As they say in the opening to the television show Poker After Dark: “Poker’s not a game of luck. It’s a game of skill and well-timed aggression. That’s why so many final tables have so many familiar faces.”
Last night I enjoyed playing poker. For the 3rd straight time, in a multi-table tournament (3 or 4 tables each time), I made the final table.
I didn’t win a lot early. I didn’t win a lot late. I just quietly stayed in the game.
I’m not playing with the best pokers players around. For example, the players at the first table allowed me, as the big blind, to stay in the betting with a 5 and 7 off suit, never having to raise until I caught a 6 on the river, giving me a straight and the best hand. Good players would have made a moderate raise on the flop or the turn to flush out people, like me, with poor starting cards and low odds of catching a suck out on the final card to hit the board.
Poker has reminded me of the following important principle:
Better Texas Hold ‘Em poker players are not players who try to win every hand. They don’t often try to impress by showing how they can find a way to win, regardless of the cards they are dealt, or regardless of the 3 card flop. Good players re-assess their odds with every card revealed.
For example, you can start the hand with a pair of kings, one of the best starting hands. But if you have more than four players who survive the first round of betting to the flop, if any ace appears on the flop, you should have the sense to fold, knowing that it is very likely one of the other 3 players has at least one ace.
You have to be disciplined to fold as soon as the odds turn against you, no matter how good your starting odds were. When the odds are against you, you must concede the odds have turned against you . . . unless you sense weakness and your strategy is to misrepresent what you have . . . but with 4 or more players, it is against the odds your bluff will beat all the other competitors.
Good poker players understand the object of poker is not to win every hand or most hands. Good poker players focus on winning the very few hands where they can calculate they have the odds to likely win.
Having the patience to not chase after most of the low odds hands is a difficult skill. It means you have to sit out and “not play” the vast majority of hands because you have to save your few chips to be able to play in the rare cases when the cards fall in your favor. And you have to save your chips in order to survive the blinds – in order to be able to view more potentially good starting hands and flops.
Poker reminds me that most of the time in most circumstances in life, the odds are very much against you. And success is not always found by trying to find ways to win in every circumstance. Rather, success may more often be found by waiting and watching most of the time, saving your energy and intellect for the few times when you accurately predict the odds may be in your favor to act.