Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wisdom, Profit, and Not Always Being Wise

"Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the man that’s wise!"

I misplay my fair share of hands.

No doubt about it.

Every single day.

I try to process them, learn, and then move on.

Some stay with me longer than others.

Saturday afternoon. Caesars Palace Poker room, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Guy limps in early position. A gentleman raises to 15 from the cut off seat. The button calls and the action proceeds to me sitting in the big blind. I have a pretty strong hand. Ace King.

A professional poker player might raise here. I probably raise around half the time. However since I have to play this entire hand from out of position, a smooth call feels fine to me too. I have no problem donating 15 bucks and mucking if I don't connect with the flop.

The bad part about calling is I'm probably seeing the flop 4 ways. The good news is it will allow me to disguise the strength of my hand. No one will put me on ace king.

For the moment I'm winning the battle of misinformation. So although calling doesn't feel very strong, it does feel somewhat reasonable.

This seems like a good time to mention that someday I'm gonna have my own chain of electronic stores called "Reasonable Robert" with commercials that brag about how incredibly reasonable my prices are.

"Are you tired of unreasonable people giving you unreasonable prices? Come on down today and let Robert make you a reasonable offer for a flat screen television!"

So I call. Early position limper calls.

Four of us see the king queen, rag flop.

Boom. Top pair. Top kicker. No different than it would be if I had raised preflop.

"Why do you continue to be unreasonable? Reasonable Robert guarantees you the best price on any new computer system! Reasonable Robert....His prices are so reasonable!"

In this situation a professional poker player might lead out with a bet but I want to sit back and give the preflop raiser the chance to continue bet.

Isn't that why I'm here playing live poker? To watch people lie in person?

If I didn't want to witness a human being lie in person, I could be relaxing at home playing on the internet. But I've specifically come to the casino in person to watch this human being continue bet. Or at least that was my plan. Until life happened and the early position player screwed things up by firing out a bet behind me for 25 bucks.

The preflop raiser folds. As does the button.

Damn. This gentleman limped in preflop, and then called a raise. Now he's betting out like he has the best hand. I don't think he's testing the waters. I think he genuinely thinks he has the best hand.

What's my best case scenario? If I call this bet what am I hoping he has? King jack for a weaker kicker? Ten jack for an open ended straight draw? These both feel like wishful thinking.

Lets review how he played his hand. His two cards enticed him to limp preflop. Not raise. He also didn't reraise when given the chance preflop. He does not have a big pair. I was probably ahead of him preflop.

What scares me is the definite possibility he has king queen for top two pair. This is exactly how lots of people would have played king queen off from early position.

They don't want to fold it. But they're also too scared to raise with it from early position. So limping in to try to see a flop becomes their best option.

I've hit top pair but he has me. I can feel it. I guess I should have reraised preflop.

I take a few moments to feel sorry for myself.

Come on universe! He called a raise out of position preflop with king queen! Why are we rewarding this type of play? Shouldn't we be punishing him?

Woe is me. I had him dominated preflop but now I'm in big trouble. Someday when I'm a great poker player I will muck my cards in this spot.



But not today.

Today for some reason I don't trust myself. I don't trust the voice inside my head that is pleading with me to fold. And what's extra ugly for me is that I believe this gentleman! So by not folding it's really myself I don't believe nor trust.. I'm basically calling my own bluff.

"The decider" or whoever it is that makes poker decisions for me doesn't want to follow my poker instincts. No, unfortunately this decider really wants to see this guy's cards. To see if my read was right. (How awesome to put myself into a position where I can prove I'm right by LOSING money!)

So I call the 25 bucks. Knowing deep down that I'll need to hit a three outer second ace to make a bigger two pair to win.

Don't kid yourself. I fully expect to get lucky. Lets make that part clear. I absolutely expect to beat him with the kind of unfair mathematical anomaly you see all the time at poker. He'll be disgusted and dislike me personally when I suck out on him. This pot is mine. You just watch.

Surprisingly it doesn't happen on the turn. Something small comes out. I check and this time he bets $50. Nice value bet sir. Another great opportunity for me to fold.

If I call this bet right now how much am I really prepared to call off on the river?

You can tell I'm making a bad call when I find myself hoping something real scary looking comes out on the river just to get me to showdown as cheaply as possible.

By the way, this sequence of calls I'm describing here is what tourists do. It's level 1 poker. Go down in flames with your top pair top kicker.

Who cares what my opponent could have? I have top pair top kicker. How can I fold?

I call the $50 turn bet. I'm going to get lucky and take down this pot on the river. Or I'll lose money to king queen and get to feel sorry for myself for having been out flopped by a hand I dominated preflop. See? Either way it's win/win! Pity is standing close by.

Who doesn't like to feel sorry for themselves? Who doesn't want to sit around and reminisce about favored hands they've had over the years that somehow found a way to lose?

The dealer peels off the rag river. I check and this time the guy pushes out $50. It's such a reasonable bet it's almost greedy. Ridiculously small to ensure he gets paid again. The idea being that of course I will call 50 dollars to give myself a chance to win what is now a $260 pot. He is correct. Even though the voice whispers that 50 dollars saved on this hand is 50 dollars I won't have to win later on.

"Shhhh" I tell the voice. "We've come this far."

50 more bucks to see his king queen? 50 more bucks to know forever that I was right?

How am I supposed to prove to everyone, most importantly myself, that I'm good at poker if I don't lose 125 dollars on this hand?

As you can see, this experience has bugged me for a couple of days. I'm too good to play a hand this way. I'm a good enough poker player to fold top pair top kicker when I know I'm beat.

Sometimes I'll call an opponent's river bet with king high.

Other times I'll muck top pair top kicker.

It all depends on what the voice tells me.

There's no benefit to my making good reads at the poker table if I don't actually trust myself enough to listen to them.

That doesn't sound reasonable.

And I think that's what Sophocles was trying to say about wisdom.


Anonymous said...

Great story man.

Why is it I can so relate.

Lucypher said...

You are so right about being able to lay down top pair.

Check Raise Chin said...

Great post Rob.

Your instincts have led you this far...so consider it a bump in the road.

We're only human bro.