Many of my columns have a single overarching theme, but not this one. No, this time you’re going to get two pearls of wisdom for the price of one. If you are violating either of these principles and will just internalize one of them, you will instantly become a better poker player; that’s how powerful these nuggets are. Furthermore, they are applicable to all forms of poker, at all times, in any sort of game. OK, enough rhetoric, let’s get to our two-course meal:
One: Don’t teach at the table. This rule should be known as “Cooke’s Law,” because Card Player columnist Roy Cooke is famous for saying, “Lessons are always next Tuesday.” And he’s right. There are two common violations of Cooke’s Law that I see, and they’re both unconscionable. The first is literally giving lessons at the table, and usually involves the student beating the teacher out of a pot. “Do you realize that you had only two outs on the turn? I mean, did you think your pair of fours was good with a board of K-K-10-9 and me betting all the way?” Why do people say these things? Suppose you had A-K, had raised before the flop, and had bet at every opportunity. Do you want the person with pocket fours to fold on the turn, when you had about 96 percent equity in every dollar that went in on that street? Do you want him to become a better player and fold when he should? And besides, this ignores the fact that it’s bad poker and bad manners to berate another player at the Bola88 table.
The other common violation of Cooke’s Law is, alas, becoming more common. It involves two or more players discussing strategy at the table. Furthermore, I will be so bold as to suggest that it is you younger, better-read players who are most guilty of this sin. You read Card Player religiously. You’ve read my book, Winning Low Limit Hold’em. In fact, you have a collection of poker books lining your bookshelf. So, you make a play, and then turn to the person next to you: “Yes, I picked this up from Sklansky’s Theory of Poker. This concept of pot-size manipulation … ” What are you doing?! Suppose you were a spy, and were at a cocktail party in Budapest, trying to pick up some important information. Would you be showing off your handy breath mint box-sized camera? Would you be telling your fellow partygoers how many languages you speak and how many exotic capital cities you’ve visited? If so, you would have a short, unsuccessful career in espionage. To be successful you’d be listening, not talking. Roy Cooke is right, and you need to pay attention: Lessons are always next Tuesday.
Two: Do what you think. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but apparently it’s not, as I will show in an example below. Perhaps it’s better described as having the courage of your convictions. That is, if your brain and your gut tell you to zig, why zag? One of the most beautiful phrases that a bettor in poker ever hears is, “Well, I know you have me beat, but … ” Violations of this rule come in a myriad of forms; let’s consider a couple:
Don’t get “feelings” about cards. A student recently said to me, “Well, I’ve read the books, but sometimes I just get a feeling about that 7-5 suited before the flop.” I looked carefully, and sure enough, he was completely earnest. I know that many people gamble in poker (and every other card game) based on feelings they have about cards. “I just had a feeling that that blackjack dealer had a small card underneath.” Look, cards don’t have feelings, so you can’t have feelings about the cards. Note that I didn’t say a thing regarding feelings about players. No — players have feelings, so you can have feelings about them. “Something just told me that he didn’t have as big a hand as he was representing.” That’s fine. Maybe it was the way he sat stone-still in his chair. Maybe you remembered that he likes to bluff at flush cards. Whatever. But don’t have feelings about the cards you hold or the next card that’s coming off the deck. You know better; act on that knowledge.
The other common violation of this rule is this: We decide what we need to do, but we just don’t have the will or discipline to follow through. If this describes you, put down the poker books and pick up some books about discipline. Go study a martial art. Many people who are capable of playing winning poker don’t beat the game because their hands do things that their brain knows better than to do. They know they should throw away K-J offsuit in early position, but somehow their hands put chips in the pot rather than their cards. They know they should make a semibluff raise in a certain situation, but instead they meekly slide out the chips for a call. They know that in a no-limit hold’em tournament, if there’s an ace-high flop, a big bet, and a raise, their pocket kings are no good. But, those cards are too pretty, so they just go all in with them; at least they can show everybody the bad luck they had. Don’t do it; do what you know you should do. Have the courage of your convictions.
Example: I promised an example, but you probably didn’t think I could wrap both rules up in a single instance. I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. I was watching a no-limit hold’em tournament, and the following took place: An early-position player made a large preflop raise. There were a couple of folds, and then another player moved all in for a lot more chips. The player immediately behind him (one of the chip leaders) promptly shoved in all of his chips, too! Now, the first raiser said, “You fellows are going to have to dodge some bullets,” pushed his chips in, and turned over pocket aces. The first all-in fellow had A-K suited, and the overcaller had pocket queens. The case ace appeared on the flop and the pocket aces had the pot sewn up on the turn.
Those things happen, but then the scene got weird. The fellow with the pocket queens turned to the guy with A-K (who’d been the first player all in), and said, “I put you on the aces.” I almost spit up my coffee. If you put him on aces, why did you call? Were your queens somehow in better shape if he had aces than if the first raiser did? Believe me, when there’s a big raise and an all-in move behind it, pocket queens tend to be in pretty big trouble — and it seems that our overcaller knew that. He just didn’t pay attention to what his knowledge of the game and the other players told him. He thought he’d found a pair of aces out there among his opponents, telling him he needed to fold the queens. But, he didn’t follow through — as if somehow he was destined to lose most of his stack with Q-Q to A-A.
And back to Cooke’s Law. Why tell the guy you put him on A-A? Does he make a monster all-in raise only with A-A? Isn’t it good to know when somebody does that? If there is a play that a person makes that is equivalent to turning his cards faceup, do you want to tell him about that? Or, should you perhaps keep that in your pocket with that little Leica camera.