Very little time to post today, as I'm sitting in yet another airport and have to board soon. Oh the joy of "geographically diverse" engineering projects and biz travel. It's been two weeks since I slept in my own bed. Ugh. Anyway, back to poker...
...I was listening to a very interesting Thinking Poker podcast episode the other day. In this particular episode, Nate and Andrew (Meyvis and Brokos, respectively) were interviewing John "Kasino Krime" Beauprez about his new $300 (yes, three hundred dollah!) book on PLO. Most of the interview was non-technical, but there were a few tidbits thrown in here and there. One of these bits that I stopped, paused the 'cast, and wrote down was the following that Beauprez casually mentioned (I'm paraphrasing):
"When it's my turn to act, I generally look at three things in order: 1) the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR); 2) the board texture; and, 3) my opponent and his/her tendencies. Then I might consider my cards."
A few years ago, I wrote about Harrington's thought process when evaluating tournament situations (read that post here). I've also touched on the subject here, too. Like Beauprez, Harrington essentially says that your own cards are the least important factor to consider when deciding what to do in a hand. And they're not alone-- witness that amazing display of CDM by Annette O, when she took down a 180-man SnG a few years ago without once ever looking at her own cards (watch here).
The more I read, study, and play poker, the more I believe that this whole "consider your own cards last" approach to poker decisions is one of the absolute keys to success*. Said simply, your Cards Don't Matter (much).
Why is this? Beginners hear this statement bandied about and often look doubtful at best.
Answer: well, true, you win with the best hand at showdown, but the majority of hands played in poker never get to showdown. Let's repeat that for clarity: the majority of poker hands, the winner never actually shows his or her cards to the other players. Somebody bet, and somebody folded. Whether it's a preflop steal or resteal, or a bet and a fold on a later street, most hands of poker end this way. Don't believe me? Go check your Pokertracker or HM2 stats. Only a small percentage of the time does a winning hand win because it was showed down on the river against an inferior hand. I haven't actually added the numbers up in my own stats, but just eyeballing it I would guess about 20% are showdown winners, and 80% are no-show winners.
There are two reasons to bet in poker: to build value (and hope your opponent doesn't fold, in which case your cards will matter), or to get another hand to fold. Sometimes these two things are combined in the form of a semi-bluff, but the majority of times a hand is contested in hold'em, the river card is not dealt. Okay, maybe not at micro-stakes no-fold'em-hold'em games, but in solid low- and mid-stakes and above, played by competent players, the name of the game is trying to get the other guy to go away. This is fundamentally why TAg and LAg styles of play are so potent (it's the "A is for Aggression" part that really matters), and why passive play is almost always a losing style.
Said simply, what your own cards actually are doesn't matter (much). What you get your opponent to believe them to be... ah, well that's secret right there, folks.
Oops, gotta run. I'm actually heading home to my own bed. Hallelujah!
All-in for now...
*Now I just need to figure out where it belongs on the pyramid of poker skills...