Accepting Reality At The Poker Table

Accepting Reality At The Poker Table

“The smart man accepts. The idiots insists.” – Unknown

One of the most baffling parts of my job is seeing people repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this one: “Oh, I was doing great in the tournament, then I tried to run a bluff on a guy and he called me down with one pair.” “Do they ever fold one pair?” “No,” the player says, laughing, “people don’t fold pairs anymore live.” I sit there in silence. “Then why would you give your tournament away like that?”

Why are we laughing? Why does everybody do this? Why are we getting angry like the other person did something wrong? Have you ever heard this? “Some idiot called me down with third pair. He totally should have folded.” He called you down and was right? He caught you bluffing, and he’s the idiot? I have watched more cash game and tournament poker than probably anyone. I have analyzed literally billions of hands through databases. Yet, many of you guys know exactly what I’m going to tell you:

People don’t like to fold pairs.

Accepting Reality And Not Bluffing In Bad Spots

Unless you know the guy is a self-assured pro without an ego who can understand range analysis, you probably shouldn’t try to bluff past the flop. On the flop, you’re getting people to fold high cards, and there’s plenty of them. You’re fine bluffing there. Pick a bet that folds high cards, and you’re generally good. You’ll be making money as long as you isolated a wide range in your opponent, but after they call you on the flop you have to accept reality on reality’s terms. He doesn’t want to fold a pair. You can overbet, sure, that’s worth trying. You can set up a triple barrel bluff if the final bet puts him all-in. That spooks some guys. Or you can accept that the best solution is often the simplest. If they don’t want to fold to you on the turn and river then you shouldn’t try to bluff them. The end. Value bet more thinly and be happy they’re calling. Don’t concern yourself with what someone should do, concern yourself with what they will actually do.

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The Reality Of Facing Three-Bets

The other time you’ll see poker players completely lose touch with reality is when they’re facing a frequent three-better. This is one of the most frequent emails I get: “What do I do when there is someone to my left who is constantly three-betting me?” One, you should move tables, but if you’re in a tournament, I want you to know what you’re actually asking me. “How can I keep opening any hand I want to play when there’s someone to my left who is not allowing me to do that?”

The answer is fairly simple. You don’t get to open your unsuited broadways or suited-gappers anymore. You have to ask yourself. “What hands would I love to open when I know a three-bet is coming?” Pretty simple right? I have to do this all the time.

I took my family on a vacation to Prague a couple years ago, and I decided to play some poker while I was there. I generally don’t love playing poker in Eastern Europe or Central Europe because many of the players are working pros, and that was certainly the case here. I had three guys to my left in a World Poker Tour event who were dying to three-bet me all day. So, what did I do? I opened T-T+ and A-Q+ the majority of the day. When someone three-bet me I jammed my 50 big blind stack. Eventually, the three-betting stopped, and I could open wider again. The reason nobody wants to do this is because it took me seven hours to open up that lane again. No one has that kind of patience. They want to open K-10 offsuit right now damn it.

The Payoff Of Patience

At one point, the stacks were right for me to do a four-bet bluff. I could open A-10 offsuit or A-J offsuit and turn it into a four-bet/fold with the ace blocker, but that window closed pretty rapidly, and I had to let it go. I ended up final tabling this tournament, by the way. It wasn’t because I was better than many of the pros I was playing with. In fact, there were a few guys I was pretty confident were way more schooled than I was on high stakes poker. I think I ended up getting a payday out of this tournament because I accepted reality on reality’s terms and did what I could. I let the moment come to me, as opposed to trying to create the moment. There is a big difference between those two.

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