Sunday, April 6, 2014

The (Short-Lived) Thrill of Victory, the (Long-Lived) Agony of Defeat

"Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Selective memory. If you're human--and I assume you are if you're reading this blog--you have this bizarre attribute hard-coded into your DNA. And poker players--and again, I'm assuming you're one of those, too--are perhaps the hardest hit by this genetic trait. Poker players invariably forget most of the big pots they've won shortly after the chips are shoved their way...but the big hands lost will often leave ugly jagged scars on their psyches-- long-term, painful, "if only" types of deep tissue wounds that sometimes never fully heal.

While we all certainly relish winning a big pot, the truth is that we tend to forget those hands with time. We humans are weird this way. The thrill of victory is short-lived in our minds. It's related to the old "that's nice, but what have you done for me lately" sentiment we all face routinely at work and in life. Ah, but losing a big pot? Just try to forgetaboutit. You can't. Us humans are weird that way, too. And it sucks.

I've won my share of hands at poker, probably tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of them, in fact. And most of those thrills were indeed short-lived in my brain, fading within hours or days into something more akin to a vague glow of distant satisfaction and past happiness with the game in general. These are the short-lived punctuations of pleasure that blur into a warm indistinct fog with the ticking of the clock. Sure, a few winners stand the test of time (e..g, winning the very first hand of my very first online Sit-n-Go with a pocket pair of queens that held up all-in preflop against jacks. Woot!) but most aren't so clear in this bug's aging memory banks. Instead, the majority of winning hands have morphed into a general pleasant haziness of chips being pushed my way and a suppressed smile on my face. That was nice, Poker, but what have you done for me lately?

Contrast those winning hands to the losers. These are the giga-gaggle of painful, gut-wrenching, how-did-that-happen-to-me hands that cost pots, stacks, and big chunks of the bankroll with heartless indifference. I still wince about that time I proudly proclaimed I had the nuts at a live event as I called an all-in and turned over my flopped straight, only to hear a barely suppressed chuckle from the dealer as the pot was pushed to another player who runner-runnered a higher straight. Or the time I shoved all-in 300bb deep with the nut flush... and lost to a terrible, stupid, idiotic straight flush some boneheaded numbskull made by playing a doofus non-suited 3-gapper and won with a freaking miracle one outer on the river. Or the countless set-over-sets that have cost me stack-after-stack. Or flushes over flushes. Or kickers kontinuously kicking me in the krotch as I went to kicker-school. Or full houses losing to quads, for krimmeneesakes! Or... well, you get the idea. In fact, I'm probably not telling any of you anything new. You're human poker players, after all, so you've been there, done that. As Bubba used to say, "I feel your pain."

Most of us understand on an intellectual level that losing is a fundamental part of the game of poker. It's what keeps the fish coming back for more. You and I know that we have to accept painful setbacks as just part of the process of long-term EV gain. Two steps forward, one step back, right? Expected Value is our mistress at the poker tables, and while she pays the bills in the long-term, she can also be a cruel bitch when the short-term mood strikes her.

One of tricks to mastering poker is accepting this idea of losing. Relishing it, in fact. Well, okay, let me rephrase that: We need to accept and embrace losing when it's not our fault. When it is our fault (i.e., bad play), we have to rage against the outcome, we have to let it sear into our memories and burn, burn, burn... so that we can fix it... so it doesn't happen again. We have to learn from losing when we can.

Which ultimately means that we have to have the wisdom to know the difference between bad play (which we can control) and everything else (which we can't). The way I see it, there are three basic ways we can lose a poker hand: 1) Bad Beats; 2) Bad Cards; and 3) Bad Play. The first one (bad beats) is actually a good problem to have; a true bad beat means you got your money in good, which is what winning poker is based upon. The second one (bad cards) is often manifested by coolers and second-best situations; e.g., you get all your money in pre with KK only to see AA slow-rolled by the villain. This is just poker, folks. Accept it. The third category (bad play) is the only one that should really matter to you. These are losses that your selective memory needs to latch onto and scar your psyche with. If they don't, then you won't ever learn a damn thing at this game.

All-in for now...

1 comment:

  1. I've lost to two-outers many times, but I don't recall losing to a one-outer - brutal. One time I did hit a one-outer. Flop came K-10-x and I had pocket 10s. The villain and I were all in (tournament) and he showed K-K. The turn was a 10!