Monday, October 21, 2013

Poker Reality #2: Results Don't Matter; Decisions Do

“Sir, What is the secret of your success?” a reporter asked a bank president. 
“Two words.” 
“And, sir, what are they?” 
“Good decisions.” 
“And how do you make good decisions?” 
“One word.” 
“And sir, what is that?” 
“And how do you get Experience?” 
“Two words.” 
“And, sir, what are they?” 
“Bad decisions.”

Poker Reality #2: Good decisions are much, much, much more important than good results.

Imagine you hold A♥-2♥ on the button. The action folds to you, and you raise, hoping to steal the blinds. The big blind foils your plans and calls. The flop is A♣-Q-8, giving you top pair and the nut flush draw. The villain checks, and you bet big, full pot, and he calls. The turn is a 5, giving you the nut flush. Again you bet the size of the pot, and again your opponent calls. The river is the 7. If your opponent has 6-4♥ you are beaten, but the chances of him having those exact two cards are pretty low. There are, however, a lot of hands that he could have that you beat and he'll still probably call a bet with. Weaker flushes, sets, two pair, even single pairs like Ax or Qx might make the call. So when he checks to you, you shove in the remainder of your stack, which is a little less than pot. He quickly calls, turning over the straight flush. You lose a huge pot and your entire stack.

Question: What went wrong?

Answer: Nothing.

Let's repeat that for clarity: Absolutely nothing went wrong. Yes, the result of the hand sucked, but you nonetheless played it perfectly. You got an opponent to call on multiple streets when he shouldn't have. You bet the perfect amounts on each of those streets. You did everything you could do correctly. You could not control the cards, but you made excellent decisions.

This, in a word, is the very definition of "perfect" poker. If you could have seen your opponent's cards, you would have done everything exactly the same... well, except for that last river bet, of course. But unless you're cheating, you can't see your opponent's cards. You can only make the best decisions that you can with the information you have available.

Your opponent played poorly. He made a bad decision preflop, calling a raise, out of position, with two crappy cards. He then chased a weak flush on the flop, calling a big raise by you. Then when he hit his flush on the turn, he didn't re-raise, building the pot with what could easily have been the best hand.

The only reason he won this giant pot is that he got lucky on the river. He hit a "one-outer." Something like 98% of the time he won't hit that card, and he'll lose instead.

Now, if on the very next hand, you were dealt the same two cards, and the flop came exactly the same and all the actions were identical, you should do exactly what you did before. This is because in the long run, far more often than not, this opponent will call your river bet and turn over a worse hand than you. You will win almost every time. This one loss will happen only a tiny small fraction of the time. Almost always you will make lots of money playing perfectly like you did in this hand. Add up all these wins, and you'll take the lion's share of the profit from the poker table.

This is one the hardest of all lessons for a new player to accept. They can't wrap their heads around it. They can't believe it. What do you mean, that a big loss doesn't matter? This sounds like crazy talk!

It's not. Professional poker players not only understand this, they live by it. They embrace it. They literally learn to ignore results, good or bad. In fact, there's an abbreviated expression you have to learn right now if you want to continue down the path to poker mastery: RDM.

Results Don't Matter

Learn it.

Accept it.

Embrace it. RDM is how you should think about poker. For if you don't, you'll forever be frustrated by the game. And just as importantly, you won't be able to improve, because you'll be looking at all the wrong things when reviewing your play. RDM, baby!

Imagine that the roles were reversed and you won this hand by hitting that lucky one-outer. Would you be able to accept that you did something wrong? Could you learn to not to play out of position with a cheese hand like 64s, or chase a weak draw like that again facing big pot-sized bets? It would be pretty hard to do, right? In fact, you'd actually probably feel rewarded by the decisions you made, so you'd be more prone to make them again in the future.

When you frequent online poker forums, or listen to professionals describe the hands they've played to other professionals, you'll notice that the results of those hands are often completely left out of the discussion. Why? Because they're not what matters. What actually matters is how the player arrived at the decisions they did in the hand. Period.

Let's imagine that your friend offered you a wager on the flip of a coin. He'll give you $100 if it comes up on heads, but you only have to pay him $1 if it comes up tails. Taking this wager is a good decision, right? You betcha. Gamblers call this "taking the best of it" in a bet. You can't control the outcome of the coin flip, so in the larger sense it doesn't matter. But you can control the decision to take the bet, so that's all that actually matters when reviewing whether you played correctly or not. Taking your friend up on this particular wager means you've played the situation "perfectly." You've taken the best of it. And that's all you can do in poker. Hell, that's all you can do in life. You can't control whether it rains on your wedding day, but you can choose the dry season time of year for the nuptials instead of the wet season, right? Are you going to get angry and shake your fist at the sky if it does rain?

Whenever you take the best of it, you've already won.

This whole RDM thing blows many a beginning poker player's mind. Here's something else that will blow your mind: You win or lose at poker at the moment you check, call, bet, fold, or raise on each street, not when the hand actually plays out. By taking the best of it in your friend's coin flip wager.... you've instantly won. The actual outcome of the coin flip doesn't actually matter. You made a good bet, so you have already won. Let's say that again for clarity: RDM, baby, RDM! The results don't matter. You've taken the best of it. You've "gotten your money in good," as the pro's say, so you've "won" in the long run.

Poker is exactly the same as this. Every time you call with a small pair, but don't have the correct odds to do so, you lose. It doesn't actually matter if the flop gives you four of a kind and you rake a huge pot, you've made a bad decision, so you lose. This is because over time, this choice will cost you a lot more money than it earns.

Every time you open raise from middle position with QJo, get re-raised by a tight player in late position, and then cold call his raise, you lose. It doesn't matter if you hit the nuts on an A-K-T rainbow flop, you've already lost. And so on....

Poker is a game of the long run, of making "perfect" plays over and over, of passing up bad situations, and ignoring the results of any specific hand. When you take the best of it in a poker bet, you instantly win. And when you take the worst of it, you instantly lose. How the hand actually turns out is irrelevant. And unless you enjoy shaking a fist at the clouds when they rain on you, you need to understand this concept. The sooner you fully accept this fundamental concept of gambling, the sooner you will begin to make money at the game.

RDM, baby, RDM!

All-in for now...


  1. I seen it refer to as 'ROT', results oriented thinking. I believe the saying is, "Don't ROT your brain!" In other words, don't think about the results as much as about how you played the hand.