My first foray into the LA poker world went...badly.
You never really know, when you lose, how much of it is due to bad luck and how much is due to poor play. It’s easy to assume that every time you win you played well. Similarly, it's easy to beat yourself up every time you lose. (As I have been all week). But the two don't necessarily relate. You can play very well and lose, and you can play very poorly and win. To play “well” means that you play in a way will win over the long term. It means you put money into bets that will win more often than they lose. But in the short term, anything can happen. If you’re constantly putting money in on hands that are 80% favorites, you’re a good player. Even so, 20% of the time—1 in 5—you’ll lose. And if your opponents are any good, realistically you’re much more likely to be putting money down on hands that are only 55-60% favorites.
So it’s helpful for me to think about how I play independently of how much I win or lose. To evaluate decisions, not results. (A tactic, by the way, that I think is useful outside of playing poker. That's why poker is REALLY interesting--because of how much it connects to).
I think I played OK last night. B-, let’s say. Maybe I’m just being charitable.
Most of my losses occurred in one hand. I describe it below. I still don’t know if I played it well, badly, or somewhere in the middle.
Game: No Limit Hold’Em
Place: Mos Eisley (otherwise known as Commerce Casino--“a wretched hive of scum and villainry”)
My hand: 8d Qd
I’m on the button. Everyone folds to the cutoff, a terrible terrible player. He limps in. He’s already shown a willingness to call enormous off bets on very thin draws. He’s also on tilt. I have position and I feel pretty good about my chances of outplaying him after the flop. I raise to 40.00$. I figure I’ll either take down a small pot (of the blinds and the donkey’s limp) or he’ll call, and I’ll play heads-up, in position, against a poor player.
Instead, the Big Blind re-raises, making it 75.00$. Limping donkey calls (putting in 65.00$ more on top of the 10.00$ he’s called with, on a hand not good enough to raise the button and the blinds).
It comes back to me. I consider the Big Blind. He’s a decent player, I think. But, like most players at the middle-limits of NLHE, he’s already shown an inability to fold big hands. (He’s lost a large pot earlier when his overpair got beat by a set.) He’s clearly ahead of me at this point in the hand—I put him on KK or AA. However, I have a hand that will be very easy to get away from if I miss the flop. And if I do outflop him, I think he might pay me off. Also, there’s limping donkey. He can’t lay down anything; god knows he’ll pay me off.
If I call the BB’s raise, I’ll have a little more than 400.00$ left. The big blind has more chips than I do; the donkey has about 200.00$. That means I have a chance to turn my 400.00 into 1100.00$.
Or so I tell myself as I (perhaps mistakenly) call.
The flop: 8h 10d Jd
Huzzah and hurrah. This is about as good a flop as I can ask for. I have a diamond flush draw, an inside straight draw, and a pair. If the Big Blind has AA or KK, I have a total of 17 outs (two eights, three queens, three (non-diamond) nines, and nine diamonds). It's impossible to put the donkey on a hand, but even if it's something as good as 9/Q , I have outs to beat him.
The big blind bets 150.00$. The donkey goes all–in (it turns out to be $280.00). I think for not very long, and go all-in as well. The pot has gotten large enough to justify a call, and if I'm going to call 280.00, I may as well reraise. It's unlikely I'll push out the BB, but it's not impossible. Anyway, I'm willing to play for all my chips. Even though I’m trailing, I doubt I’m worse than a 40% dog. As long as neither player has a diamond draw, I like my chances.
The BB thinks for a while, and then calls.
He tables: Ad Ah
The donkey tables: Js 9c
I am 44% to win at this point. (I find, now). I have invested a total of 450.00 to try and win 1150.00$. I am being laid the correct odds. Which is small comfort when the turn and flop come 10, 2 no diamond, and the Aces rake the pot.
In retrospect, I guess I could have folded preflop. There was enough dead money at the table that it might have been smarter to wait for a more clearly favorable opportunity to get all my chips in the middle. While it's true that this was the statistically correct play, it's also true that, psychologically, it can be difficult to open a session by losing 600.00$.
Once the flop came, though, I can’t get away from that hand. Can I?