A Fish By Any Other Name Smells The Same

“Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck — but, most of all, endurance.”
–James Baldwin
Well, I’m beat. Between poker and work, I can barely keep my eyes open. Shoot, I’m 27 years young and when I get home from work it ain’t Miller time, it’s siesta time. I don’t know how all y’all with kids out there do it. It’s probably the lack of exercise… I remember being tired in my old football days, but it was a good kinda tired, not an old-worn-down man tired.
But enough whining, I just wanted to warn you that the following ramblings may not be my finest writing…
A Fish is A Fish
I was intrigued by a comment I received for my last post, which suggested my several references to “the fish” suggested that I may be a bit too proud for my own good, and that this overestimation of my own abilities would cause “many more lost dollars flee your bank account”. I don’t mind the suggestion that I may be too proud, but having my bankroll sprouting a couple legs and leaving my account is going a bit too far.
First off, I want to clarify that when I use the term “fish”, I’m only trying to convey the image of a player who is not playing to maximize his expected value. I suppose I could use the term “gambler” or “non-EV maximizer,” but I feel that “fish” provides a standard and more colorful image than these terms.
Secondly, I don’t think that I’m a great player. I do think that for a player with one year of poker experience, I’ve learned a lot faster than the “average” player. I also believe that if I continue to play and think and write poker, I will be a great player. But there’s always someone more talented than you. No matter how good you are, you can always find someone who has more natural ability at something than you do. But I don’t play poker to be the most talented player in the world, I play to be the best player I can be. And so far, I think I’ve accomplished that.
If you don’t believe you can outplay the opponent who is betting into you, you will lose money to him. Relativism aside, if you don’t believe you can make the correct play at that moment against that player, he will probably beat you. Confidence at the tables has a huge impact on the number of big bets you make per hour, and if you don’t think you’re one of the best players at the table, you shouldn’t be there (unless your motivation is something other than to win money, which is fine… then stay at the table and match wits against those with more skill than you). Doubt and failure, if unchecked, will create a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause you to lose.
But that’s just me– I play to win. For me, I get a lot more enjoyment out of knowing I played the hand correctly than from getting lucky and winning money. I don’t care about the bottom line (or I try not to anyway), I care about making the correct play based on odds, my read of other players, and the flow of the game. For example, last night I caught a 4-outer to fill up on the river, after a guy with a flopped flush slowplayed me when I flopped 2 pair. I’m still kicking myself, despite winning $100 on the hand. I’m more proud of getting all my money in with Aces preflop, even though my opponent caught his 3rd king on the flop and the hand cost me $200.
I played one of these hands well, and one of them terribly. The results, in these particular cases, do not correspond with the “goodness” of the choices I made. But that’s poker, and if you don’t believe that in the long run your correct choices will make you money and your incorrect choices will lose you money, then you’re just a gambler. Which is fine, but then we’re not really playing the same game.
There are plenty of people at the casino who sit down expecting to lose their buy in, and are willing to cough up 20 big bets to gamble it up, ignoring odds and probability and just enjoying the whole gamble of it. I think this is a good attitude towards gambling, but it’s not the way I think about poker. The majority of low limit players at my usual haunt would think it ridiculous to read a book about poker strategy and even more ridiculous to call yourself a “student of the game”. But I enjoy studying, so that’s the way I approach poker.
I defer to The Mighty Izmet Fekali to explain the way I feel about people who take different kinds of joy from the poker table:
“Examine your motives for playing. Some people play for money, some for fun, some for the excitement, some for the punishment. These are all valid reasons to play poker. Respect the losers, they have their own reasons for playing. They are usually getting what they need from the game. It’s OK to be a loser if that is what you need (I’m not speaking with tongue-in-cheek here, this is a fact. Self punishment is the underlying reason for most weird behavior in life). If so, be a loser in moderation.”
And I think here is the key to no-limit poker. Know thyself, and know thy opponent– if we understand our opponent’s motivation for playing, it will help us to understand his raises and calls much better. For example, last weekend’s no limit game featured a young guy who was clearly there to gamble– he wanted to go home broke, or with a wad of Franklins in his pocket. This meant that if he had some chips in front of him, he was gonna be in there gambling with you with anything, no matter how much you raised… he didn’t care much about odds or the size of raises– if he thought that he had any chance of catching the winning card on the river, he’d be in that pot. And I have a lotta respect for the guy. He played without fear, and busted me a couple times, and of course I doubled up on him several times. I don’t mean disrespect when I say he was a fish, I’m just saying that he was there to gamble.
Thanks to all of the commenters who assured me that my writing didn’t paint me as a know-it-all poker snob who berates others at the table. Anyone who’s played with me knows that it’s this type of player I go after, while I usually end up laughing it up with the gamblers and other assorted fish.
You’re all talk
I played my longest session ever this weekend, 11 hours straight without a break at Hollywood Park. My cards were not spectacular, and aside from a few mistakes, I thought I played pretty well, and at the end of the day found myself up 12 big bets after 11 hours at $6-12. Not a spectacular win rate, but with the draconian rake and poor cards, I was happy to come out ahead. The results would have been considerably better if I had won the $300 pot I built with AKd, when two diamonds flopped and a guy who ended up showing AA was happy to ram and jam along with me. We trapped 3 players between us, but the third diamond never came, and the monster pot was not to be mine.
That Belmont gallop was the best horse race I’ve ever seen, even if my horse (Hard Rock) completely died down the stretch.
I’ve decided (for now) to play only No-Limit at the B&M and stick to multi-tabling limit online. This will allow me to build my bankroll online, and the live NL games are much more enjoyable and probably ultimately more profitable than the heavily raked limit games (although a guy who played only premium hands took 1K off of my $6-12 table after he flopped top pair nearly every hand he played). I’m rereading Texas Dolly’s ultra-aggressive no-limit advice, but probably the best gem regarding no-limit came from the blogfather himself:
“Most of the money I make in No-Limit comes from beating top pair.”
I added, “or from beating somebody’s slow-played overpair.” The underlying advice here is to be careful with your top pair and overpairs, and learn when to lay them down. I’m still working on it…
I wore my new sunglasses at the toughest of the three tables I played (I quickly moved after the fish busted out), and didn’t feel too bad about it (I hate the image it creates). I think it inspired a few players to try to bluff me, and ended up winning me a couple big bets.
Anyway, when I sat down to play on Empire last night something felt different. Somehow it seemed easier to feel when I was beaten, and the game seemed clearer to me. The only thing I could think of was when I was learning to play guitar– I’d have these marathon sessions that would leave my fingers destroyed from playing all day. A couple days later, the chord changes would come easier, and it was like my brain had somehow absorbed far more from the single long session than several short sessions. In other words, I had a great (but short) run at 3 $3-6 tables, and felt like my game had improved.
Of course, I proceeded to blow away a chunk of that profit fooling around at a NL $25 table full of bloggers (read Pauly’s writeup here), but at least the money went to a good cause.
Poker Blog Patrol
I’ve been trying to keep up with all the great writing up there, but it’s getting tough. I can’t say enough about my fellow bloggers, and there is just too much good stuff to link, so I won’t even try.
The only thing this tired boy can offer is links to some of the newer blogs, in case you haven’t seen them yet…
Poboy is an up and coming low limit player coming off a bad run. Poboy shows his wisdom piping in on the “is party fixed?” debate:
“BB and I have a running debate about whether Party is fixed. I argue that it is not. My rationale is, why does PP care who wins and who loses, they are making so much money on the rake it’s ridiculous. And second, making a RNG is not trivial, but making a card-dealing algorithm that favors certain players or “creates action” is a much tougher problem. Considering how terrible there software and production environment is, I can’t imagine them having the resources to build such an engine.”
J9o is a new blogger who’s trying to build up a stash for his 30th bday in Vegas. Make sure you check out his link to Shana Hiatt’s earlier work, if you are interested in her artistic endeavors.
FHWRDH is another LA up and comer with a nice-looking site. Hopefully I’ll get to sit at his table someday:
“this week, my goal is to read and study the limit hold’em chapter of brunson’s super system (thanks for the bday present, facty) written by bobby baldwin. in preperation for vegas next month, i’m going to commerce casino with lkim from work on saturday. my first casino game. i felt like i shouldn’t even set foot in a casino poker room without reading this. i know – nerd.”
And finally, I’ve been reading The Poker Chronicles for a while now, and thoroughly enjoy the tales of a true professional gambler. Check out his recent Atlantic City trip reports, which includes one of my favorite fish stories:
“The turn and river missed him and my pair of 3s won a $700 pot. Of course everyone at the table went crazy. The kid asked me how I could call that much with bottom pair and I told him that I saw his hand. The entire table couldn’t stop laughing. The kid accused me of cheating, but since it is his responsibility to cover his own hand I just laughed it off. He was very upset, but he got over it and I would have bet that he would be much more careful about exposing his hand in the future, but that bet would have been a loser since one hour later I could see some of his hands again.”
Thanks for reading, sometimes it’s good to add a little hubris to your diet…

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