Monday, October 04, 2004

"Come Find Out"

An interesting article by Steve Badger here, which started out as a point on poker strategy, but turned into a meditation on the death by his own hand of poker player Andy Glazer. (via Guinness and Poker). Badger is right that poker, especially tournament poker, is a game of emotional high and lows -- and the lows can be very low. It's not a game for emotionally fragile people.

I keep on meaning to write a "What I've learned from Poker" essay, which is something that every poker blogger eventually writes. I guess I haven't found all that much profound to say. But I'm sitting here watching/listening to the webcast of SpaceShip One's attempt to take the X Prize, and I'm not willing to go to work until the flight is completed. So here we go, to fill the time...

In no particular order:

1) Texas Hold `Em Poker is a game of luck as well as skill
2) Control your destiny
3) Recognize when you're in trouble and cut losses early

Opposed to most of the tournament play you see on television people who play on-line tend to bet their hand without giving much thought to their opponents' cards. That can be very frustrating when you have the statistically best hand... until the turn or the river, that is.

The best starting hand doesn't always win, in fact often doesn't win if the hand is played out till the river. One thing I have learned from Hold `Em is that you're always better off being in control of your own future, whether in life or at the tables. In poker that means betting hard pre-flop and flop with a good hand, trying to make it as painful as possible for anyone else to continue. The more you let random chance (in the form of another card on the table) play a role, the better your chance of losing.

I'm always amused by the whining you hear -- both live and on-line -- about bad beats. It's a fact of poker -- and life -- that it's not deterministic or mechanistic. The best hand always does win. But the "best hand" is not the best hand until the hand is over, whether that's because your opponents folded, or because the river card is played.

You have to acknowledge when you've lost, which is a difficult thing when you've just bet a significant part of your stack -- what the commentators call "pot committed" and the cards -- or your opponent's bet -- is giving every sign that you have the second-best hand. You start with a pair of Aces in your hand, a deuce shows up in the flop, another on the turn, and your opponent goes all in. You've probably lost. There's a million variations of that scenario. Some days I feel like I've played every one. I've probably been knocked out more often through refusing to let go of losing hands early than other way. It's very hard to let go.

At some point it does make more sense to stay in and let luck take charge -- when you're short-stacked and will be going down in a few hands anyway. In fact, in one of the tournaments where I placed second that's exactly what happened. I was in one of the final tables with less than $12,000 of chips where the next-smallest stack was over $50k. Several all-ins later I was at the final table, still short-stacked in comparison to the other players, but now with over $60k in chips. I ended up in second-place, still my best finish in an on-line tournament.

All done. SpaceShip One has flown. The X prize is won. Time to go to work.

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