Monday, November 12, 2007

Life Lessons From Poker

Playing poker can be incredibly frustrating. We all know the times we flop top pair/top kicker and make large enough bet to deter someone from chasing their flush draw. They call anyway and miss it on the turn. Then you increase the bet to the point that they have absolutely no pot odds on calling, but of course, they do anyway and catch the flush on the river.

Other frustrating times in online poker include the reality that you can only ever play the cards that you're dealt. There's always tournaments where you get a run of incredibly bad cards--you know, the seven deuce off suit, nine three, queen deuce, jack five, ten six, suited deuce three, three eight, king three, jack four... run that seems to repeat itself forever. I know I've been there and I've actually checked to see that I've once played 100 hands in a tournament without catching one pocket pair (The preflop odds are about 1/16). Most recently, I was in a tournament where I ace jack twice, no pocket pairs, and maybe ace four/five a couple times out of about 100 hands.

When you go through these moments, it feels like walking in the desert thristing for water. You almost start to see mirages... It's not long before a suited A3 starts to look like pocket aces to you. By now, you're chip stack is so low that you go all in, merely hoping to steal a blind, only to get called by a big stack with a hand like five ten off suit. Of course, everytime the 63% preflop odds that you have crumble when he pairs his five first card on the flop.

The opportunity in these moments is that it teaches you a little about bluffing--and ultimately, hopefully you learn the most important lesson about bluffing in poker. Though it plays an important role and can greatly augment your chip stack, ultimately, if you're suffering a run of bad cards and worse flops, bluffing alone is not going to win you the tournament. If you flop the worst hand with enough consistently, you're not going to win the tournament--period.

Bluffing in poker suffers on inevitable reality--the odds! The more you have to bluff, the less likely you are to make a profit. What can be even more frustrating than a run of bad cards or getting a bad beat, is watching a horrible poker player make a series of really bad calls and get lucky. When you are staring at his massive chip stack and thinking about how poorly he has played, the only realization that you can make is that luck may or may not be random, but it certainly isn't usually fair.

Given all the possible frustration inherent in poker, the only solution is to learn how to deal with this frustration. With the dealing of a single card, odds can turn on a dime and anything can happen. The sooner you accept this, the less frustrating poker becomes. The easiest way to accomplish this is to try to focus more on the decisions that you actually made rather than the final results. After all, it's the decision alone that really matters even though you can make a good decision and lose or a really bad decision and win.

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