shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

[ This is the third part in a continuing series called So, You Want To Start Playing Poker?. The series is designed to help new players learn some basics about starting poker from the ground up.]

In a post about what game structure to select, I recommended two possible games: limit HE and NL HE. In this article, I discuss what books and materials are best to read for beginning the former.

Compared to NL HE, limit HE is much more of a technical game. Your understanding of the mathematical odds, starting hand selection, and technical details of play will determine much of your success at the lowest limits of HE. You'll need lots of practice to understand the concepts involved, but much of the hard information you'll need is available in books.

Jones Is Your Best First Choice

The book that opens most players' eyes to poker “book learning” is Lee Jones' Winning Low Limit Hold 'Em. It's the book I used when I taught the poker course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I read it many times myself when starting limit. The cover literally fell off of my copy of Lee Jones' first edition. While his second edition covers some things about NL HE, it is basically only for online “Sit and Go” tournaments.

Lee Jones does a very good job helping you understand starting hand selection and the very basics of preflop odds, pot odds and implied odds (and their limited use in limit HE). However, I believe his starting hand selection suggestions are far too loose. If you follow his starting hand recommendations exactly, you'll find yourself in a number of complicated situations. Granted, you'll have position (acting last — a central component of HE poker) when these situations come up. But, there is really no reason for a new player to make marginal choices. Avoid the goofier hands he suggests for late position.

The other downside to Jones' book, one that I didn't discover until much later, is that the material is carefully tuned for play in the extremely loose limit HE games of California. California poker is somewhat unique, because many people in the games are playing poker not because of a direct interest in the game, but because it's the only available legalized “gambling” there. Many individuals who would be playing other games (say, craps) are playing poker instead. This leads to many a poker hand played out more like a craps roll. Jones' advice is designed for those types of games — as if you are playing the house against people taking 8 the hard way.

Those caveats aside, Lee Jones' book is probably the most important book on limit HE on the market. I mention these downsides only to make sure you don't treat it as a poker bible, the way many of us did when we started with limit HE. It's a great book and you'll learn a lot. However, try to move quickly to getting enough knowledge and experience to see the places where Jones is giving bad advice for those games you play and learn to adjust it to suit your needs.

Krieger May Be Overrated

Many people recommend Lou Krieger's Hold'Em Excellence series of books for beginners. I'm less enthusiastic about them than most. I like Lou and think he writes well, but I think his books fail to give enough step-by-step advice (i.e., “when you have situation X, usually you should do Y”). New players really need this type of advice as they get started. Lou focuses more on general concepts for beginning to win. Of course, they are good concepts, but I think you'll pick them up just as easily in other books that also include step-by-step advice.

Lou is also the co-author of Poker for Dummies. Despite the inappropriate titles (I don't think someone who lacks knowledge and seeks it is ever a dummy), I'm actually a fan of some of the dummy books. Their editors are usually good at designing books to give good quick introductions. I read Poker for Dummies early in my poker learning process. I was less impressed with it than other dummy books, primarily because it tried to cover all forms of poker in one volume, which is really difficult for new players. Poker is just one of these areas where you have to start a bit specialized. Trying to generalize too early will only make it difficult for you to begin booking wins early; this may decimate your confidence. Poker is somewhat unique in that you can get benefit from specializing early, but try not to stay one for too long.

Maybe Burton To Start?

I can't help but mention the book that got me started with limit HE. I was going on a Foxwoods vacation with my in-laws, and had just discovered that casino poker actually existed (more on that sometime when I write a history of how I got into poker). I literally ran (they were about to close) the night before to the book store, after googling around for more information. I found a book written by's casino author, Bill Burton.

Reviews of his book, Get the Edge at Low-Limit Texas Hold'em say that he teaches a “tight-weak” strategy. However, if you want an overnight crash course so you won't be a total fish at extremely low limits, this may be the right book. It's written very simplistically with basic ideas and simple-minded tactics. I found it got me up to speed so I could hold my own without burning through too much bankroll as a total HE newbie, playing the $2/$4 limit HE games at Foxwoods. Tight-weak doesn't do too bad in these games, because no one there makes any bluffs, and raises in multi-way pots nearly always mean the nuts or close to it. Burton basically recommends simple statistical play, gaining most of your edge from starting hand selection and folding unless you flop top-pair, strong kicker or better. This approach actually does work in the loosest, highest rake, lowest limit games at the casino. (Remember, BTW, that the rake is really heavy at the lowest limits and you can sometimes be a favorite to a game but an underdog to the rake.)

Be Selective With Books, Just Like With Starting Hands

There are so many poker books on the market now you could break your first bankroll just buying the books. Try to get books you aren't sure about from the library first (if you can — few libraries carry a strong poker book selection), or borrow from a friend (those in NYC are welcome to contact me if they'd like to borrow some). Read through them first to see if they are worth owning and rereading. Nearly every poker book (even Hellmuth's stinker of a book, Play Poker Like the Pros, which I borrowed from Boston Public Library) that I've seen is worth a quick read, but few are worth owning. Poker books are expensive under the theory that you can “win the cost of the book in one session of applying its principles”. But, I'm not a fan of this theory. Some poker books are more or less a scam by pros to find some extra easy money; Hellmuth's is the best example. Make sure you pick the good ones that many other players recommend.

shipitfish: (u-club-stack-2006-02)

The O Club and The I Club have been merged into a single new club in a new location, which I'll be calling the U Club. This is my new favorite spot to play for a number of reasons that will go in my review (yes, I'm really going to write those reviews RSN). I visited on Tuesday night to play for a few hours after work. I arrived and found a single full NL $1/$2 game, for which I added myself to the list.

While I waited, I took a seat in the $10/$20 limit HE game run by the T.E., the proprietor of the I Club. This was a tough game. I made the sixth player in this short-handed, aggressive game. I knew nearly all the players from previous visits to the I Club. T.E. himself was playing, as was M.S., who is a pro-ish poker player who co-ran the O Club and now helps run the U Club. I can beat M.S. when he's off his game, and he tilts pretty easily, but there was no indication he was there yet, as the game had just started.

I picked the seat that seemed to put the most aggressive players on my right, although, as it turned out, I still ended up with a very aggressive player in my left. I didn't really want to be in this game. But, I didn't want to wait to play. Also, I don't want T.E. to feel he can't draw people into the game at this new club, as this $10/$20 game can get really good. Thus, I don't want this game to stop running for lack of interest. I'm of course not going to stay in a bad game for a long time, but giving it time to keep it going while waiting for another seat seems like a reasonable long-term investment.

I quickly lost $200 by trying to muscle the aggressive players a bit, which was probably a general mistake. I work much better in short-handed limit games like those online, where there are hyper-aggressive people who take flops a bit too easily. Instead, I was surrounded by mostly tight-aggressive players who knew tons about the game.

I picked up my best starting hand in my half hour in this game when I caught Ks Ts in the cut-off. The tight player to my right raised, but I had noticed he'd been attacking the blinds pretty hard. I felt that he didn't necessarily have a hand that beat mine.

Calling would have been foolish; I had to clear the field and decided to three-bet. I was mortified when M.S. called cold from the SB, and was sure I was beat in at least once place. I felt better when that tight player just called. At this point, I had him on probable medium pair or a reasonable ace-high. If he had me dominated, it was by KQ specifically, I thought. But, meanwhile M.S. was the big concern.

The flop came Q-high with two spades. The two checked to me, I bet, M.S. called and the tight player raised. I obviously needed to catch to win, so I just called. M.S. tossed his hand quickly, and I was hoping that maybe we had cleared a K from the field and given myself two additional outs. The turn hit the draw with the As.

The tight player bet and I just called, which I realized was a silly move. I doubted after calling that he'd bet the river, because if he had only a pair, he would be too afraid of the board. OTOH, I suppose raising right away might get a fold from a Q, whereas that Q might check-call the river if I only called the turn. Regardless, I was unhappy with my mere call as the river came.

I was surprised when he bet again. I raised and got paid off. He mucked what he said was two pair, and was a bit unhappy that I played KTs in that spot, but I am still pretty happy with the play from start to finish, save the mere call on the turn.

A few minutes later, I surprisingly discovered that this player was none other than [ profile] brettbrettbrett! A few minutes later, Dan from the old I Club and River Street showed up. He reminded [ profile] brettbrettbrett of a goofy hand where I bluff-raised Dan on the river after misreading the board on the flop and getting in deep with no way to win. [ profile] brettbrettbrett decided that given that loose play, he surely should have three-bet with two pair in our spot just a few minutes earlier. Too bad Dan hadn't shown up a few minutes earlier to give [ profile] brettbrettbrett that advice. :)

With Dan joining the game, it was getting even worse. I was walking away down just $2, and I was glad to see that enough people had shown up to get a second $1/$2 NL game going.

I was also glad to see the new game included a number of regulars from the old O club. Mostly, they were tight-weak players who overplay one pair. At the other end of table, were two players — a woman and a man — who had showed up together, and seemed like they must have been O regulars, but probably from the late period just before the bust since I'd never seen them before. I never caught the fellow's name, but heard the woman, K.A., tell many people her name.

Indeed, it was hard not to hear her. She gave a running commentary of every hand to her friend, cagily trying to cover her mouth as she spoke. This is the moment where I really love the Bose headphones. So many people think I can't possibly hear that well with them on, when, in fact, it is the best way to hear people whispering across the table because they filter out the noise in-between.

Not, however, that there was anything that interesting being said. Her analysis was obvious and lacked insight. She also got amazingly frustrated by the most minor of things. It was as if someone acting out of turn was a personal affront to her sensibilities. She started to get on my nerves.

As my annoyance rose, it brought something about my own play to my attention. From time to time, I used to be a player who wasn't all that different from K.A. Surely I have “been her” at the table more often in the past than I would like to remember. I realized that her ego and self-importance about how poker worked was part of my edge in the game. I'd been there before; I'd made that selfish mistake of thinking the game was there for me, and now I could see her doing the same thing. I had the same edge against her in the game that others used to have against me.

I unfortunately didn't gain a moment against her to use to my advantage, but her money moved around the table enough as she played too obvious of a game, failed to bet out with top pair and bemoaned that those who had called her preflop raise with junk had hit a higher pair on the turn. Generally, she played in that “tight but uninformed” style that I've come from prefer in players. It's amazing to see people who learn enough about the game to not be total fish then just stagnate. People just don't seem to realize that anything worth doing requires a lifelong endeavor of learning to keep pace.

Indeed, the game reminded me about the need for constant vigilance in poker. I made an horrendous call with the nut straight on a runner-runner flush board that was checked around on the flop. I rivered the straight after calling a small bet on the turn, and then made the classic widow poker mistake of not being cognizant that shared cards mean a card that helps you can often help your opponent more. And, after all, straight vs. flush is the easiest of all examples of this concept.

That $82 lost, and being $250 down by then, I looked at my clock and decided I'd leave that game even or better. Now, it's not usually good to set goals that confined in a time frame, since there's often not enough time to recover. But, I felt at that moment if I put some pressure on myself to truly play a better game than all of my opponents, I'd succeed.

I fortunately didn't disappoint myself. I trapped a hyper-aggressive chronic bust-and-rebuy player for his whole stack when we both turned a flush and mine was the nut-flush. (I'll put more about that hand in a post this weekend.) Once I got that stack, I had to tighten up and avoid drawing hands as two reasonable but beatable players were on my left with bigger stacks. I hoped to trap them and double through in a big way, but instead I picked up a pretty good pot by out-kicking a JT with AT against a passive player on my right. I was $100 up as the hour of my departure rolled around.

Sometimes, it's worth looking at a weak game and setting a goal for the night for yourself.

(I took obligatory stack shots.)

Good Hand?

Saturday, 11 February 2006 20:00
shipitfish: (foxwoods-stack-2005-08)

I heard this quote from one of two friends, sitting in a $4/$8 limit HE game at Foxwoods, who had got involved heads-up pot. Poker players have a strange tendency to state the obvious, as if it makes a profound statement about life, the universe and everything. Usually, it's a simple fact that anyone just learning the game knows. As the one friend had just reraised the other on turn after a cap on the flop, the other friend said:

I know you have a good hand. It's just that I don't know how good.

To the tables' credit, nearly everyone burst out laughing. One fellow nearby them responded: I think you've just made the fundamental point of poker.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

I began promising an ode to River Street that I started writing just after I arrived in New York City. I've been thinking a lot about River Street (which I historically called "Greg's Game" in this journal) since I got to NYC. Sure, there were always the NYC clubs, which have begun to disappear (for a while). These are much more profitable than my almost-break-even year (or so) at River Street. However, Greg succeeded where so many others have failed: he was able to mix a home game feel with what was (or, effectively became) a poker club, and it lasted longer than any NYC club I've seen. While a few of the clubs here in NYC have tried to give a home game feel, they didn't succeed, at least not in the way Greg did it in Boston.

Ironically, I used to give Greg a hard time in mid-2004 that his game was not really a home game anymore — which it wasn't — and I really lamented that at that time. But, I was mistaken to be bothered by it. It couldn't have survived much longer as a home game (after all, Greg was clearly getting sick of hosting it in a non-profit fashion), so the choices really were "death or club". I believe the transition was successful, even if the dealers scared the hell out of players with that high frequency of errors. (Having said that, I should (a) point out that Shannan was among the best dealers I'd ever seen, and (b) note that's basically the only real compliant, with a full year of retrospect, that I have about River Street.)

The year of River Street was an important time for me in my poker life. I have decided that I don't want that time to fade into jumbled memory too easily, and while there are still some fresh thoughts of it in my mind, I want to start journaling about them.

I picked this post for today as it is an historic date. My first visit to River Street was Tuesday 10 February 2004 (which, I believe, was the third or fourth time it ran as a "public" game). Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of my first visit to what I still consider the "best" poker game I've ever played in.

By best, I certainly don't mean it was the most profitable. While it may have been the game that helped me learn more than I could have elsewhere, it wasn't that alone that made it great for me. It became, because of the great mix of personalities of players, most like the poker game that I once played in college. In those games (that someday I'll write about, too), the game was a true social event. We were a group of people who met frequently to study each other's psychological make-up through poker.

For the next year, through a series of posts, I'll trace the history of River Street as I remember it. I am sure some of the details have faded, and I'll get some wrong. I know there are a few River Street alumni lurking out there who might help with this diachronic look at that game we all loved.

My first installment, the story of the first River Street game I attended, is behind this link. )

I'll try to post, over the next year, stories of River Street to match events on the 2004-2005 calendar to coincide with the same dates in 2006-2007. I obviously don't have specific incident and date memories nor email records that match the whole year, but I'll try to keep the general time frames right over the year. I hope you all enjoy this series, and I hope a few members of the River Street crowd resurface to chime in, and even correct me when I misremember.

shipitfish: (foxwoods-stack-2006-01)

After my phone post from Foxwoods, [ profile] nick_marden joined me for a day to enjoy the Foxwoods local aquatic life-forms. We played the $2/$5 blind NL HE with a $500 maximum buy-in. I have railed against this game in the past, because they used to have a silly rebuy rule, wherein you couldn't top off your stack until you were below $150(!).

This silly rule has been eradicated, or, at least, it wasn't being enforced in the five hours I sat in the game. I topped off back to $500 about four times, until I was able to build a stack well above it.

The key hand that built the stack was against a bizarre maniac/calling-station hybrid. He turned out to be relatively easy to read, as he had a Caro-classic stare-down tendency when bluffing. He came over the top of me a number of times when I myself lacked a hand strong enough to call with, but finally I decided to make a stand with 87o on a 7-3-2-5 board. He bet all-in at me on the turn, and it was clear he had no pair, after I had already built a strong feeling on from his flop check-call that he had merely overcards. I got worried when the Jd fell. He was ready to muck, and I felt a bit better; I said "I called you" and waited to see his ATo before showing my cards.

When I made the call (a call of a $200 or so overbet into a $180 pot), it didn't seem that big of a deal, but jaws dropped a bit around the table. [ profile] nick_marden told me later that he wasn't surprised I called, just that I had done so quickly, pointing out that 4-6 or A-4 was just the kind of hand and just the kind of draw that this fellow had been playing, and I should have considered it longer. Yet, all the pieces -- (a) betting out instead of slow-playing on the turn, (b) the classic Caro tells, (c) the way he called on the flop that seemed to scream "pair draw two times" -- just added up to a clear call for me. As it was happening, it actually seemed rather textbook to me, so that means either I'm over-confident or getting pretty good at this game of NL HE.

Limit HE, however, is a bit of another story. I'm getting convinced that the variance in limit HE is actually more than NL. The problem is you can read people right and they can still get very lucky for single bets and cost you huge pots. I played a lot of $10/$20 at Foxwoods, and was up only for a brief time. The games were beautiful: 4 or 5 people taking each flop, usually going three-handed to the river. But, that's a spot for lots of variance, and I suffered quite a bit.

I just can't give up limit poker though; it feels so less stressful and relaxing. And, it's not to say NL/PL doesn't have its variance as well. More on that soon.

shipitfish: (Default)

Thursday night, I went to a limit-only club in NYC. It was a surprise to discover it existed, because there is so much focus on NL right now. I was glad to hear about the club, and I'll write a more involved review eventually, if/when I start posting actual club reviews.

The first, foremost and constant thing on my mind during the entire game, which I stayed with from button-high-card until it broke, was that how much more social and friendly limit games are. People are there for such different reasons than NL. Limit poker seems like a cocktail party where everyone is trying a bit too hard to impress each other. NL poker seems like a organized debate where everyone has taken clear stands on the issue and is shouting as loud as they can to win.

I was a bit nervous about the game, because as a 10/20 HE game with a half-kill, it killed to one higher limit than I usually play. But, I decided it was a good chance to work on my live limit game -- having been out of practice since Boston when I could visit Foxwoods regularly.

It was interesting to meet Matt and Steph, a husband and wife, who had gotten a baby-sitter to play in this game. It was a strange thing to imagine -- that such a thing was a night out for a couple. I suppose it was so strange for me because poker is not something my wife would ever do. Matt mentioned how tough it was ("How many times do you think we've heard, 'someone's sleeping on the couch', after a bad beat?", he said), and perhaps I joked more about colluding with them than I should have. But, the whole situation somewhat intrigued me.

Matt and Steph were relatively strong players, although they played a little looser preflop (particularly calling raises cold) than I do in limit. A few of the other players were extremely tight-aggressive and tough to beat. But, there were a number of people making some serious mistakes, and the game was certainly beatable; I at least wasn't a fish.

It felt, however, strangely constricting to play live limit HE again. I don't mind it online, but there I have focused lately on short-handed play. Playing a full table of limit reminded me of the old adages I'd built in my years of low-limit at Foxwoods: "A bit bet is a precious thing", and "One pair is nearly always beat when raised on the turn in a multiway pot", etc. It felt a bit formulaic, and I focused on what I feel is the real challenge in full-table limit: finding every last value bet you can.

When I payed off an obvious KK/AA (it was KK, as it turned out) with JJ as an overpair, I realized that I was unfortunately playing the classic "NL player in a limit game" trap, by paying off on the turn and river because it's "just one more bet" each time. A big bet is so precious in limit, so I started making laydowns and only made one more mistake like that over the night.

One of the highlights of this jovial and friendly table was the arrival of Dan, whom I immediately recognized from River Street back in Boston. I don't think he remembered me, and in fact, we realized later that our River Street overlap was a different time than I had thought (I though I had remembered him as an player from the early days, but he actually was from the late days in the Boston location). It was good to connect back to the old game, and to talk of Little John's craziness and other unique things that make miss the Boston poker world of those days.

I actually watched Dan play a hand that made me think about how much of what I've said about AK in NL can also apply to limit, too. I saw Dan four-bet from the SB after four people had entered the pot. "Google Guy" (a young recent college graduate who worked for Google) bad-beat him (sort of) with A6o, and Dan bemoaned his fate. I actually think throwing away AK in that spot makes some sense. Certainly capping is better than calling three bets cold, but I wonder if there is any real need to play the hand in that spot when you have to take the flop out of position with some the aces obviously already dead, and probably a big pair out, too. Dan was "forced" to bet out on the 8 high flop, and got into a betting war when Google Guy made a second pair when the turn fell an A.

The bad side of limit showed itself too: the young whiner "pro" who can't handle the game in any real way. Ours showed up and immediately got QQ "cracked". He didn't stop whining until he finally left an hour later, after ripping two cards (an AK that missed) and spitting on two more (KK when an Ace flopped). I would have preferred if the club owner had thrown him out after the ripping incident. However, I think the club owner thought he could "control this kid" and needed the players anyway.

Around 02:00, the game got short-handed, and I actually began to shine a bit. It helped that I got the best group of starting hands for the night and connected with some flops, but I felt so much more comfortable and able to control the game in short-handed mode. That's not to say I couldn't still commune with the full table game and patiently play correctly in it, but I wonder sometimes if I could sit in those full-table limit games day-in and day-out and stay interested. There's just so much more fun stuff going on in NL and short handed limit. I hate myself a bit for saying that after scoffing back so often at those NL-only players who had scoffed at limit HE.

But, the social side of the whole thing was not to be ignored. I felt like I was in a real social situation with (mostly) friendly and good people. That's something I haven't felt since River Street, and I liked it. Most of NYC poker is a shouting "debate" of NL confrontations that require every controlled bit of psychological power to play correctly. A little less of that is mandatory in full-table limit, it seems.

Strangely, I was even willing to talk a bit about this journal. The interest was mixed; the Google Guy was the first one to say: "Who would ever want to read a poker blog?", and a few of the tight-aggressive sharks said: "do you have a big readership and make some money from it?" Matt seemed interested enough that I gave him the URL. But, the fact that I picked that night for the first time to mention the blog in a NYC poker situation indicates that it was friendly place.

shipitfish: (Default)

Last night, I played a small limit tournament at a local NYC club. This small club was seeking to generate additional interest (they are a small three-table club) by filling the niche of limit games; there are few in the city. Most players seems to want only NL, thanks to television, I presume.

I have written a rather rambling description of that tournament, as it was a fun time and surprisingly exciting for me despite the low stakes. )

I'm going to another tournament tonight. In an effort to get an O/8 games going, a sister club is running a $50 O/8 tourney tonight. I doubt I'll have enough luck to place two nights in a row, but it's worth a try.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

Like every poker player, I've spent my share of time frustrated with bad beats. The definition of "bad beat", of course, varies from player to player. I've heard many people say crazy things like having AQ in HE and ending up against AK as a "bad beat", because "how was I supposed to know I was dominated?". That's not what a bad beat really is, of course. When I use the term "bad beat" at all, which I really don't use much anymore, I'd usually say that someone has to have seven outs or less in HE for it to really be that "bad" of a beat.

But, I just don't think of them as "bad beats" anymore. Given that one has to lose in poker -- and you can't play any game with an element of chance and not lose some of the time -- I'd rather it be in a so-called "bad beat" situation than any other.

There are basically two scenarios where you lose a non-trivial amount of money in poker: either you make a serious mistake, or someone else does but gets lucky anyway. The former can take two forms: (a) you think you have the best hand and/or you think your opponent is too weak to call, and you turn out to be mistaken, or (b) your opponent is deceptive enough to convince you to put money in when you have the worst of it. This is not how I want things to go. I don't want to be outplayed, and I don't want to be tricked into giving money to players who are better than me.

Given the two options -- giving money to strong players or weak players -- it's much better to give money to players who make mistakes. If someone takes your money and they are better than you, you have little chance to win it back. Only pure luck will get you money from a stronger player. If you opponent is a bad player, you can realistically visualize that he is merely holding your chips for a while, until you get him in another situation where the odds are against him but he fails to get lucky.

If you've accepted that you can't win every pot you play, it's easy to see a path of gaining a peace with "bad beats" if you frame the situation in that way. That's the first step, and it's one that I have at long-last achieved. I love games where the bad beats fly and I ship chips around to weak players. The tough spot I still see is when the fellow takes a big piece of your stack, and then gets up to leave. Yeah, I admit that "hit and run" is one part of the "bad beat" phenomenon that still can get past my new frustration-proof wall. But, I'm starting to overcome that part, too. The way I'm doing it is a viewing it as the advertising budget of my bankroll.

That's a strange choice of words, especially since most people think of "advertising budgets" in poker as "money for bluffs that get called". I'm not much for that, because I think it's usually wasted; I want all my bluffs to succeed. In most games, people pay off enough that you don't need to be caught bluffing -- not even once -- to induce adequate action.

But the guy who hits a few three-outers and walks away a winner -- that's money well spent. While we see a large turnover of opponents in most games, some people do come back. But, if they are to come back, players who are steady losers have to win some of the time. Why else would they return? It's pure Skinnerist psychology -- intermittent rewards are the most likely way to keep someone willing to introduce themselves to situations that are overall bad for their bankrolls.

Also, what's that guy going to say to his friends? He's going to say: "games at that casino/club/site are easy". He'll entice others to play at the same place. Word gets around. After all, why do we have so much money flowing into the poker economy right now? Because lots of people have heard it's easy to win at poker, and have found it's fun. Most of them won't win over the long term, but as long as they win sometimes, they'll keep coming back.

For these reasons, I urge everyone to love "bad beats": no matter when they come, and no matter when someone leaves. It's part of the economy that we all rely on, and we don't want to discourage it. Be careful to play at limits where the bad beats are for amounts of money you can tolerate without frustration, and love it when it happens.

I can't finish a treatise on "bad beats" without addressing the constant arguments I hear about whether or not one takes fewer bad beats in NL HE vs. limit HE. This is a downright silly argument. If you are in a loose game -- which are almost always profitable for a solid player -- you should be seeing lots of "bad beats". In NL HE, these bad beats should, in fact, be for your whole stack! The whole reason NL HE can be so profitable is because you can get people to bet their whole stack when they have only a few outs. It's rare that you'll find a player so bad, or a situation so special, that he'll hand you his whole stack drawing dead. NL HE isn't a better game because you can "protect your hand" and "get people to fold". The whole idea of "protecting your hand" in NL HE is about winning small pots, which you certainly do need for long term profitability. But the real wins come when you get all of your chips in with the best of it, and when you do, you want to get called by someone with only a few outs.

So, my advice to all of you who are frustrated with "bad beats": Make peace with them. When I finally did, my entire outlook on poker has changed and it has made me a more profitable player. I still have challenges ahead; namely, getting fully comfortable with the bad-beat-giver leaving the game before I want him to, and my thoughts expressed above are helping me along that road. Get used to allowing some of your bankroll to be spread around the table, as long as it is in the stacks of players who make lots of mistakes.

The beats that should frustrate and anger you are those where you have made mistakes, or have been outplayed. That frustration is healthy and can be constructively channeled into improving your game. There is, however, no constructive outcome of "bad beat" frustration. It can only serve to make you hate the game you actually love, or to make you imitate that losing Skinnerist play. I know that pain and frustration when the tenth two-outer hits the table and you've lost three buy-ins already. Let it go. Drop down limits so that it doesn't hurt as much, if that's what it takes. Learn to love the bad beats; it's where you profit comes from.


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November 2016

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