The Poker Wisdom of The Matrix

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”
–George Lois
Although I haven’t been playing much in the past couple of weeks, I did take a few shots at WSOP qualifiers, most notably a $300 buy in tourney that a faithful reader told me about (thanks Sloanny). The tourney was at the top floor of a nearby hotel (the legality of it was unclear), and probably had the worst players I have ever (or will ever) see relative to the prize pool. With rebuys, the prize pool ended up being $30K, with the top prize being a seat at the WSOP main event.
So this was my one shot at the Main Event, and I couldn’t ask for better odds. The field looked to be about 75% full of terrible players, making this tournaments where I’d guess that I actually was somewhat of a favorite.
I’ll spare you the details, but basically I stole a lot of blinds and built my stack only to go all in with QQ on a flop of J 9 4 against a maniac, who called with 33. Somehow I knew the 3rd 3 was coming (I’ve lost to this hand the last 3 times I’ve faced it when I’ve been all in with an overpair), and sure enough, it came on the turn, much to the screaming maniac’s delight. So much for the WSOP.
In general bad beats like this don’t bother me too much, as long as I played as well as I could. But lately the beats have been adding up, and I feel like I’ve forgotten what it feels like to walk out a big winner. So to remind myself what it feels like to beat the odds, I am turning to Neo, Morpheus, and the rest of the Matrix crew for some poker wisdom from those who got tired of the grind…

The Poker Wisdom of the Matrix
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
This one goes out to all of the players trying to go beyond the grind and do something more at the poker table than just value bet their premium hands. Morpheus’ lecture foreshadows what could be the future of online poker: a collection of bots and grinders playing systematic poker against a handful of opponents who have to use courage, wits, and creativity to beat them.
In the battle of the romantic Mike McD against the pragmatic Joey Knish, everyone roots for romance. Grinding out high percentage hands and folding marginal hands is a proven formula for success. But the great players who make the big scores are willing to take seemingly absurd risks when they feel they can beat their opponent, and these players represent the “cream of the crop”. Moneymaker’s monster bluff against Farha in the 2003 WSOP was an example of courage and creativity triumphing over percentage play, and illustrated the beauty of poker: a well-timed and executed bluff will always beat a pure percentage play.
Of course, I’m not arguing that mathematical analysis shouldn’t be applied to the way you play your hands. Just as Neo learns to work within the matrix, the creative and courageous poker player must also know the numbers on every hand. But the difference between the stereotypical grinder and the romantic uber-poker-player is creativity and courage.
Agent Smith: It seems that you’ve been living two lives. One life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you… help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias “Neo” and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
This quote, from one of my favorite all-time movie characters, goes out to all the poker bloggers out there who have a job. I remember when I was first playing, I would come home from the bureacracy and frustration of work and sit down to the strange world of online poker (or occasionally the even stranger world of Hollywood Park). At the tables, there is some semblance of order. You play well, you win (usually). There are 52 cards, and you can figure out the odds of making your hand and your opponent making his. The closed world of gambling theory and poker concepts was comforting after the confusing and often absurd corporate world.
I think one of the reasons for the popularity of online poker is that it provides hope for everybody out there… not the hope of making a quick buck (although I’m sure that’s part of it), but the hope of someday making the big score after putting in the time and effort to become expert in poker.
Agent Smith: I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.
This one goes out to all the grinders who know what it’s like to run bad. There are few things more frustrating than being repeatedly rivered by a school of fish who chase you down hand after hand. You watch them stacking up monster pots after their two outer came in against all odds, and can’t help but think, “What a game!”. If you aren’t careful, the implied odds being offered to you are like the voice of the Siren, and you begin to play trash like 97 offsuit because you think you can limp in for one bet. But by the time it’s back to you, it’s been three-bet and now you’re forced to call with your trash. At this point you wonder how the gills on your neck got there, and how you ended up investing 4 big bets with your 97o in this huge multi-way pot.
If you can’t make peace with the gambling theory involved in loose games, you’ll wind up like Mr. Smith– facing the long call on the river with the taste of stink in your mouth.
Morpheus: You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.
Morpheus’ advice to Neo is excellent advice for the aspiring player. Fear, doubt, and disbelief are the symptoms of a player who is results-oriented. With a proper understanding of variance, a player is freed from the frustration of bad beats and bad runs. Understanding of gambling theory and the ebb and flow of bankroll is like armor against results-oriented thinking. Once you’re playing in games within your bankroll and understand variance, you can let it all go and free your mind.
Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Neo’s awakening is similar to the poker player’s leap from weak-tight to tight-aggressive. I’ve seen it in my own game and lately in the play of some friends– instead of thinking that a bet or raise means that an opponent has the nuts, the player opens their eyes and works backwards to determine that the opponent’s betting pattern doesn’t make sense. When the lightbulb goes off and all the pieces come together, they surprisingly announce “Raise” with confidence, and usually rake the pot after their opponent mucks on the river.
The opening of the eyes allows the player to see a wider range of events at the table, and connect them to the psychology and tendencies of their opponents. At this stage, their aggression increases and they now “see” when to make tough laydowns and difficult value bets on the river. At first it hurts, and the player makes a lot of mistakes in judgment, but over time these mistakes are reduced and they have a huge advantage over their opponents. Weak-tight players become targets for well-timed bluffs and value bets, and gamboolers will have to pay through the nose to hit their draws.
Poker is a lot of fun when you open your eyes.
Before I sign off, I have to thank everybody’s who’s supported The Poker Tracker Guide. All of the feedback I’ve gotten has made all of the hard work that went into it worthwhile. Hopefully it’s worth more than a few big bets to all of you Poker Tracker fiends out there.
I also should point out the new offering from Tiltboy extraordinaire Phil Gordon:
Final Table Poker DVD
I haven’t seen it myself, but I have inside information that this DVD is groundbreaking in terms of getting into the mind of a world-class player. Rumor has it the heads-up match between Phil and Chris Ferguson got very competitive.
Thanks for reading and good cards.

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