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by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Dec 01, 2009


Self-analysis is hard in any walk of life. It is very easy to blame ones misfortunes on other people, much harder to recognise your own shortcomings. Listen to any disagreement between two people, and they will very nearly always believe the other person to be at fault. At the end of most football matches, the losing manager will complain about the referee, the opposition, the pitch, and sometimes his own players, but rarely himself.

Poker players are no different, and in fact I think this tendency occurs more in poker than in other fields, and that is because in poker, your performance, good or otherwise, often has little or no impact on your short-term results.

Most players, when they lose a large or important hand, immediately run through the hand from their opponent’s point of view, and try and spot where his or her play deviates from what they would do. And if they find one, then that’s why they lost.

Too many times, I’ve seen a player put in 95 percent of their stack — badly — post-flop, and then berate their opponent who made a slightly loose call preflop. I know all of this, because I used to be guilty of it too. (And sometimes unfortunately still am.)

An interesting corollary of this tendency, is that it also sometimes happens when a person is more friendly with one player than the other, they view that persons actions through rose-coloured glasses, and automatically assume that it is the other player who made a mistake.

Victoria Coren recounted an interesting hand in her Guardian column recently. Normally I enjoy her features, but I thought she made a mistake in this one. The hand played out like this: It’s the World Series of Poker Europe and with blinds of 200-400 Roland De Wolfe raised 1,100 from the cutoff. An aggressive Scandinavian player smooth called on the button. The big blind, who was quite short stacked, moved all-in for 2,500. Just over a min raise, but enough to re-open the betting.
DeWolfe Coren
De Wolfe then reraised another 10,000. To this, the Scandinavian replied by moving all-in. (He had De Wolfe covered). According to Coren, De Wolfe then thought for a long time, counting down his 65,000 stack, before calling. De Wolfe had J-J, and the Scandinavian had A-Q.

According to Coren, the all-in with A-Q was wrong, wrong, wrong, mainly because you shouldn’t be flipping for a 162 times the big blind stack in the early stages of a £10,000 tournament, and he was lucky not to run into a monster with De Wolfe. However, it was really De Wolfe who took the biggest gamble here.

When the button moves in for 60,000 in chips, he is hoping not to get called. A good portion of the time, De Wolfe is going to fold. (If he calls with A-J, A-T, K-Q etc… then even better, and these are all certainly within his range). When De Wolfe folds, the all-in move wins De Wolfe’s 10,000 in chips unopposed, and that is quite a coup.

I don’t really agree that flipping at this point of a tournament is that awful, but even if it is, it’s De Wolfe’s call which makes it more likely. Any decent player will tell you that it is not uncommon for an aggressive player to put 160 big blinds in preflop with either J-J or A-Q, especially in an aggressive scenario like that one outlined above.

When De Wolfe isolates by reraising another 10,000, he is betting 10,000 into a pot that has around 7,000 in it. To me this looks like a good, but not great, hand that is happy to take on the short-stack heads up.

So it makes perfect sense for the A-Q to move all-in, as he can slightly weight De Wolfe’s range away from A-A and K-K. The one problem with A-Q’s line is that he smooth called originally. In fact it was this that probably led to De Wolfe’s call. However this is a perfect spot to smooth call with a monster, because the big blind’s stack makes it quite likely he will shove and re-open the betting. Also, because his hand looks weaker due to the original call, he will get called with a wider range. The 65,000 shove may look excessive, but any smaller raise commits both players to the pot anyway.

If you read the article it’s clear that Coren and De Wolfe are friends, and I fear that has influenced her thinking on the hand. I bring this up because I think that in the long-run, being able to separate your emotions is crucial, both when playing poker, and when analysing a poker scenario. Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.