Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
What’s all this talk about “missing a bet” in poker? You hear it often, but is it real science, just jabber, or both?
That’s the topic for today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What does missing a bet mean?
It means that a player declined the opportunity to make a bet when it would have been profitable to do so.
Question 2: So, missing a bet sounds like a bad thing. Do you agree?
In theory, missing bets can cost money. Just like any other judgment mistakes, betting is often a close decision. And the answer to whether a bet has been missed or not isn’t always obvious.
What is obvious is that many poker players are so worried about missing a bet that the entire concept is damaging their bankrolls. I was there when this craze started. It was back in the 1980s when I first heard the term, I think.
It began as an infrequent way for players who envisioned themselves as superior at poker to point out mistakes others were making: “You missed that bet!” This prodding quickly became a plague that remains with us today – embedded deeply in our consciousness.
Sometimes the scolding was done in a friendly way and sometimes it was done to embarrass. It became so common that players would immediately point out their own missed bets, before they could be criticized by anyone else: “I missed a bet. I’m so sorry. I know better, really. Now I’m going to cash out, go home, and ponder my wasted life, because I’m an unworthy player.” Well, maybe not, but almost.
Question 3: So, wasn’t that a good thing – being conscious of missing bets?
No. It turned out to be a very bad thing.
Question 4: How come? What were the problems?
The problems were many. Most importantly, a lot of players became overly aggressive and began to lose. It was a problem that egos were damaged when bets were missed. It was a problem that players tried never to miss a bet. It was a problem that the table discussions of whether bets were being missed made weak opponents conscious of poker strategy and stopped them from having fun with their “lucky” adventures.
And that last one is important: When you discuss poker tactics at the table, you’re making the less skillful players uncomfortable. And those are the ones who normally supply your profit.
But more than that, Players were just plain wrong in their analysis of missed bets. Perhaps I was partially at fault. After all, I had consistently advocated a more dynamic style of poker. I taught that, when you’re just guessing, you can get into a lot of trouble being aggressive. But if you know the answers, know which bets are profitable and which aren’t with scientific certainty, they you can fire bets rapidly into the pot and become the force to be reckoned with at the table.
Unfortunately, this new “poker think” – advocated by me and others – mutated. Maybe it was the first dangerous poker virus. Maybe it was madness. All I know is that chips were flying at you from every direction.
Question 5. But wasn’t it a good think that serious players became more aggressive? Wasn’t that what you taught?
Not exactly. I taught that you could make more bets and raises when you were sure that doing so was profitable. So, if you studied by advice, you were aggressive. That part is true. But I also taught that you should be very selective about the hands you played and that you should sometimes be passive, rather than aggressive, to make the most money.
What these serious players were doing wrong was obvious to me:
1. They perceived missing a bet to be a more terrible transgression than it was. Actually, the mere fact that some skillful player “missed a bet” is a pretty good indication that making that wager wasn’t a completely obvious choice.
That meant the value of getting it right was small and that choosing the correct way might work either in your favor or against you in the short term. And, in the long term, the combined decisions would have little impact on overall profit.
2. They lived so much in fear of missing bets that they seemed to be psychologically devastated if they imaged that they had made the mistake. This caused them to overbet themselves away from profit. Average players, making decisions sensibly, were actually beating superior players!
3. They failed to realize that if you’re not missing bets, you’re betting too often. You can guarantee that you’ll never miss a bet simply by betting every time. That obviously isn’t going to be a winning strategy.
So, the secret is to realize that it’s okay to miss bets, especially when it’s a close decision. Sometimes being passive causes an opponent to make big mistakes. Checking can be an offensive weapon.
If you’ll just look around you, you’ll see that players obsessed with never missing bets are quite serious about poker, quite aggressive, and quite often broke. — MC