Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Getting It In Good

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
Courage to change the things I can, 
And wisdom to know the difference.

Have you ever tried to explain to a non-poker playing friend how it is that a professional can make a living playing poker, that it's ultimately a game of Edge and Skill? Hell, have you ever tried to explain this to a beginning or losing player, who understands the basics of the game, but has seen their Aces cracked over and over? More often then not these people will roll their eyes when you tell them that poker is indeed a skill game. They think to themselves, "how can it possibly have anything to do with skill, when the cards you're dealt are random? It's just a crapshoot. Poker is clearly a game of random chance."

Well, they have a point; the cards that are dealt are indeed random, and you have no control over them.

But so what? They're random for everyone, not just you.

Perhaps one of the hardest concepts for beginning poker players to master—in fact, to accept in their minds—is the idea of RDM, or Results Don’t Matter. Because we can’t control which cards actually come on the flop, turn, and river, we can’t control the actual results of a specific poker hand. 

We can, however, control the decisions we make in the hand. Decisions are everything; Results don’t matter.

For example, let's imagine we're on the turn and our opponent shoves all-in. We have a flush draw and a straight draw. We believe our opponent has a big overpair. If we call and make our flush or straight, we probably will win the hand. If we call and don't, we lose.

A professional player will base his decision in this situation solely upon his read, how much money is in the pot, and how big the bet is. Once they make this decision, they implement it and move on. They do not focus on whether they win the actual hand or not. What they care about is the decision (which they can control) and not the results (which they have no control over). Most amateurs won't take the time to make this simple EV calculation. They'll call or fold based on things as ridiculous as how they feel, how they think they're running at the time, or even how much they dislike the other player and want to get even. Worse, they fixate on the results, becoming angry or frustrated or depressed when they don't make their draw.

The trick to the pros success is his or her embracing the twin concepts of expected value and the long haul. Nowhere in descriptions of hands they they discuss are the specific results of a hand. If they called their opponent’s all-in shove, and they did so after calculating that calling was plus EV, they've done their job. If the river card did not improve their hand—and therefore they lost that specific hand—it does not matter. Let’s repeat that for clarity: It Does Not Matter. The results of any one particular poker hand do not matter. 

Yes, it stings to lose a hand, but that’s just poker (and brain chemistry at work). Over time, however, if you’re making good decisions, all the times you lose will be more than offset by the times you win. If you “get your money in good,” as the old time poker players say when describing plus EV situations, you’re playing perfect poker. If you don’t, well, you’re going to lose a lot of money at this game.

All-in for now...

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