KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “mistakes”

If I Had a Time Machine

If I had a time machine, it would be a very simple time machine.  My time machine would only allow me to go back in time; I don’t need to see the future before it gets here.  Not far back either – a maximum of about 15 minutes would be enough.

You know all those times you say something that doesn’t come out right and you know it immediately?  Like when Mrs. asks if I like HGTV, or do I want to go to the grocery store.  Or Mom calls and asks why I don’t call her more often.  Many self-inflicted kerfuffles could be fixed with a quick trip to my time machine.

If I had a time machine, my life would be more harmonious.  I’d also be rich.

With my time machine, I’d do-over a few poker hands from this week.

First, there was that hand where the button straddled for five BBs, several players just limped in and I put out a big raise from the cutoff seat.  I just wanted to pounce on the limpers’ chips, holding decent but far from dominant cards.  The small blind — for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Dave” — called rather quickly, so fast the thought flashed through my mind that my raise had been large enough that it should give him pause.  After two more callers (jeez, some of these guys want to see every flop!), another original limper re-raised all-in with a short stack.  I’ll call him “Andy.”

Andy’s limp/re-raise seemed unusual, in the sense that there were three limps before his.  Why wouldn’t he go ahead and raise the first time around if he has a monster hand?  Now the pot has approx. 195 BBs in it already and I have the other players covered.  It will only cost me 38 BBs to call Andy.  With juicy odds, I’m not folding, but a fancier thought enters my head.  If I shove all-in here, I can drive out Dave and the other callers and isolate Andy.  With lots of dead money in the pot, this would be a profitable play.

As I announce my all-in bet, Dave slides his entire stack into the center so fast it gets there while the sound waves emanating from my mouth are still moving across the table.  I think back to his original limp as the first player to act after the button straddle, and to his rapid response call of my original large (30 BBs) raise.  While I’m retracing these steps in my mind, a fourth player also calls, explaining later the pot was too big, too tempting not to join Andy and me as lemmings following each other off the cliff.

The fact that I have an ace reduces the probability of Dave having two aces, and also is irrelevant.  A reduced probability is not a zero probability.  I like Dave, however, and think he likes me.  Of course, he does have pocket AA, a/k/a American Airlines, and flips them over without forcing me to show my soul crushing hand first, despite protocol dictating that I show first.  It’s easier to be magnanimous when you are scooping in a pot with 900 BBs, plus or minus a few.  There are some speculative comments as to what I had while I suffer silently.

If I had a time machine, I’d play that quite differently.

Second, there was a hand later that night when I was in middle position with 6s 3s.  One nickname for 6-3 is the Spanish Inquisition, in reference to a Monty Python movie line, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

Before the action got to me, however, another player raised to 8 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Ray S.”  Still wounded from Dave’s ambush, I fold.  Playing junky cards like these – low, suited, with two gaps – is a losing proposition.  Playing from behind sometimes works, but starting out with the lead is smarter.  Ray S. does get a couple of callers, so we see a flop of Kc 8h 7s.  Everybody checks.  The turn is 5s.  Had I called pre-flop, now I would have an open-ended straight draw with my 6, plus a spade flush draw, with the 4s potentially giving me a straight flush.  Now Ray S. bets and gets two callers.

When you are running bad at poker, the badness comes in all forms.  Sure enough the 4s comes, and I wish I had my time machine.  At this game, there is a straight flush piggy – a jackpot that builds every week and is paid out when someone makes a straight flush.  The piggy is now 540 BBs.  Ray S. shows pocket KK.  He flopped top set and decided to check the flop for deception.

Third, there was one more hand that same night where I raised pre-flop with QJ.  Some poker pros called this hand Hawaii, as in “if you don’t play QJ for a year you will save enough money to go to Hawaii.”  Another player – I’ll call him “Rob,” makes a massive re-raise.  My raise was 6 BBs.  Rob goes to 50 BBs.  Is this a show of strength or just a move to try to blow me out of the hand?  He still gets one caller.  Some of these guys want to see every flop.  I want to see this one.  But I don’t have a time machine, I’m still bruised from shoving into Dave’s aces and bleeding internally from the curses of the Spanish Inquisition.  And someday I might like to go back to Hawaii, so I fold.

The flop is JT9, with two hearts.  That would give me top pair, plus an open-ended straight draw.  If I were in the hand, with a large pot and modest remaining stack, I would cheerfully get it all-in here.  Rob bets about 50 BBs more, and the other player calls.  The turn card is a K, the river a blank, and Rob shows Ah Kh to take it down.  He wasn’t going anywhere on that flop!

Fourth, a different night of the week.  The player to my right raises to 10 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Gary.”  With TT, I call and there are two other callers and we see a flop of 764.  Gary bets 35 BBs.  His large continuation bet indicates a very big pocket pair, like AA or KK.  He’s been studying poker rather furiously over the last few months, trying to improve his game, with one result being much greater aggression.  Another result has been better vision into what’s happening when things get all wonky.  I think he might be able to fold a big over pair on a board like this, if he realizes that his hand is pretty transparent.  When it becomes obvious that you have AA or KK, and another player raises or shoves on the flop, you are toast (most of the time), and this flop connects with set-mining hands like 77, 66 or 44.

So I shove, pretty quickly and aggressively.  Gary looks startled, as he should.  He had about 140 BBs at the start of this hand, and I have him covered.  He asks me, did you flop a set?  Oh well, he says, I guess if you did then you got me, and he puts in the rest of his chips.  It WAS obvious what he had, at least I got that part right.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and spare myself the misery of being right about his hand, right about his ability to smell trouble, and wrong about his willingness to surrender.  Two out of three ain’t good.

Fifth,  there was the hand where I was dealt AA later that same night (or more accurately, in the wee hours of the following morning), we were playing short-handed.  There is a small raise to 3 BBs and Gary calls.  I re-raise to 11 BBs and both call.  Here we go!  The flop was 7c 6s 4s, the same as the hand above only with different suits.  Should that be a tell?

I bet 15 BBs and both call.  The turn is 7s.  This is gross – it pairs the top card on the board and fills out a flush.  Gary checks and I check too.  On the button is a player who, for purposes of this blog, I’ll call “Zach.”  Zach can be very aggressive when he smells weakness, and is sometimes prone to excess aggression towards the end of a long poker session.  He bets 40 BBs and Gary folds.  As the original pre-flop raiser to 3 BBs, it is entirely possible that Zach has a pocket pair higher than 7’s, perhaps including one spade.  It’s also possible he has something that includes a 5 and flopped a straight draw.  Or he could have trip 777’s or a made flush or full house already.

The board is almost perfect for him to apply pressure, which he will do here with very high frequency.  I double check and do not have the Ace of Spades.  Nevertheless, I call.  This is now a leveling war.  He knows that I 3-bet pre-flop, indicating strength.  I know that he calls my 3-bets when in favorable position at the table – and late in a long session – with a wide range.  He knows that I’m trying for pot control when I check this turn, or perhaps have a weaker hand like AK.  I know that he likes to apply pressure and his bet is not necessarily indicative of a better hand than mine.  He knows that I don’t automatically surrender to his big bets.  (Earlier I called a small pre-flop raise from Gary with A9o.  After another caller, Zach re-raised more than the size of the pot, a move popularized by Dan Harrington as the “squeeze play.”   After Gary folded, I shoved with a short stack and doubled up through Zach’s king-high.)  I know that he knows that I know that he knows…

Perhaps neither of us really know what level the other is on.  My flop bet was deceptively small (note to self:  when doing this over in time machine mode, make a man-sized bet on this flop!), so despite the pre-flop 3-bet, my true hand strength is probably under-represented.

The river is the Ts, putting four spades on the board.  [insert curse words]  I check again, and Zach slides his entire stack into the middle.  There is no way I can call now.  I flip my aces face up into the muck, and Zach smiles as he shows a bluff, with 54 and no spade.  My read on the turn was right, but the river card made it impossible to continue.  The badness of running bad comes in all forms.

But I gotta tell y’all, and this is absolutely true, if I had a time machine I’d be rich!

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Mistakes and Coolers

In David Sklansky’s classic book The Theory of Poker, the author introduces his Fundamental Theorem of Poker:

Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.

In his view, a mistake is any play that delivers a gain to an opponent.  It’s worth noting that this is Sklansky’s personal definition of mistake, used for purposes of his book, and deviates considerably from a standard dictionary definition (such as “an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong”).  For a poker action to be a mistake, it doesn’t matter who ultimately wins the pot; you can take an action in a poker hand that you would not have taken if you could see your opponent’s cards, then draw out a winning card on the river despite long odds.  You win the pot, but your earlier action is still a mistake.  It also doesn’t matter if other players would have made the same play, as often happens when the 2nd nut hand loses to the absolute nuts.  If you could see your opponent’s cards, you would act differently.

My previous blog post noted that We All Make Mistakes.  So it seems inevitable that the next time I play poker after writing that piece (last night), I suffered through a flood of mistakes.

I made the mistake of being passive when I should have been aggressive, calling a pre-flop raise with QQ, intending to set a trap.  I later learned the villain had TT, after a flop of Js Ts 3s (giving him a set; me an overpair and flush draw).  The 4th T came on the turn, giving him quads.  In hindsight, I might have lost more had I re-raised pre-flop; but at the time of the pre-flop action, not re-raising was a mistake.

I made calling mistakes.  Many of them.

  • In the hand noted above, I called a river bet after a K came on the last card.  Duh… calling when the villain has quads is a mistake!
  • I called turn and river bets with 88 on a board of 432-7-J.  The villain had QQ and just called my pre-flop raise.  His trap worked, whereas my earlier attempt to set a trap with QQ failed.
  • I called flop and turn bets (the latter putting me all-in) with 22 after a flop of 972.  The villain had 99 for top set, crushing my bottom set.  This is a cooler, and fortunate for me that my stack wasn’t too deep.  Under Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker, however, calling was a mistake.  If I could see the villain’s cards, I would not have called.  Ouch!
  • With KQs, I called a check-raise and river bet on a board of K64 (two clubs)-6-5.  This was late, the flop was very drawy, a scary turn card came, and the bluffing frequency around the table escalated considerably in the prior half hour.  Not this villain –> he tables A6.  Had I checked-back on the turn for pot-control, I still would make the mistake of calling a river bet, but would lose far less.
  • There was one at least one other river call mistakes, but thankfully I cannot now recall the details.

I made betting and bet-sizing mistakes.  Many of them.

  • With 77 on the button, I flopped a set on a board of 875 (rainbow), and called a flop bet along with two other callers.  The turn J created a flush draw, and everyone checked to me.  One villain called my bet.  The river K completed the flush draw.  I bet again, and the villain called with a very weak flush.  He had 62s, got to the flop when no one raised, flopped an open-ended straight draw and turned a flush draw.  In addition to the river bet mistake, I was too passive pre-flop.  Another cooler, yet still a mistake according to Sklansky’s definition.
  • I made a flush on the river (after my turn semi-bluff got one caller) and a large bet after the villain checked.  He called again, with a bigger flush than mine.  Yet another cooler / mistake.
  • Several times I made a top pair / good kicker hand on the flop, where the villains were too weak to call a bet.  I bet anyway and they all folded.  Had I been more patient, perhaps I could have gotten some value on a later street by giving them a chance to catch up.
  • Other times I was the pre-flop raiser and made continuation bets on flops that didn’t connect with my hand at all, only to be called and have to surrender later.  C-betting with air against a top pair hand is a mistake.

Of course, I didn’t know the villains’ cards in any of these hands at the time of the mistakes.  That’s the thing with the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.  We have to take actions with incomplete information.  This leads to frequent mistakes.  If we can make fewer mistakes than our opponents, we can win over the long run.  The first key to making fewer mistakes is to improve hand reading skills.  Better reads = fewer mis-reads = fewer mistakes.  The second key is to learn to mitigate the effects of tilt.  Tilt leads to anger and other negative emotions, and intense anger shuts down higher brain functions — especially decision making and self-control.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.”

Put me down for progress, with a long way to go to reach wisdom.

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We All Make Mistakes

“We all make mistakes – especially at home.”

I found these words at the Daily Stoic, in an article about Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher who became Emperor of Rome from 161-180, then broke with tradition in selecting his incapable son as his successor rather than a proven leader.

Ironic, isn’t it?

It was Marcus Aurelius who said this:

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. … I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.”

Marcus taught us to approach our fellow humans as kinsmen –  think of everybody as a brother, sister, cousin, etc. – to be loved and not hated, despite the flaws of being busybodies, arrogant, deceitful, envious, or unsocial.  His point is that people are flawed, flaws are part and parcel of the human condition, thus we should expend extra effort to condition ourselves not to overreact.

Poker is a competitive game involving incomplete information.  Even in games like chess where nothing is hidden, there will be mistakes.  In poker, less information leads to more mistakes.  The same is true in many other activities – investing, relationships, negotiating, weather forecasting…

We all make mistakes.  The Stoics acknowledged that, and developed their school of philosophy around forgiveness – of themselves and of others.  We cannot control others in a manner that prevents mistakes, bad attitudes, negative emotions, poor judgment or devious conduct.  We cannot expect to conduct ourselves to be mistake-free.  The Stoics reasoned that we must work at controlling how we react when these inevitable things happen all around us.  Otherwise, every one of our days is surely to be ruined.

Two millennia later, Marcus Aurelius’ words ring as true as ever.

I’m re-reading The Mental Game of Poker, by Jared Tendler, which is an excellent book.  Tendler offers strategies for letting go of mistakes – whether made by yourself or other players who end up winning despite their errors – that put us on tilt, which further blocks the brain from making correct decisions.  Among other strategies, Tendler advocates writing as a tool for working through aspect of your “mental game.”  Here I am.

I have made many mistakes.  I continue to make mistakes.  I will make many more mistakes.  Poker mistakes cost me money.  Other mistakes cost me in other ways.  I own my mistakes, and they are the experiences from which I can learn the most.  I hope I can learn, and also forgive.

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