Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.
About this series: The following column is part of a series of self-interviews in which I get to ask my own questions and then answer them.
About the numbering: Don’t worry if you haven’t read any previous columns in the series. Each one is independent. The questions continue with number 161, but you can subtract 160 and start fresh, if that makes you happier.
About today’s word, “Teeter”: I’ve always been a fan of the word “teeter.” I like the sound of it when spoken. And I like the way it looks on paper. There are about a million words in the English language, and teeter ranks 991st on my list of favorites, meaning that 999 out of every 1,000 are inferior to it. Naturally, I’ve always sought a way to use teeter as Today’s Word, and finally I’ve found one.
Question 161: You tend to teach poker in peculiar ways — no offense intended. Has teetering been a core part of your poker philosophy for a long time?
Not really. I haven’t even thought about it until today.
Question 162: I’m guessing that teetering is about keeping yourself in control when you’re close to losing focus. Can you explain the word teeter as it applies to poker?
I haven’t had time to define it yet. And, you’re wrong, it really has nothing to do with teetering on the edge of going on tilt or anything else related to poker discipline. Instead, it’s a decision-making concept. It’s a new way of looking at what I call borderline decisions.
Borderline decisions are ones that provide a very close choice between folding and calling, between calling and raising, or between checking and betting. Teetering is the state in which near-borderline decisions exist. That’s important. And notice that I said “near-borderline.” Decisions that are exactly borderline do not teeter. They need to be pushed or they maintain balance.
Question 163: Okay, so what the hell are you talking about?
It’s simply this: Most of the money you will ever earn in poker will come from decisions that appear to be borderline at first. That’s because obvious decisions don’t require special analysis. Moving all-in with an unbeatable hand against an opponent who always calls is a very profitable move. But it’s not much of a decision. It’s obvious, and you don’t excel simply by making obvious choices correctly.
Profit comes from harder decisions, ones that aren’t obvious, borderline ones. You can tell that a decision is borderline whenever you can imagine that an expert is watching you play and whichever decision you choose, he won’t be jumping up and down astonished by your stupidity. Either way will, at most, generate a yawn. That’s a borderline decision in a nutshell. The great truth here is that the majority of your poker decisions regarding hands you can reasonably play — and those regarding how to play once you’ve already entered a pot — can be construed as borderline. Only a minority of those decisions are obvious.
Because so many of the decisions you make are borderline, most of your profit comes from making quality choices at those times — a few cents here, a few dollars there. In order to make correct decisions, it helps to understand teetering. Enemies in a fight lose their balance and fall. Trees lose their balance and tumble when you saw them down. The trick is to make sure enemies complete their falls and trees tumble in the directions you intend.
Your goal is to make borderline decisions that cause things to fall in the right direction. If your enemy is teetering and you push from the wrong side, you’ll only help him regain his balance. Same in poker. If your tree is teetering and you saw from the wrong side, it will fall your way and crush you. Same in poker.
Question 164: So, how do you get poker decisions to teeter the right way?
Good question, because it implies correctly that the decisions themselves are doing the teetering. Obvious decisions are like enemies who have already lost balance and are falling fast, so you just need to give them an added shove. Borderline decisions are either perfectly balanced or are teetering slightly (the near-borderline kind).
If they’re perfectly balanced, add more poker factors in an attempt to cause teeter. For instance, if you can’t decide whether to call or raise with your ace-high flush after seeing the flop, ask yourself whether that particular bettor is a frequent bluffer. If the answer is yes, then usually just call, hoping to profit from a continued bluff on the next round of betting. It was a borderline decision, but you’ve caused the teeter by asking an additional question. And you’ve responded by pushing in the right direction.
The real profit comes from not treating borderline decisions as coin flips. Instead, look for the slightest teeter and always, always push in the direction the opponent will likely fall.
Question 165: Are you saying that paying attention to this ridiculous concept, which you formed simply because you wanted to use the word “teeter,” will help you win at poker?
That’s what I’m saying. — MC