk about it here, publically, as a lesson to myself, if not others. 
I had bought in for $300 and now had over $600 in front of me.  How I got there is the subject for the post I was writing last night, and will be my next post, in all probability.
But sitting there, looking at nearly $650 in chips, all I could think of was that I was going to leave there with a really nice double up, a $300+ profit for 3-1/2 hours of poker.  When I had stacked my chips from that last big pot, and saw that I was over $300 ahead, that was the precise moment I should have racked up my chips and cashed out. I have no excuse for not doing so.  There was no one at the table I was really conversing with, no dealer I was waiting to chat with, no nothing.  Unlike playing at BSC, where leaving might make it “too early” an evening, going back to my hotel room and missing my “pals”, I had plenty of reason to leave The Bike then and there.  I was eager to watch the UCLA-USC game which I had Tivo’d.  I sorta/kinda watched the game in the poker room, but since it was a glorious UCLA win, I wanted to watch the whole thing with my undivided attention.  After that, I could get started on the blog post about my successful day.
But no, for reasons I cannot explain, I stayed.  I guess I somehow decided that maybe if I stayed a few more orbits, I could win some more money and get an even bigger score.  That would have been fine, and even possible, if I had the right attitude about playing on.  But I most assuredly did not.  I wasn’t thinking of the money in front of me as tools to use to make more money.  I was thinking of how it would look on my log to book a nice win like this.  I was thinking that I’d stay for a few orbits and only play absolute premium hands and nothing even remotely speculative, and hope that I could get some more chips in front of me that way.
What a fool.  There was pretty much no way I could win with that attitude.  I’d have to get pocket Aces and then flop a set—if not quads—in order to risk anything more.  I was even asking myself if I would play the dreaded pocket Kings if I got them (and I had already won with them earlier in the day).  I don’t know why I was being so damn stupid, I just was.
Of course, for an orbit, I got nothing much to play.  I limped in a few hands, called a preflop raise with a low pocket pair knowing it’s an easy fold if I don’t catch my set, and was ready to call it a day.  But the game was losing players and the blinds came around faster than I expected.  Even a better reason to leave, except they broke another game and sent us some players.  Looks like I could get another orbit with a full table, so I decided to stay.
Bad decision.  Really bad decision.
I put out my $3 blind and had garbage and folded to a preflop raise.  Then I put out my $2 small blind and looked down at Ace Jack.  But it was sooooted.  Yeah, they were both spades.  I thought about what to do.  A fairly new player, an older gentleman, under the gun, raised to $12.  He had made a few preflop raises and hadn’t had to show his cards.  He had around $225 or so in front of him.  I actually assumed he was a fairly tight player, though that was a gut instinct more than anything else.
It folded to me.  That should have made for a very easy decision on my part.  I mean, maybe the big blind would call, but no one else was in, I had a hand that was easily dominated, I don’t want to play speculative hands anyway, why not just fold the damn thing, let him take the blinds, and be done with it?
But it seems I had exactly $610 left at that point.  In other words, if I called, and folded on the flop, I would still have that somehow “magical” $300 profit that I could walk away with.  Hell, I’ve got Ace Jack sooooted, right?  Maybe, maybe……Ok, I know this is probably the stupidest play I’ve ever made, but I thought, I can get away from this easy, I’ll call and see if I get real lucky, I’ve still got my double up if the flop doesn’t hit me hard.  Yeah, I knew if I flopped the flush draw, it might cost me plenty to chase it, but I was willing to risk that for the nut flush. Otherwise, I’m gone.
So I’m sitting there like a jerk, hoping for a flop that totally misses me or basically either 2 Jacks or a flopped flush.  Good plan.  Really good plan.
I got exactly what I didn’t want.  There was an Ace on the flop, and one spade, not two.  It was something like A-10-6.  I didn’t want to dip into my “profit” unless I had to, so I checked.  (Honestly, having stupidly gotten to that point, not sure what the right move there is if I’m trying to play smart.  He could easily have a bigger Ace).  He put out $20.
With my attitude, I should have easily folded top pair, decent kicker.  But I called.  Twenty bucks to see one more card.  Maybe I’d really like it?  Dumb, really dumb.
River card was the Queen of spades.  Why did it have to be a spade?  Now I did have the flush draw.  Did he have AQ?  Pocket Queens?  I checked again and he put out $40.  Someone can do the math and tell me how bad the odds for me were there, but I thought about it and somehow, I called.  I wanted to see that flush come on the river and I’d make a really nice add on to my profit.  Jerk.
The river was a black 6.  But it was the 6 of clubs, not the 6 of spades.  I missed.  I checked, and he put out another $40.
I swear I would have folded if he had put out one dollar more.  But now I figured, maybe he had King Queen?  The flop bet was a continuation bet, and he got lucky on the turn?  Or pocket Kings?  Jacks?  For only forty bucks more I had to see.  He sized his bet perfectly to suck me in.
I called.  He had Ace King.  Duh.  I felt like I had just given away $110.  Merry Christmas, sir!
I sat there shaking my head, and actually stayed at the table until the big blind came back to me. I have no idea why I didn’t leave immediately, that was also dumb.  I didn’t get anything to play, but I’m pretty sure I would have mucked pocket Aces right then. 
What should have been a celebration over a profitable day had me beating myself up all the way home.  I still had $200 more than when I walked into the place, but all I could think of was how stupid I played that hand.
Here’s the thing.  Reading that Grump post this morning actually made me feel a bit better, if you can believe it.  I felt better about playing a hand.  I mean, I should have been willing to play a hand and risk chips as long as I was sitting at that table.  Otherwise, what was I there for?
I just shouldn’t have played that hand.  That I know, and no blog post will make me think otherwise.
So, the lesson for me is:  Either get over the idea that I can’t play my normal game when I get “satisfied” with the winnings in front of me…..or, as soon as I find myself with the attitude that I can’t play every hand I get the “right” way, then pick up my chips and get the hell out of there.
Thanks, Grump.

(Note:  OK, the "prequel" to this post, the story of how I managed to get all those chips that gave me this problem, is now posted.  You can read it above this post, or just click here).


  1. Been there, done that, unfortunately. Don't beat yourself up too much because you still left with a decent profit. Expensive lesson, though.

    1. Thanks, Lightning. And thanks for doing the TBC post that led me to Grump's old post.

  2. A few years ago I saw Chris Ferguson repeatedly fold AJ out of position on Poker After Dark. This was shocking to me as up to that point I thought it was a premium hand. It really made me consider what a marginal hand it usually is and I will almost always fold it out of position to a raise. I know this isn't the actual message of your blog, but my memory was jogged and I just wanted to share! A cheap lesson but good because I really hate the expensive ones.

    1. Thanks, Dave. Yeah, I'm changing my evaluation of Ace Jack AND Ace Queen. I don't usually call a raise with them, especially when they're off suit. And yeah, I know it's a mistake to overvalue them when they ARE suited.

    2. Is liking AJ a small stack advantage and a way to be speculative to your advantage? Building it to a large one happens and then become an implied odds target. The same hand can have completely different risk:reward scenarios when we think about it.

  3. Poker was never meant to be a mistakes free past time. Making smaller and fewer mistakes is the goal. Big hands are much harder to play and ones that seem close to that are even harder. Would you have preferred losing that hand to AT's two pair? Probably because we can claim being ahead at some point.

    We all have holes that could use help. We all have hands or session that stay in our conscious longer and sharper than they should.

    Interesting about this confessional post and the that discussed laying down "big" hands (KK) just a blog or so back. Combine them and you'd have a real tome. Or should that be tomb?

    1. Thanks Ken. The problem was I was looking to bury myself in a tomb after leaving that session, even tho I won $200. But "confessing" in this post made me feel better.

  4. Hey Rob,

    As you gain more experience you will become more comfortable with remaining at the table when winning. Something I notice at 1/2 NL is the respect you garner when sitting with a big stack in front of you. For those that have seen how you won it they will have formed an opinion of you (often either "that guy is lucky" or "damn! That guy is good, stay out of his way!"), but the best part is that those that didn't see you win the chips will generally assume these types of things as well. You will often get way more action then you should get, or other people will fold more hands to you because you are too lucky, too good or even better, both.

    For me, while sitting on a big stack, I like to play even more aggressively. In the hand you discussed above, I can't really find fault with your play. Putting in 2% of your stack with AJ suited out of position is just fine. When you hit the flop as you did, check calling makes sense. Also, nothing wrong with sticking around when your hand improves on the turn. Your implied odds at this point were really good. River jack and you win a nice 3rd bet from your opponent. River the flush and he also pays you. Don't worry so much about the end result, focus on the parts of the hand that you had control over and your game will grow.

    1. Thanks, MP, and great response. I wasn't looking for anyone to tell me I didn't play that hand as badly as I thought but you do make some good points. Maybe I was being too hard on myself. Still, it would have been an easy hand to fold preflop.

      And yes, I know that when you have a deep stack in front of you, you are suppose to use those extra chips to bully your opponents. I just have to be able to put that in practice. I do get a bet more adventurous when I'm up a little to a moderate amount. It's when I get a really big stack that I start counting this as a big win and refuse to play anything but a super premium hand. I either have to get past that and learn to take advantage....or know when I catch myself playing like that to just get up immediately and get away from the game.

  5. Can't really speak to playing AJs OOP; we've all been there - whether to book a win or not. You should have listened to your gut that this guy was tight. Again, we've all been there, playing hands we shouldn't and wondering how in the world we wound up in the mess we're in.

    As an aside, I believe you turn a gutter and a flush draw, so take away your two pair outs but add 3 Kings; 24% equity on the turn FWIW.

    1. Thanks, PM...yes, why did I ignore my gut then? i was so obedient to it hours earlier when it demanded that huge spaghetti lunch.

  6. I think the decison to fold or call has to be player dependent. If this player is a LAG type then a call is definitely in order but a TAG no way insta-fold. Also what about a 3 bet preflop. Seems to me if he comes back at you with a 4 bet you easily lay it down and the cost would have been less.

    1. Thanks, FD.

      I was definitely not in the frame of mind to 3 bet there, remember, I was calling because (stupidly, as I admitted) because doing so still left me exactly $300 up. But if I HAD 3 bet there, and he calls, not raises? How would I best proceed from there considering the flop?

  7. You played the hand fine. Pre-flop is standard, flop is standard, and you made a call on the turn with odds implied odds (assuming you get paid off when you hit your flush). River call is debatable against a player who is likely never bluffing. But overall it seems fine.

    I very much dislike a 3 bet. Everything you had said about AJ being dominated against this type of player holds even more true in a re-raised pot. The pot will be much larger and if your opponent has AQ or AK, you aren't going to be able to get away from top pair.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Derek, and welcome. Glad to get your feedback, and nice to hear I didn't play the hand as poorly as thought. Still wish I had folded--although I did get a good blog post out of playing it, so maybe it was worth it :)

      Regarding the call on the river, I was getting over 4 to 1 and although I didn't think he was bluffing, I did think it was reasonably possible he had a weaker Ace than mine (or even the same hand as mine), or a pocket pair that couldn't beat my top pair.