11.17.2005

Four Easy Pieces

(NB: Please, if you would, look at the second-most-recent post as well. I'm trying to get a headcount, take the pulse of the limited corner of the poker-blogging community that this humble blog reaches.) Don't let the last hand get to you. We all know that particular bit of poker wisdom - don't go on tilt. The cards have no memory, no sense of justice, the cards don't care and neither should you. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results, or however that bit of mutual-fund boilerplate goes. I say this is all well and good, but doesn't go nearly far enough. Preflop percentages are totally irrelevant when you get to the flop. If you played QQ fast in position and got four callers, a flop of 6d9d2c looks pretty ok. But when everybody calls you on the flop and the ace of diamonds comes out on the turn you are probably well and truly fucked. Your preflop odds no longer matter; the bets you have invested in the pot no longer matter; the number of outs your opponents had on the flop no longer matter. I'm not saying I wouldn't bet if it was checked around to me here (though I'd probably want Qd to do it, because I am a wuss and would rather be drawing to maybe 5-9 outs instead of, oh, zero to one); not buckling when scare cards come is the price of aggression. But every betting round requires you to evaluate a new situation. When it's your action, you have to make your decision based on the relative strength of your hand and the tendencies of your opponents, and while this decision requires you to incorporate information about action on previous betting rounds, it does not depend on them. Despite all the admonitions about only playing poker when you're playing poker, I often find that I play a little better when I'm multitabling or otherwise slightly distracted, because it's easier to look at every round with fresh eyes. A hand doesn't stand on its own - it's four little games all its own, and you've got to play all of them as well as you can. Mistakes cannot be corrected, but they can be compounded - you can't let a bad flop call prevent you from making a good call on the turn if you've picked up a decent draw. When we're learning poker, we tend to think in generalized concepts, little tips and rules of thumb that keep us from going broke while we learn how to play the game. Aggression is good, but aggression for aggression's sake is transparent to all but the weakest players. The oft-repeated canard about not drawing to an inside straight ignores the all-too frequent situations where it's a profitable opportunity. Poker is a zero-sum game in theory as well as in practice; in order to learn something new you have to be willing to forget something old, even during a hand. It's an increasingly complex holistic process that only ends when you play the last hand you'll ever play. So here is my wish for you: play many hands, learn much, and play better against everyone but me. I'm sure you wish me the same.

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