Lessons learned from a garbage hand

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
–Alan Kay
First off, a big thanks for all the comments on my last post. Y’all make this blogging thing worthwhile.
Second, thanks to Iggy for setting up the latest blogger tourney at Stars. I think I came in somewhere around 80th, getting caught stealing and having my top pair get outkicked by the BB. At least my man Monk made a good showing, finishing 14th to sneak into the money. I was happy to see the bloggers remain undefeated, as MtDewVirus edged out ToddCommish to defeat a mighty group effort from the readers.
Good luck to the blogfather, whose first week as a poker pro begins next week. I can’t wait to read about it, and I’m expecting great things from Iggy nation. I had the pleasure of sweating him in the PartyPoker million yesterday, and watched him steal pots like a fox and make big laydowns like a farmer. The reason that good tournament players can consistently finish near the top is because of their ability to steal when they aren’t getting cards. Yesterday Iggy’s steal to get-caught ratio was something like 15:1, allowing him to hang around for 70th place in the field of 1700+. It was a pleasure to watch.
As for my own play, I had another hot week at $10-20, and although my play was limited, my win rate wasn’t. Poker seems so easy when you’re getting the cards– I find myself wondering if the game can really be this easy to beat– and then I remember the cold streaks, when I wonder if I’m good enough to beat any poker game. Lately the cards have been very kind, which means I’ve been catching my draws much more often than I’m being drawn out on. Maybe I should offer some sort of tithe to the Poker Gods to keep this run going. Or perhaps a check made out to Mr. Moneymaker and Mike Sexton would be good enough.
Any two cards can win?
This week, I’ve done my best to play every single hand as well as I can, and extract the most value from every card I’m dealt. The middle limit games are comfortable to me now, and a lot more enjoyable– I no longer spend most of my time calculating implied odds before the flop as I did in the low limit no-fold-em games. The middle limits are about playing the players, and the cards become far less important. Since a raise in early position or middle position often gets you heads up with the big blind, you usually only have to outplay a single player to win the pot.
In a battle against only a single opponent, you really can win with any two cards, as the “third level” of poker thinking comes into play– it’s much more important what your opponent thinks you hold than the actual two cards you hold. If you are able to use your table image and figure out how your opponents perceive you, you can literally win with any two cards.
The above paragraph helps explain how I ended up losing 5 big bets with 64o. At the time, the hand seemed insignificant, just another hand of many (although it was the only time I can remember voluntarily putting money in the pot with 64o). But looking back, this hand taught me a valuable lesson.
A wild player in late position was opening the pot with a raise every time the players ahead of him had folded. I hadn’t had any cards in a while, and found 64o in the BB, and decided that it was time to put an end to this reckless blind stealing. I was getting 3:1 to call his preflop raise, and I was positive that he would pay me off if I outflopped him. So I called, and the flop came 8 6 2 with two hearts. I checkraised him on the flop, believing my second pair was good, although it was possible he had the 8. The turn was the 4 of spades, giving me a weak two pair but a powerhouse against this player. I bet and he called. The river was a blank, something like the jack of hearts. I bet and was shocked when I got raised, and sat up to try and figure out what this guy might have. AA? No, he would have played it more aggressively on the flop. JJ? No, again this guy was not a slowplaying type and would be scared of the hearts. J8? Yeah, that seems more likely than a big pair, but doesn’t seem right. Could he have the flush?
Anyway, my curiousity got the best of me and I decided to pay him off even though I was pretty sure I was dead (the combination of (curiousity) + (the small chance my hand was good) + (the value of this information for future hands) made it worth the extra bet). I call, and he shows 83h for the flush. Now, on this hand, I was right about several things, and I was mentally patting myself on the back for my courageous blind defense with 64o. I was right to call his preflop raise, as he had only one overcard and I was much better than 3:1 to win. I was right that my hand was good on the turn, and I was right that I was beaten on the river.
Another minute went by and I realized just how terrible it is to congratulate yourself for anything when you lose 5 big bets with 64o. Yes, I was right about the play preflop, but I was wrong that my second pair was good on the flop, and I gave him an extra bet on the river when I was pretty sure I was beaten. 64o?
It was just another hand in a series of hundreds, but this hand resonated with me for a few days. I felt there was a lesson to be learned here, but I hadn’t yet deciphered what it was.
Recently I was going over some of Monk’s hands from his terrible run of cards, trying to figure out what if it was simply variance or if he had a serious leak somewhere. What I found was several hands where he was overplaying top pair against a single opponent when it was clear to me that he was badly beaten. I asked him about these hands, and he remembered them, usually saying that the single opponent was a maniac, and he had thought his top pair was good. From my perspective, it was obvious that the opponent’s 3 bet meant two pair or better. But after his explanation, I could see how this signal could be misinterpreted if the sender was a maniac.
I thought about this a while, and I ended up telling Monk, “I play the cards a lot more than you, and the players a lot less than you.” He agreed, and realized that he needs to play the cards more. On the other hand, I think I need to play the players more, and my focus on the cards is probably something that comes out of the year of playing no-fold-em games. In low-limit games, if you see a 3 bet, you’re top pair is toilet paper. The middel limit games force you to go beyond this mentality, ,and I’ve been learning how to play the players more. It’s a lot easier to figure out what one or two opponents are thinking than 8 or 9 calling stations.
Which brings us back to my 64o. On this hand, I was playing the player, and not the cards, and although I played the hand correctly (almost) from the playing-the-player perspective, in the long run, I’m going to lose money calling maniacs with 64o in the big blind. While you might be able to outplay the raiser 70% of the time, the hand is just not strong enough odds-wise to make you a profit in the long run.
The lesson here is that the predictability of your opponents dictates the importance of your hole cards. If your opponent is predictable enough, you can get away with playing any two cards profitably, since in effect you have “complete information”. The more unpredictable the player is, the stronger your hand needs to be, since you end up relying more heavily on the strength of your hand (since it’s much more difficult to outplay an unpredictable opponent).
Thanks for reading and throw that 64o in the muck.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply