Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bubba Says: Hook, Slice, Check-Raise, Bluff

I was listening to a local sports talk show on the radio the other day, and the discussion was about the PGA Masters golf tournament from this past weekend. Specifically, they were discussing a shot that the eventual winner (Bubba Watson) made on the 10th hole to recover from a horrible tee drive he had just shanked. Bubba's ball was way, way off the fairway, deep in the trees on a patch of lumpy dirt and pine needles. Worse, he had no direct line of sight view to the green. So what did the left-handed Bubba do? He lined up, waggled his club a bit, and then hit a shot with a purposely induced huge hook in it. His ball jumped up and out, and then curved severely to the right, landing within 15 feet of the pin on the hidden green. Bubba then went on to play eight more holes of great golf. He finished out and won the whole shebang, including that coveted green jacket.

Most of the discussion on the radio was about how amazing the shot was... until one of the commentators pointed out that professional golfers make this kind of shot all the time. This actually wasn't that unusual. Unlike the rest of us duffing mortals, who spend hours at the driving range trying not to hit hooks and slices, professional golfers perfect their game by mastering the art of hooking and slicing on purpose. Why? Answer: so they can bend a ball in mid air from deep in the trees on a patch of lumpy dirt and pine needles.

Said another way, players like Bubba have taken their game to that upper level, where they get their opponent (i.e., the ball) to do as they want, hooking and slicing and fading and drawing on command...

...which of course brings us to poker. Most of us play a Level-1 or Level-2 style of poker, where at best we're putting our opponents on ranges of hands and then reacting accordingly. I might put the tight nit UTG on a big overpair, so I call with a medium pair in LP and hope to hit a set on the flop. If I don't hit, I fold. He acts, I react. Ho hum.

This is all fine and well and profitable, but it's also limiting. Playing this way, we're stuck in a reactive mode, adjusting our play to accommodate our opponents' hand ranges and actions. The equivalent of a Bubba Watson at the poker table wouldn't play this way. He'd bend his opponents to his will. He'd play a Level-3 or -4 style of poker, where he not only knew what the villain's cards were and what they were trying to do with them, but he'd also proactively induce them to make mistakes. He'd get them to bet when they were behind. He'd have them terrified of a reraise. He'd induce a bluff on the river when he had the goods. He'd get them to expect a check-raise and therefore check back when Bubba actually wanted a free card on fourth street. He'd get them to hook, slice, fade, and draw on command.

To take our game to this next level in poker, we have to learn how to not only read our opponents' hand ranges, but we have to get inside their heads and figure out what they're thinking about us and our actions. Once we've done this, we can zig when they think we're zagging. We can induce them to make mistakes, giving them rope to hang themselves.

Don't wait for a profitable situation to occur; make it happen. Like stepping up from L1 to L2, the transition to Level-3  poker is not easy. I know; I'm trying to do it myself. It takes serious work and effort. It takes serious paying attention. It takes hours and hours spent on the poker equivalent of a driving range, learning how to purposely hit big hooks and slices....

...but if we want to wear the green jacket some day, we have to learn to play like Bubba does.

All-in for now...

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