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Getting Even Means Nothing

An invaluable lesson

by Lee H. Jones |  Published: Aug 15, 2007

"Get back, get back"

Unless you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you've probably never heard of a poker player named Chuck Thompson. For about a thousand years, Chuck has been a prop player at Garden City Casino and Bay 101 in San Jose. He lives "over the hill" in Santa Cruz, and has fed, clothed, and housed his family (including two sons) by playing poker. That's his job.

Here's a guy who has made a very good living in one of the most expensive areas of the United States by showing up four or five days a week at a poker club. You want to get a line on his play? Just sit down at the $30-$60 or $40-$80 hold'em table at Bay 101; if he's not there today, he'll be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. But even after letting everybody watch him play for all of those years, he still takes the money home.

For that reason, I pay real close attention to what Chuck Thompson says about making money from poker. He's been doing it successfully for longer than some of the current big names have been alive, and I count that for a lot.

Now, a decade or so ago, Chuck would occasionally write a column for Card Player. I always read them two or three times, and often saved them for re-reading. That's how valuable they were. Unfortunately for Card Player readers, Chuck doesn't write anymore, or if he does, he doesn't share. I asked him about that once, and he chuckled - and said something about giving away the information he needed to pay his kids' college tuition.

His sons have graduated now, so maybe he'll do some more writing, but in the meantime, I'd like to refer back to something he wrote years ago.

Chuck emphasized that your specific session results don't mean a thing. You can bet that many times, Chuck had to make that long drive over Highway 17 after losing a significant amount of money. But you also can bet that Chuck knew his EV (expected value) from a day at the "office." If his records told him that he made $350 every day that he worked at Bay 101, it didn't really matter much whether he won $1,100 or lost $970. Those numbers were just variance; on his budget sheet, he knew he'd made $350.

Now, most of us aren't pro players, and very few of us have a track record like Chuck Thompson does to tell us our expected win over a day, week, or month. But there's an invaluable lesson in there, and it's the centerpiece of this column: "Getting even" is never a valid goal.

Have I ever been guilty of doing this? Alas, yes. There have been plenty of times when I've gotten buried in a game, forced myself to stay longer to get unstuck, and then the moment my session results crept into the black, I bolted for the door. And there were probably even more times that instead of getting unstuck, I got more stuck as a result of trying to dig myself out.

But I've kept going back to that lesson from Chuck, and I think it's taken root. Recently, I was playing online pot-limit Omaha (PLO), and let's just say that it wasn't a great session. I had set aside two hours to play, and with about 45 minutes left, I was stuck $1,500. When I went in as a 60-40 favorite, the 40 percent part would happen. When I was the 60-40 dog, the favorite's hand would stand up. And then there was the hand with which I flopped second set, got all of the money in, and discovered that I had one out (no, no miracle happened).

Anyway, with 45 minutes left to play, things suddenly began looking up. I won a couple of pots and actually doubled through a guy, getting my stack up around $1,200. Then came "the hand." We had a table bully who was raising every other hand preflop and following through with a continuation bet. The players were mostly letting him have his way; I was just waiting for a chance to double through him (he had more than $3,000 on the table). I limped in from the button with Q-Q-9-8 (one queen suited), and Bully raised the full pot from the big blind. A previous limper called the raise, and I did, too. The flop came Q-9-5 rainbow. Note that while I had indeed flopped the nuts, I had one of the board-pairing cards in my own hand, and I could be up against some huge draws. But there was no getting away from this hand if the money went in now. Bully bet out the full pot, as expected, and then the first limper called. I hadn't counted on that, but was delighted, because it gave me extra leverage for a pot-size raise.

Raise I did, pretty much expecting both players to fold. To my astonishment, Bully reraised the pot, putting me all in. The limper got out of the way, and I said, "Pair the board, please," as I called. I thought Bully would show me a big wrap straight draw (probably with a backdoor flush draw), but mirabile dictu, he had flopped bottom set. Nothing awful happened and I doubled up, plus the dead money the limper had put in. Popping up the site cashier, I saw that I was actually ahead about the price of dinner at McDonald's for the day.

A nasty little demon whispered in my ear: "Hey, you've been playing an hour and a half. That's pretty close to two hours, and you would be showing a small profit if you quit right now." But I could see old Chuck Thompson, white beard, glasses, and baseball cap, just glance up at the clock; shift's not over yet. I settled in and waited for the next hand.

Of course, you know what happened. Four or five hands later, I flopped a monster draw that looked like about 18 outs twice. I got all of the money in against a guy with top set and a $1,000 stack. I promptly turned one of my outs, and the river was a blank; I added another $1,000 to my bankroll.

What? That's not what you expected? You figured this story involved my losing my entire stack to a one-outer, or whatever. Well, obviously, it could have. When I got the money in against the top-set guy, I was a 60-40 favorite; two out of five times, he wins $1,000 from me. But I was there to play poker; when you get a 60-40 gamble, you take it.

Don't let voodoo about your session results confuse your poker goals. If you're playing well and the game is good, keep playing. If you have other plans or the game turns bad, log out, whether winning or stuck.

And, Chuck, if you're reading this - hello from an old friend and big fan.

"Get back to where you once belonged"

Lee Jones is an executive consultant to the European Poker Tour, and the author of the best-selling book Winning Low Limit Hold'em.