Two nights off: The Cooler and Confidence

The wife is off from work Tuesday and Wednesday, so it’s been two days with no poker for me. Back to the grind tomorrow night. We went and saw “The Cooler,” a movie about gambling and love with William H. Macy. If ever a movie “pulled no punches,” this one is it. Just some brutal scenes. Overall not much of a movie, but there was a fair bit of gambling, so I was happy.

One of the ideas in the movie is that Love brings luck on the tables. This theme has been explored in thousands of movies in one form or the other. The loser hero falls in love, and suddenly is transformed to winner. Is there any truth to this legend? Well, I think that love can bring confidence, and believing in oneself is a major component in being successful at anything. It brings us back to the theme that in poker or in sports, if you don’t believe you’re the best, then you’re not playing the best you can play. On the football field, there were many games where I was sick, or injured, or just not at the top of my game. And there were times when I let that affect my game– I let myself believe that because I was sick, I had an excuse to not make a big play. But these lapses were rare– I always felt that there was a little switch that I could turn on when the adrenaline hit, and I would be able to beat anyone on the defensive side of the ball. Whether or not this was true, this belief helped me to make the play– if I didn’t believe I was better than the defense, how could I beat them?

In poker, the confidence from a rush or a few great plays can put one in “the zone.” The poker zone is a place where all doubts are gone, when you are 100% sure that the guy you put on AK has AK. Whether he ends up having it or not, that confidence makes you play better. The problem in poker is that confidence is dangerous. I’ve found myself sitting at a table where every player there has clearly never read a poker book. I’ve found myself seeing more flops, thinking “I’ll outplay them after the flop,” and then wincing when my top pair loses to some guy who filled up holding 72 offsuit. There is a fine line between extracting the maximum amount of bets from a game, and playing it safe. Lee Jones tells us to play it safe. But it’s hard to resist those chips that are just waiting for us on the table.

My poker confidence is still in flux. My stats tell me I’m a solid player, averaging nearly 2 BB an hour for 100 hours. I believe I’m a solid player. But my stat classes kick in, and tell me that 100 hours is nothing. I want to be more than a “solid” player, someone only bets when they are sure their odds are heavily in their favor. It’s easy to value bet with top pair, top kicker, but what about the times when you think you can bet your Ace high for value? Hopefully with experience will come confidence. The brain is superb at pattern recognition, and we are naturally wired to learn from patterns. The key is being able to break down the hand into something that you’ve seen before, so you can apply the general principles you’ve picked up along the way.

I remember reading a study they did on a bunch of movers in Alaska. They told the movers to pack a box as they normally would (with limited space, as usual for the movers). Then they gave the problem to the mathematicians, who applied an optimal packing algorithm to the geometric shapes to be packed. Guess what? The movers packed optimally. They had learned the algorithm (or something like it) after years and years of experience.

So the bottom line is, I need to play more. Practice. Practice isn’t much fun, but when you finally make it to gameday (15-30 tables?), you’re prepared for the big game.

I guess all of this should be obvious, but it helps me to see it on paper. I have faith in our ability to learn patterns, even when the number of variables is in the thousands. Eventually we’ll put it together.

I was hoping to take one of my first stabs at poker theory about opening with middle Aces on a loose table (inspired by Sklansky’s current column on, check it out), but all this pattern recognition stuff suggests I should just play it out and learn the patterns. I also want to explore the probability that if you flop second pair, your hand is the best, but I’m too tired now. Hopefully I can get to that in the future.

So train your neural networks, and believe in yourself. See you on the tables Thursday night.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply