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When The Numbers Don’t Matter

Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs had not swung on a 3-0 pitch and created a hit in three years when he was playing the 2016 World Series. He would refuse to swing 97% of the time on that pitch count.

Knowing this, Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians threw a fastball in the strike zone.

To his horror, Ben Zobrist not only swung, but he opened up the entire World Series with his hit. Many people considered it the turning point of the championship series.

What Trevor Bauer missed was that that 97% figure was not worth much in the present situation. That statistic was created throughout the regular season. However, the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series were having a problem: Their entire team was jumping out of their shoes swinging at any pitch that even looked like a strike. On a 3-0 count with little risk associated with swinging, it was more likely that an anxious playoff player would swing.

It is important to know the numbers in No Limit Hold’em and create a good GTO strategy along with several opportunistic exploitative plays. That said, when you show up at the table to play, you have to understand that every day in poker is different. That’s why the game is so fun.

When do the numbers not matter? When someone has a tell, that’s a great reason to throw out your GTO frequencies.

In baseball, there actually are GTO solutions for certain pitch counts and game situations. But what if the pitcher is tipping their pitches?

This actually happened in the 2017 World Series. Carlos Beltran, an aging slugger, was watching film and noticed something. Yu Darvish, the hotshot pitcher from Japan the Los Angeles Dodgers picked up, was giving away what pitch he was going to throw. He had a tell in relation to how he gripped the ball before he threw. Carlos Beltran sat up in his seat, rewound the film, and watched it again. He wanted to make sure he had it right. Once he realized he was right, he informed the entire Houston Astros team as to what he saw. The next time they went to bat against Yu Darvish, they threw GTO out the window, because they knew what pitches were coming. They absolutely shelled the guy, and he left the game with his head hanging.

I tell you this story for a reason.

Major League Baseball is a multibillion-dollar industry. An elite starting pitcher makes hundreds of millions of dollars for scores of people if he’s good, and he costs them almost as much if he doesn’t perform.

You would think in this kind of high stakes environment someone would have discovered Yu Darvish’s tell, but no one did. Yu Darvish isn’t just anyone either. He is one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan, a country that regards baseball the same way Americans revere the NFL and Brits follow Premier League. In all the time Yu Darvish was a high school phenom and pro standout, no one had noticed he had a tell. It wasn’t till Carlos Beltran’s 40-year-old ass sat down and did the work that the tell was discovered. That’s exactly why the Houston Astros signed Beltran, even though he was “over the hill.” They knew the Puerto Rican would outwork the other guy and wouldn’t let his aging body hold him back.

Now, if MLB has tells that severe, what are the chances that absolutely no one in your 2/4 game has tells you can exploit? Or even just slight betting patterns that tip their hand? Moreover, how often does the situation of the day render the numbers irrelevant, like we observed in our first example?

If you pay attention, there are many moments when you have to throw your statistical reads out of the window. The guy’s river aggression frequency might be 68% and every analytical tool is saying it’s a call, but you have done your homework and know the guy has hit his hand.

You can never rest on your laurels in poker. Like Carlos Beltran, even if you’ve achieved all the glory and you’re already a legend, you still need to pay attention and look for the next edge. The game never ends. That’s what makes it so fun.


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