Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I Realize That Poker is Not Chess

This will most likely be the last segment in my Psychology of Poker series. If I can manage to get my final point across, and also wrap it all up in one post, I'll end it here. Knowing me, I might have to make two posts out of it, or risk losing those who refuse to read more than 5000 words.

Since I am doing the series more for beginning players than advanced ones, I'll try to be generous.

My last bullet point in the psych series was this: 4) I realize that poker is not chess, it is poker, and that I rarely have even as much as 5% of an advantage over the worst player at the table, because of the luck factor

I remember when I first got into serious poker. When I read that percentage I was kind of stunned, because the difference between the worst player and the best player at the table seemed so vast. At the same time, though, I was elated, because compared to most house games, 5% is huge. Even counting cards at single deck 21, with deep penetration and lax rules, one doesn't have nearly this edge against the house!

So one of my first challenges, was exploiting that slim, 5% edge and turning the luck factor into an asset, letting it work FOR me, rather than against me.

Some of the ways I let luck work for me was by memorizing the hand rankings that David charted in his book. As many of you have noticed, a drawing hand like AKs is a group one hand. How is that possible, you ask? Because in a loose, limit Hold'em game, drawing hands can potentially become more powerful than pat hands.

Playing drawing hands in a loose, passive, limit HE game is letting the luck work for you. You are limping into a lot of pots with hands that can potentially win you a huge pot, and turn a slightly losing session into a winning one. In very loose and passive games, I will play 32s.

In today's games, the 5% edge is a bit different than in pre-boom days. Today we have not one fish, but many. That makes treading the waters different than before. While our pre-boom days centered around a single live one who made the game profitable, today we tend to sometimes be the ONLY non-live one. What a world of difference.

What this means for a tight player is that we now have to be more careful than before. We must choose our pots wisely. Getting involved in even one hand can turn a good session bad. With up to nine fish schooling a tight player in Hold'em, a player who is unable to adjust his style may find himself a big loser.

Adjusting is something that is very, very important in poker. One of the number one hurdles that players must overcome in order to be successful. You must constantly be on the look-out for changes in your game. Adjusting to the game, the make-up of the table, the cardroom and the very present of poker as a whole is mandatory.

Whenever you read a book on poker, or read posts by players you respect, keep in mind that adjustments must be made at all times. You might read a book that was written ten years ago which seems odd for today's game. Remember, it may still be a valuable book. Don't pan it just because you are unwilling or unable to adjust the advice for today's game, for your game. Force yourself to appreciate it for what it is, but adjust it to the circumstances you now face at your local cardroom. The book or post doesn't become any less important just because times have changed. It may still be the "definitive" work on the subject, it just needs to be tweaked for the new challenges you may face in today's poker world.

With that in mind, let's go back to the luck factor. While in the past, you may have had much folding equity in a game, today you may not have any. So make sure to keep count of the pot and the number of players in a hand. You can't always fold with confidence anymore when it comes to Hold'em, like you could in the past. Stud has always been this way. Often, the pots get so big in later betting rounds, folding is a huge mistake. Now Hold'em is becoming like Stud in that respect.

Omaha, on the other hand, is not a schooling game and is not susceptible to luck. Yeah, I know, you are cringing in disbelief, agony and horror. You are just sure luck is a big factor in Omaha. You see suck-out after suck-out. But you are wrong. Comparing Omaha to Hold'em or Stud is a mistake. There is no schooling factor, and there is no real luck factor (which compares to HE & Stud) in Omaha. If you disagree with this, get about 100,000 hands under your belt, having studied Ray Zee's book, and then come back to me and we can debate.

So let's just leave Omaha out of the equation when we are dealing with poker and luck. You make your own "luck" in Omaha to huge, HUGE degree, which cannot be duplicated in other forms of poker.

Okay, so now we are to the next point I want to make about luck. So far, you have been taught that you should first realize how much luck has to do with poker. Then you have been told to turn the luck factor into an advantage, rather than disadvantage. I next told you to make adjustments constantly, to the game, the cardroom, and current times. So now I am going to tell you how to handle, emotionally, the luck factor.

When you are playing, no matter what your hand is, think to yourself that ANY card can come off of that deck next. ANY card, as long as it is not a dead card, can come off of the deck to beat you. You can, and you will see the toughest beats imaginable. If the card is live, it will eventually come. It might come into your hand to beat the opponent who was ahead at the previous betting round, or it may come into the hand of your opponent to beat you, when you were ahead.

In fact, you might be very, very far ahead.

Last year at the series, Glenn was playing NLHE. He was at a table where one player was hyper-aggressive, taking huge risks with her whole stack, with very inferior hands.

Not long after Glenn sat down, he was dealt QQ. As was typical, she made a huge raise before the action even got to Glenn. In order for Glenn to call, he may as well go all-in, it was such a huge amount of his remaining chips. So that is what he did, and she immediately called with JTs. The flop came with QQx, one of the queens was of her suit. Yes, Glenn flopped quad queens. The turn was an eight of her suit, the river was the nine of her suit. She rivered a straight flush.

This is something that may only happen once to you in your lifetime. You may see it happen to others here and there while you are at the tables. You most certainly will be subjected to HEARING these bad beat tales often.

But my point is, to tilt and steam in this situation is a leak and a huge mistake. Why? Because like I said, AS LONG AS THE CARD IS LIVE, ANY, ANY, ANY CARD CAN COME OFF OF THE DECK NEXT! No matter the odds, it can and will happen to you. Don't think it won't, don't think just because you have quads or a straight flush you are invincible. It will happen, so you may as well buck up right now and prepare yourself for an eventual beat that will come. Learn to emotionally accept it NOW, rather than when it happens, so that you will not tilt and steam away your money when it does.

Anger and tilt are surefire ways for you to lose what you have worked so hard to gain. Poker is GAMBLING, even if you do have an edge against your opponents. You are still susceptible to beats that sting, so if you let luck turn into a spear against you, it will stab you to death. You can and must fix these leaks right now, so that unlike that stupid monkey at the table, they can never be used as a weapon against you. You have a huge advantage if you can overcome these types of situations. You can and will be the master of your destiny and of the poker world. Not many players handle luck well, so having a huge dominance like that over your opponents is one of the most important skills in poker. Achieve it, and you will be one of the best players in the world.

Another important way to overcome the luck factor in poker is by developing your own style. This has nothing to do with the math skills needed in poker. This has more to do with your personality and your ability to add flair to your game.

Although your style might change from game to game, cash games to tourneys, cardroom to cardroom, and even within one session, you must have your own style if you want to stay in the poker scene for a lifetime. Why? For one, poker would become so boring that you wouldn't be able to keep playing if you didn't. Two, you can manipulate luck and your opponents if you have style and the ability to adjust on a dime.

Players who play exactly "correctly" according to math would be able to earn or save an extra bet here and there by adding style to their repertoire. You know, there is always that guy on your right that you can bluff off of a pot if you've gotten to know him and given him a hint of your own personality (style). Yes, he will fold to that desperate bluff if he has the perception of you being a non-bluffer and rock. That is something that the math behind poker can never teach you. Having your own style will win you extra money.

And like I said, it will also save you money. Getting to know the woman on your left who seems kind of lonely and "left out" at the table will save you a bet here and there when she stops betting and raising into you with the winning hand. Out of courtesy, she will turn up her cards, show you the nuts, and say, "Just fold, I won't bet into you." This is a great advantage to you! Let your style help you win more money!

By the way, I don't think I need to say this, but I guess I should cover all bases...don't ever, ever get into the habit of doing this yourself ("helping" your opponent. Giving him freebies, etc). Play your hardest against your opponents, whether they are "new friends" or your own mother.

So now you are equipped. You have turned the huge luck factor in poker into an advantage for you. You have style, you don't tilt, you are able to adjust on a dime.

What other things can help you realize that poker is not chess, and is still gambling? Well, just to touch on a couple:

1) Do NOT make excuses. Accept your session at the table, for good or for bad. Don't make excuses about your bad play, your tilting, your inability to adjust, your lack of paying attention or any other thing. Accept responsibility for any and every mistake you make. And you WILL make them.

2) Realize that you are NO Phil Ivey. Maybe you have seen Phil on TV playing. Maybe you think that you are a good enough player to make some of the moves he makes. Believe me, you AREN'T. Phil is his own man, he has his own style. Not only are you not good enough, but you must play correctly and develop your own style, not Phil's.

I will give an example of what I mean.

I have always advocated that cards should be memorized and players should focus on other aspects of the hand going on around him rather than constantly checking his cards again. This is correct. Don't be a moron and think you are above this.

Someone on 2+2 said they saw Phil at a final table in an Omaha event, not memorizing his cards. They said he not only failed to memorize them, but kept them up, facing him, like "movie" poker. They said that if Phil didn't even memorize his cards, what was the point? Why did THEY need to do it?

BECAUSE YOU AREN'T PHIL IVEY, YOU IDIOT! Just because Phil can do it doesn't mean you can. Just because Phil is so, obviously hyper-aware and has such good ability to read his opponents and where he in in the hand at all times doesn't mean you are some prodigy! After you win as much as Phil has over the past decade, come back to me and then insist you don't need to "play correctly."

Soooo, I guess I have reached the end of the line here. I have told you everything you need to have in your poker repertoire for helping you realize poker is not chess. I have not really TAUGHT you anything, this you must learn yourself. You can read what I have written and decide to apply the skills you need to be in control, if you wish. I cannot force you to "learn" to be a winner.

Now that I have wrapped up psychology post number six, I suppose I should wrap up the whole series for you. That is the way the real writers do it ;)

In the first post, I outlined some of the reasons I have good psychological control over poker. They were as follows:

1) I always downplay my ability

2) I am hyper-aware

3) I am emotionally dead

4) I realize that poker is not chess

I told you to "think like a fish" in that first post. In the second post, I tackled my first bullet point, and told you to "act like a loser," (downplay your ability). Then I left the list, and went over a few points about "being yourself" and experimenting with simple, easy strategies at the table with the help of John Vorhaus' book, Killer Poker.

I came back to the list in post number four, outlining how to be hyper-aware of your surroundings while you play. Then I told you that I am emotionally dead, and explained why that is both a help, and a hindrance in poker. I listed two ways to become a world-class player: have the emotional ability to overcome losing and have the will to win.

And now, that brings it to today, and the end of this series.

I have given you the necessary tools to be a winner in poker and life. Now, what will you do with those tools? You can learn how to conquer the world, or you can dismiss them. You can sit at a table, tilting and steaming away all of your money while you make excuse after excuse, and try to convince your opponents how great your poker skills are and how vastly superior you are to them, while berating their fishy play, or you can take these lessons and truly learn them, while teaching yourself to be the next Ted Forrest or Barry Greenstein.

It is not easy to be at the very top of the poker food chain, but if this is your goal, you might just have the drive, determination and correct mindset to do it.

If, like me, you realize that being a world class player is not in your future, you can still become the greatest that YOU can be, and as an added bonus, be a WORLD CLASS HUMAN BEING.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and may all of your hands be played the very best!

Felicia :)