Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.
To play poker profitably, you’ll need to prepare for different situations. Some involve getting the most money with an advantage. You need to prepare for that. And some involve losing the least money with a disadvantage. And you need to prepare for that.
Seldom discussed is the art of preventing yourself from facing bad situations. Today’s word is “Prevent,” and this is another in my series of self-interviews. The first question just occurred to me, but I have no idea how I’m going to answer it.
Question 1: I was in a wild, full-handed, no-limit hold ’em game last year, sitting in the small-blind seat. I peeked at my cards and found a pair of kings. Unexpectedly, everyone folded in front of me and I was left trying to figure out how to get the most money from the big-blind player. I decided to raise the minimum, which meant doubling the $100 big blind to $200. My opponent raised to $700, having another $3,000 remaining. I moved all-in and he called the remainder of his stack. I turned over my two kings, but he turned over two aces. The board didn’t help either one of us. How do you prevent losing all your chips on that hand?
I’d appreciate it if you kept your questions shorter. But, in this case, you’re giving me an opportunity to make an important point. If you wanted to prevent yourself from going broke, you could simply fold your kings immediately and let the big blind win.
Clearly that would be ridiculous, because you have an expectation of significant profit when you’re dealt a pair of kings. Disasters surround us in poker – especially no-limit. You’re going to experience some, and if you’re not prepared to handle that agony with grace, you shouldn’t play.
What I’m trying to teach you today is how to avoid some disasters, how to face fewer than your fair share of them through prevention. In the hand you described, you might have just called, your opponent might have been cute and just called also, an ace might have flopped, your opponent might have moved all in after you checked and you might have been able to escape by folding with no significant loss. But that wouldn’t be the most profitable way to play the hand.
In truth, you were dealt what’s sometimes called the “ultimate cooler” and there’s just no way to escape. Your fate is predetermined. Barring some weird decisions, you’re going to suffer a huge loss. It happens.
Question 2: Okay, then could you give an example of something bad you can prevent in poker?
I’d be honored to do that. One thing most players aren’t aware of is how much money is lost unnecessarily when both they and their opponent have garbage hands on the final round of betting. If you’ve completely missed your hand and you think your opponent has a reasonable chance of also holding weak cards, you want to avoid a showdown.
This is true in all poker games, but especially true in limit games where the pot is many times the required size of the bet. The concept here is that if you and an opponent both have terrible hands, one of them is going to be better, but you don’t know which one. That means you’ll win half the time in a showdown.
Fine. Well, what if a small bet will win the entire pot? You’ll often find yourself in exactly that situation. If you’re checked to on the river, bet. If you’re first to act, also bet. Of course, if you follow this advice every time, it will be suicidal. What you need is a sense that your opponent has a high likelihood of also having a weak hand. And that often means that the cards demonstrate that he could have been shooting for a straight or flush and missed. Begin making small river bets in those situations and you’ll prevent yourself from facing a fifty-fifty showdown. You’ll often grab a pot at minimal risk that you might have lost.
Question 3: What else?
As I’ve repeatedly told readers throughout this column, the player to your left has a positional advantage, because he gets to act after seeing what you do. This advantage is so great that even the best players in the world lose money for their lifetimes to the players seated next to them, on the left.
So, your goal is to prevent players to your left from taking maximum advantage of their position. You do that simply by being friendly. You should seldom declare war by check-raising, because it’s too easy for them to retaliate later. Sharing poker philosophy with them, engaging them in good-natured banter, or buying them coffee often make them less likely to maximize their advantage. That’s the kind of prevention that’s well worth your effort.
Question 4: Is there a way to prevent weak players from improving?
I like that question, because it correctly implies that you don’t want weak players to improve. Obviously, all the money you can expect to win a poker comes from players weaker than you are.
You need to giggle with them, tell them you’re having fun going up against those weird hands, even when you lose. Lie – say that you play unusually weak hands yourself quite often. Whatever it takes. But don’t ridicule or criticize weak players, ever. Congratulate them when they win, and mean it sincerely.
The idea is to make the adventure of going against the odds comfortable and fun for your opponents. Reward them with flattering words when they succeed. To belittle them for taking the worst of it makes their adventure unpleasant, and they’re unlikely to take that ride again. No ride for them, no money for you. You need to prevent weak opponents from being discouraged.
Question 5: Do you want to add anything else?
Well, sometimes you need to prevent yourself from going quiet. I teach that you should be the one force to be reckoned with at your table, and you can only do this if you get a smattering of playable cards now and then. Once in a while that doesn’t happen, and it may be a good idea to “invent” a hand or two, just so you keep being noticed. Image matters, especially if your goal is to appear lively and in command. Sometimes the dry spell is too long and you should either quit the game or just sit and wait. But if it’s only been a short drought, you might play a few hands you normally wouldn’t, to prevent yourself from going quiet.
Many players get frustrated when they get drawn out on. I teach that getting drawn out on is a good thing in the long run. That’s because it means you started with the better hand and the only way you could lose was to be drawn out on. Understanding this prevents the frustration that can cause you to suddenly quit caring and play poorly.
We’ve only dealt with a tiny sample of bad things that can be prevented in poker. The point is that whenever you encounter anything that’s destructive to your bankroll, you should examine whether there are ways to make it happen less often. Don’t just try to diminishing the punishment and lose less; try to prevent the punishment and lose nothing. — MC
Next self-interview: Mike Caro poker word is Year