Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
The proof of poker prowess is in the long term. Although I’ve developed skills that allow me to access who’s playing correctly and who isn’t, this evaluation often takes time.
When a new player sits down and wins, you’ve got to ask yourself whether that’s a result of good play or good luck – or a combination. You might see a bizarre play, but you can’t decide on that flimsy evidence that the opponent plays strangely. All world-class poker professionals make strange plays. But they chose their moments.
So, when you see new players make unusual decisions, you’ve got to ask yourself whether it’s an indication of how they typically play or an exception to their normal strategy. You might do some early guessing, but you shouldn’t form a firm opinion about an opponent’s play until you’ve gathered lots of evidence.
How strong is that new player? Well, you’re just not going to know in the short term, so you need to get used to that reality. Everything about poker that matters happens in the long term. Luck can be surprisingly good to you or bad to you over the course of a few hours or even a few weeks.
That’s why it’s usually impossible to convince other people that you’re a superior player quickly. Last week we talked about Harvey. If you’ll remember, he was coaxed into teaching his wife Helen how to play poker. She wanted to participate at the party they were going to in a few minutes. During his crash course, he lost patience with her. Well, the story doesn’t end there. Helen did take her minimal skills to that poker game and got very lucky. Then she announced that she was taking a break and asked her husband to “play a couple hands for me.”
It’s one of those weird games with plenty of wild cards. Immediately, Harvey tries to assert himself, tries to prove he’s a fancier and more-accomplished player. Poker just isn’t the right kind of game to demonstrate immediate superiority to others. You may have the skills, but the cards will have their say-so, too. And in order to prove something in a hurry, you must stray from your stable, patient, winning style of poker.
That’s what Harvey does. It’s seven-stud and, by using wild cards, his opponent has four jacks showing. Harvey decides this is a good time to bluff, because, he reasons, if the opponent only has four jacks and not five – which is possible with wild cards – he has to know he is beat. Nobody would bet into four exposed jacks, so the bluff will work against any intelligent opponent. I’m sure that’s how Harvey has it figured as he struggles to impress his opponents. He’s hoping to be able to win the pot and show his clever bluffed. Clever, but hopeless.
He ends up making the last raise. His opponent doesn’t fold and he doesn’t win.
Remember, winning at poker isn’t a straight-line accomplishment. You don’t sit down at the table and get paid so much per hour. You earn that much per hour over time, but it’s losing hours and winning hours all averaged together. That’s what proves your proficiency. It’s long term. And since you can’t even prove to yourself that you can win in any given hour, how do you think you can prove it to an opponent? Don’t even try. — DB