Waiting

I’m reading a new poker book, Poker with Presence: Unlocking the Final 15% by Jason Su. Channeling lessons from Tim Gallwey’s classic The Inner Game of Tennis (which was very influential in my own racquet wielding teen years), Su describes poker Presence as a sort of bridge between what you study and how you perform. Presence enables the mind to access its full range of knowledge, and act on it, when it is most needed.

I’m a big fan of this sort of thing, having at various times praised books like Painless Poker (Tommy Angelo), The Mental Game of Poker (Jared Tendler), Zen and the Art of Poker (Larry W. Phillips), Ego is the Enemy (Ryan Holiday) and the writings of Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.

So many times, we are spectators in a hand where Player A has gone all-in and we watch Player B spend agonizing moments in the tank, in some form of paralysis by analysis, either unable to recognize he is about to be hit by an oncoming train, or incapable of getting out of the way before the crash. with no investment in the pot, our minds are stress-free and we see the obvious. Yet when Player B is me, the mind plays tricks, saying maybe, maybe, maybe this is different. Or asking the wrong questions. Or using math to attempt to solve a non-math problem.

In Poker with Presence, Su refers to a Zone of Genius, which he borrowed from another book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. [Note to self: add to collection.] When we are in this zone, “others notice how easy we make it look and comment on it. The Zone of Genius is the place to be.”

One exercise is to recall times when you found this special zone and describe what you were doing in the form of verbs. I tried this and came up with several. One is waiting. There are plenty of good spots to win poker chips. But you have to wait for them. Not waiting means giving away chips unnecessarily, by trying to win pots that you cannot or will not win. Waiting is patience, and patience prevails in the long run, as your opponents will make mistakes if you let them. When I’m most willing to wait, not tilted or trying to climb out of a hole or prove some trivial point, I’m more likely to find my Zone of Genius.

In my most recent online session, playing a full 6-max NLH table, this concept came into a key hand. I was dealt AA in the small blind. The player under-the-gun raised to 3x the big blind. That’s a pretty standard sizing for online games. While UTG should have a strong range here, it’s not as narrow as it would be at a 9-handed table. In online 6-max games, some loose-aggressive players will raise UTG with any pocket pair, any suited ace, any ATo+, and lots of suited connectors.

Then the button serves up a pot-sized re-raise, to 10.5 BBs!

I look at stack sizes. The button started the hand with 63 BBs. I have 113 BBs, and UTG covers us both.

My options are interesting. I can 4-bet right now. This might isolate the villain on the button and set up an all-in bet on any flop. With a positional disadvantage in any post-flop betting, I might as well seize the betting initiative and be happy to win 14 BBs rake-free if everyone folds, or effectively pot-commit myself if anyone calls.

But a cold 4-bet is super strong. Will I lose my customers by telegraphing such strength, allowing them to play perfectly?

I can also go all-in right now. Some players would assign hands like 66-TT or AQ to an all-in bet that they might not assign to a smaller 4-bet of 25-30 BBs, then talk themselves into calling if they think it’s likely going to be a coin flip. The button is more likely to do this than the UTG villain – other things being equal – based on the size of his stack and especially if UTG folds. By shoving, I would be trying to hide in plain sight.

A third option is calling. This is tantamount to waiting, as it gives both villains the greatest amount of space in which to make a mistake. I’ll either trap one or both of them, or trap myself in a post-flop no man’s land. What does my range look like when I just call? I’d say any pocket pair JJ or lower and possibly AK/AQ. Note how similar a calling range is to a shoving range. How can this be? The difference is whether I’m more passive or more aggressive. The passive player wants to see flops before getting more heavily invested in these hands. The more aggressive or gambly player either thinks he has a decent amount of fold equity, or just doesn’t care.

I decide to look behind curtain #3 and call.

Boom! UTG goes all-in. I’ll soon learn that he has QQ.

Boom boom! The button calls off his remaining stack. He has 99. Remember what I said a couple paragraphs earlier about going all-in. “Some players would assign hands like 66-TT or AQ to an all-in bet that they might not assign to a smaller 4-bet to 25 or 30 BBs, then talk themselves into calling if they think it’s likely going to be a coin flip.” We just found one such player.

My aces hold up to win a 282 BBs pot.

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