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.
Back when I was growing up in Texas, women fretted about doing the proper things on dates. They didn’t want to seem too adventuresome or appear immodest. They cared about how others would perceive them and how they would perceive themselves. And the words you heard over and over were that they “wanted to feel good about themselves in the morning.”
That sentiment may be ancient history today, judging by what I’m told about the modern dating scene. But maybe that’s unfortunate. Feeling good about myself has been a guiding principle throughout my life. I even think you should expand upon it and apply it to poker. If you play poker the best way you know how, making the decisions that seem logical and right to you at the moment, you’ll feel good about yourself in the morning. If you don’t, you won’t.
I think a big part of not feeling good about how you played, when reflecting on it in the morning, stems from words like these: “I knew he had me beat, but I had to call with three aces.” Or these: “The pot was so big, I had to play jack-seven.” Or these: “I was pretty sure I had the best hand, but my cards just weren’t strong enough to call.”
Fit the situation
In poker, you don’t have to do anything based on your hand or the size of the pot. There are no rules that dictate that you can’t lay down a big hand or call (or even raise) with a weak one. Poker hands aren’t weak or strong based on their rankings. They’re weak or strong based on how they fit the situation right now – considering your opponents, their moods at the time, the way the action unfolded, and your assessment of how your hand relates to all of that. Yes, the size of the pot matters, but it’s only one of the measurements to consider.
Sometimes you can tell that players are off-track just by listening to the things they say when the hand is over. Often I hear a player complain in words similar to, “You got lucky. I wanted to call, because I was sure you missed your flush, but I couldn’t with just an ace-high and no pair.”
Worth at the moment
When you say that, it isn’t so much that the opponent got lucky; you made your opponent lucky by not calling. Again, there are no strategic rules that dictate ace-high, no pair, is too weak to call – just as there are no rules that say a flush is too strong to fold. You should never go by how high your hand ranks on a chart, isolated from the circumstance that you face. In order to win those chips, you must go by what your hand might be worth at the moment.
The secret to winning at poker is for you to play your cards, not to let your cards play you. When you make decision in accordance with “I couldn’t call, because I only had a small pair” or “I had to call, because I couldn’t fold a straight,” you’re letting your cards play you.
And if you do that, you won’t feel good about yourself in the morning. — DB