For a few weeks last winter, I took some poker coaching from Bill “Ain’t No Limit” Hubbard. Although I suspended the coaching at a time when there were too many concepts swirling around in my head and I needed to slow down and digest them better, he taught me a lot – an awful lot – about how to navigate through live cash games of Texas Hold’em.
Sadly, Bill passed away in May. Even more sadly, I only learned about his passing yesterday, while searching on the TwoPlusTwo forums for something completely unrelated. RIP Bill… may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.
Our last email exchange came in mid-April, after a bad beat in a nearly $1,400 cash game pot. I wrote:
Bill, Link below to a cash game hand at 2/5 during WSOP Circuit stop in NC. Villain was a very good player but also very aggressive and caught 2x in large bluffs recently. Your thoughts??? ShareMyPair link here.
Bill replied the next morning:
This is a cooler which you cannot get away from. She lost money overall in the hand and you won overall in the hand. Variance had you lose this time. No biggie. She gambled and won this time, but loses most always.
Bill’s short reply integrates two concepts he worked hard to teach, and helped me move past this hand a little faster than I would have otherwise.
The first is variance. Over the short run, variance can be a real bitch. You will lose big pots that you thought you should win. Bad beats, coolers, suck outs, etc. will occur seemingly too often. Losing big pots is painful. It hurts the ego, hurts the bankroll, hurts the confidence, hurts the table image, and hurts some more. If you are going to play a lot of no limit poker, you better accept the fact that variance will be there to bitch-slap you from time to time just when you least expect it. But over the long run, variance is your friend. It is the reason winning players are able to win, as it is variance that keeps losing players coming back to the games. Without variance – in this case referring to the big hands that are won by overall losing players – the good games would dry up. More and more losing players would go gamble elsewhere, to find another source of variance (blackjack? craps? roulette? horse racing?) even though they are still likely to lose in the long run. Meanwhile, a winning player, who can get money in the pot over and over with a positive expected value, as a 51% or 65% or 90% favorite, is going to keep winning over the long run.
The second concept is reciprocality. Bill taught reciprocality as originally described by Tommy Angelo:
Reciprocality says that when you and your opponents would do the same thing in a given situation, no money moves, and when you do something different, it does.
In the subject hand, the she-Villain called a pre-flop raise from one of the blinds with 4-3 off suit. I would fold. So in this given situation, I would not do the same thing as the Villain. In the short run, she won a large pot. That’s variance. In the long run, she will lose much more by playing this way than she will win. In this particular hand there was a perfect storm. She has 4-3. I have 5-5. The flop is A-T-2. She has, in reality, only two outs to make a wheel straight. I have the same two outs to make a set. without which I would not be putting any more money into this multi-way pot. Even after all the money goes in the middle on the turn, I still have 10 outs to win.
Reciprocality is both a very simple and a very deep concept. You can think of this existing on every single move in a poker game. Often the right play does not involve any reciprocality. For a very simple example, imagine a heads-up game, where the Villain makes a large pre-flop raise and you have 3-2 off suit. You fold, of course. The Villain would do the same thing if the roles were reversed. While the Villain wins this individual hand, over the long run you will break even with respect to each other as it relates to this exact situation. Your reciprocal edge comes when you play differently from the Villains. The biggest source of reciprocal profit, in my opinion, happens to be the simplest. This is folding marginal hands pre-flop, especially out-of-position. Folding troublesome hands that others would play is a huge source of profit, by enabling you to retain more of the money you win with your good hands. Other sources of reciprocal profit come from bet sizing that is different from Villains bet sizing, well executed bluffs that Villains would not attempt, and so on.
Thanks again Bill for some excellent lessons.
Now I’m going to re-read the reciprocality section in Tommy Angelo’s classic Elements of Poker.