Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
I want you to think about poker in an all-new way. Imagine a world where poker isn’t about calling and betting. Instead, it’s about buying and selling.
If you image that world, then you’ll understand poker as it really is. And you’ll probably make a lot more money at the tables. I’ll try to explain that in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Why does it matter how you define poker? It’s still the same game, right?
Right. It’s the same game.
Whenever you see a description of anything, you can say, “why does it matter? It is what it is.” Often it does matter, though. That’s because how you imagine something determines how you use or react to it.
Take a television, for instance. It could be described as a container surrounding a window that glows. In that context, it would become a great nightlight or decoration. If you define a TV that way, its purpose is to destroy the darkness. But if you define it as the receiver of transmitted information and entertainment, it has a more valuable purpose.
Poker is usually defined in the wrong way. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find that it’s a game played with cards. But that’s wrong. Poker has nothing to do with cards. A deck of cards can create individual poker hands; but that’s just a convenient way to compare secret values if a showdown becomes necessary to determine a winner.
That’s really the only function of cards in poker. I teach that you could play poker by leaving an ante on the kitchen table, taking a paper bag into the pasture, and trying to find a large cow chip to put inside. Then you could return to table and wager about whose bag held the biggest secret cow chip. All the elements of poker would be there: an initial required bet to motivate future wagers, the ability to bet, call, or fold, and the possibility of winning the whole pot without anything in your bag, by bluffing. That’s the nature of poker.
Fine. But you can break up definitions by focusing on partial aspects. Such definitions are incomplete, but useful. You can single out just the wagering and calling part of poker. Then what do you have? Obviously, you have a game based on betting and calling, right? I don’t think so. You have a game based on buying and selling. Buy and sell; that’s poker. Buy and sell.
Question 2: You’re repeating yourself. So, how does today’s word, “buy,” figure into this?
When you’re thinking about “calling” an opponent’s bet, imagine that you’re being offered something to buy. Why should you imagine that? It’s because you actually are being offered something you can either buy or decide not to buy.
What is for sale in poker is always one thing.
Question 3: What?
What’s for sale is opportunity – the opportunity to win the pot. It’s up to you to decide whether the opportunity offered is worth the price. So, instead of impulsive deciding to call or fold based on whim or weak evidence, base your decision on whether the opportunity is priced right.
When you think about poker that way, you’ll magically make better decisions.
Question 4: But there’s more to responding to a bet than calling or folding. There’s raising. Doesn’t your definition ignore that obvious factor?
No, it doesn’t. A raise happens when you buy the offered opportunity and immediately decide to sell it back at a higher price. That’s all there is to it. You will really benefit if you start imagining poker in this way. Repeating: A raise is agreeing to buy the opportunity, increasing its price, and putting it back for sale.
Question 5: Okay, we’re ready for the “sell” part. Can you explain that, too?
Whenever you bet, you’re either hoping for a call or hoping against it. If you’re a perfect poker player, betting a reasonably strong hand against the most powerful possible opponents, you shouldn’t care whether you get called or not.
You’ve presumably put an opportunity up for sale and have priced it right. But that doesn’t happen. There are no perfect poker players, so you need to be looking for advantages. In practice, you will try to sell your opportunity for more than it’s worth. But, you’ll be careful not to overprice it too much and damage the best chance of making the sale.
And I’m guessing you’re going to ask me how bluffing fits. I’ll save you the trouble. Think of bluffing as trying to talk someone out of buying something valuable that you don’t want to sell. Specifically, you don’t want to sell an opportunity to win the pot. That’s because you probably can’t win in a showdown. But you need your opponent to believe that you do want to sell. And you want that opponent to conclude that your price is too high.
Question 6: Your buy-and-sell concepts are interesting, but how will they improve my game?
They’ll improve your game, because suddenly poker won’t be about making difficult decisions based on impulse. It always will be about value.
In order to win the most money possible at poker, you must be both the best salesperson and the best shopper. — MC