I’m Not THAT Good; He’s Not THAT Bad

poker blog variance long-trem results

In big bet poker games such as No Limit Texas Hold’em, you’re about as good as your long-term results. The old adage that ‘75% of all poker players believe they are better than the other 75%’ might have a ring of truth to it, but good luck and bad luck tend to cancel each other out over time.

In the short-run, you’re not as good as you think you are when you win. And you’re not as bad as you feel when you lose. Last weekend was a case study in these concepts.

I was in Las Vegas for a few days with one of my buddies. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Zach.” We spent Saturday hopping around, with poker sessions at MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood and the Aria, and Sunday at the Bellagio.

At MGM, I raised pre-flop, flopped a Broadway straight draw and got one caller to a C-bet. Bink! The perfect turn card gave me the nuts, I bet again, and the villain raised. This is when you do a happy dance. I won a nice pot, but I’m not THAT good.

winning poker happy dance

On the other hand, at Planet Hollywood, Zach flopped a straight on a board with two clubs. He bet aggressively, putting the villain nearly all-in on the turn, then had to call the villain’s tiny all-in shove when his flush arrived on the river. He lost a big pot, but Zach is not THAT bad. The flush draw will miss nearly 80% of the time.

BTW, baseball legend Jose Canseco was seated at our table at Planet Hollywood. That has nothing to do with the subject matter of this post; just a fun celebrity sighting. Neither of us got involved in any interesting hands with him. But it brings back memories…

Jose Canseco ball hits head

Also at Planet Hollywood, one of my “straighters” got there on the turn for a medium sized pot, then my AA held up against QQ. In both of these hands, the villain was the same guy who doubled up through Zach when his flush hit on the river. I scooped home a bunch of chips, but I’m not THAT good.

losing poker sad

On the other hand, still at PH, Zach check-raised on a flop of 633 (with two spades) after nobody raised pre-flop and he was holding 53 in the Big Blind. His villain re-raised all-in and Zach called, only to see to see a third spade land on the river to give the villain’s A♠T♠ a flush. Zach lost another large pot that he should win 75% of the time. He’s not THAT bad.

At the Aria, in a $2/5 game, it looked like my table might break when we got down to four players. On my big blind, the first two players both folded. Normally, with only the SB and BB remaining, we would “chop” the blinds and move on. Being this short-handed, the villain completed the big blind, I checked my option and we saw a flop. Chasing a combo flush draw + gutshot straight draw, my straight card came on the river, giving me the well-disguised nuts. The villain had bet every street, then called a large, bluffy-looking raise to give me a nearly $700 pot (that was only $10 going to the flop). I’ll take it, but I’m not THAT good..

On the other hand, also at the Aria on a $1/3 table, Zach flopped a low flush after calling a pre-flop raise with 6♣5♣. He check-raised the flop and made a large turn bet, only to see a fourth  land on the river. Of course, #TheyAlwaysHaveIt means the villain has a nut flush draw (16% going to the river with Zach holding two of his outs). Another painful loss, but Zach’s not THAT bad.

Later, at my same $2/5 table at the Aria, a hyper loose-aggressive player had built up a large stack by bullying the table. I decided to fight back with a large 3-bet with ATo on the button against his pre-flop raise from the hijack seat, then C-betting on a J93 rainbow flop. When he called that bet, I was done with the hand and checked back after a low turn card.

The poker gods must have confused me with Barry Greenstein, delivering an ace on the river. I was prepared to check back again when the villain bet $500. Getting better at trusting my reads, I snap called by tossing out a single $5 chip and do another invisible happy dance as he mucks his cards without forcing me to show mine. I won a $1,650 pot with a pair of aces and mediocre kicker, but I’m not THAT good.

On the other hand, at the Bellagio the following night, Zach raised pre-flop with KJo, got three callers and flopped QT9 for another straight. He got one of the villains all-in on the turn with QT, only to see another T fall on the river. Zach lost an $800 pot, but he’s not THAT bad.

Zach surely felt bad at losing so many large pots. Losing tends to make you feel like a loser, and losing when you are way ahead over and over feels like getting kicked in the… well, let’s just say kicked in the teeth. In reality, not only did he not play that badly, he played quite well and deserved to come home with a healthy profit. For me, a few fortuitous hands and the absence of any bad coolers or suckouts made my results far better than any skill I can rightfully claim.


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